Knowing when it’s time to say goodbye isn’t always easy. As peripatetic as my life has been, you’d think I’d be a pro, but instead (or because of all my moving around?) I still find it difficult.
I began thinking about this when an old friend changed their profile picture on social media to a symbol with an unfamiliar acronym. To my dismay, research showed it was affiliated with an extreme group started by an anonymous poster and was associated with starting conspiracy theories and rumors out of whole cloth. What was my friend thinking?!
Don’t get me wrong: my social media “friends” are a small group that run the gamut politically and socially. I don’t believe in isolating myself from other viewpoints and opinions. How else does one learn and grow? But when a college educated person is espousing or supporting unfounded rumor and innuendo, I take notice. Were they hacked? If not, what happened to due diligence in checking sources? While I can count some fruitcakes within my friends and family, this is not someone I would usually put into that category.
So then, the question becomes: do I “unfriend” them out of my life?
Fortunately for me, they changed their profile picture back to one of themselves. But I’m still left wondering.
Moving to another job, another town, or state automatically means your friendship circle changes. Few relationships can stand the strain of distance. In the old days, my rule of thumb was Christmas cards: If I mailed them a card or newsletter two years in a row without hearing back in some form, I dropped them from my list. Then it shifted to emails for most folks, but the criterion was the same.
When social media emerged, I avoided it like the plague, intuiting what kind of a black hole for time and energy it could become. I’m also a relatively private person (!) and didn’t like just anyone knowing everything about my life and movements. I finally succumbed when it became clear that it was the only way to maintain contact with my extended family. A side bonus was reconnecting with folks from high school and college.
As it is, I have only 47 “friends” of which only 4 are friends-of-friends whom I’ve never met, and I follow maybe a quarter of the total. Usually, if their posts get annoying, I just unfollow them. I have actually unfriended one person in the last five years or so. In other words, I still choose my friends carefully and cherish those with whom I’ve spent various periods of my life. Therefore, saying goodbye is a big deal.
Beyond contact time, I generally evaluate my friendships – on and offline – by the following:
The depth of our shared experience. With some, we can see each other or talk on the phone after 10+ years and it seems like yesterday. No matter how our lives have grown apart, there remains a connection.
The health of the relationship. Do we encourage one another? Is there give and take or does one person dominate? How do I feel when we interact? Am I drained or energized afterwards?
I had to let go of one twenty year old friendship, when it became clear how one-sided it had become. Due to some physical and emotional trauma, my friend acted as if the world was required to bow to her every whim. Her family bought into it, but I refused. My friend and I had been through a lot together, but it was goodbye time.
Finally, does the relationship have any future? This is fuzzy by nature, as no one can see ahead. But is this someone I’d like to get together with if I were in town? Or, if in the same town, how often do we meet? Are we on the same page as to the nature of the relationship (social media only vs. phone calls vs. face-to-face vs. middle-of-the-night phone calls for help). Is there growth potential, or do we rehash the same-ol’ same ol’ every time.
Because I do move so much, I tend to hang on to friendships as long as I can. As a result, I don’t always work very hard to find new friends in the new place. I can put on the “outgoing” mask when I have to, but it’s scary and all that. I’ve actually built some online friendships that are stronger than any where I currently live. But I still need to be cognizant of those friendships that I’ve outgrown, or aren’t healthy, or simply don’t deserve my time and energy anymore – or where the friend has left me behind. That’s OK, too
Blake Shelton has a break-up song, Goodbye Time, that addresses this in a poignant way and has been running through my head. The chorus goes like this:
If being free’s worth what you leave behind
And if it’s too late for love to change your mind
Then it’s goodbye time
Some goodbyes come with a bang, others with a whimper. And still others simply grow up and away, spreading seeds on the wind like dandelions. If those are seeds of love, then it’s been a friendship worth living, and worth letting go.