Hangnail Friendships

So, I’ve moved a lot in the past few years.  From the West side of Los Angeles to Thousand Oaks, CA (more north than the San Fernando Valley).  From Thousand Oaks, CA to Northern Illinois.  From Northern Illinois to Texas.  All within 3 years.  As you might imagine, moving has wreaked havoc on my friendships.

Most friendships are tested with a move.  When I left Detroit for California, I had to work to keep connections going.  Most of them didn’t survive, but with no hard feelings.  Relationships sometimes fade away.  Fewer things in common, fewer people in common, less to say.  I learned how to keep friendships alive, too.  The first step is to recognize that the connection is getting weak and then commit to keeping it strong.  My girlfriend, Elizabeth, and I had that very conversation.  It was hard.  She could have rejected the idea of putting more time in, scheduling phone calls once a month, responding to emails in a reasonable amount of time.  Thankfully, she didn’t.  At times it was tedious.  I didn’t always want to have a long conversation at the day and time we picked.  But I kept my appointment, and our friendship bloomed anew.  Today she is one of my closest friends and I don’t know how I would have gotten through many situations without her.

When I left California, a handful of friendships were already a bit on the rocks.  For years, I volunteered with a large organization and so developed many close relationships through that.  Then I had a child and moved out of L.A.  I volunteered less and eventually left the organization.  I couldn’t keep all the connections I made going as strong but a large handful seemed to be okay.  But then life happens.  Some friends had kids, some moved away, I moved away.

And now I am at a crossroads of sorts.  I’ve got a few hangnail friendships, I call them.  People I am connected with on Facebook, let’s say, and we used to be really close but now seeing their messages to others, or simply their picture on my profile page, makes me sad.  Like a hangnail, I don’t think about it much but when I am reminded, Ouch!  One person I specifically asked to be more active as a friend said, “Yeah, yeah, I will, I will!”  Then nothing.  Others just disintegrated even after I made efforts to stay at least somewhat in touch.

My practice, mostly, is to get complete with people.  Getting complete means to say everything that needs to be said, without any intention other than to have what is said be heard.  The people I am thinking of in this post know how to do this.  But is it worth it?  Is it worth it to call so-and-so and say, “Hey.  We haven’t talked in 6 months and I thought we could just get complete.”  That would be odd.  And perhaps what I REALLY want is to say, “You are a bad friend.  I’m through with you!”  Which isn’t getting complete at all.

I know I need to feel centered about this. I’m not so good at letting go of friendships and yet I clearly need to snip these hangnails.  What kind of rituals, practices or actions have you taken to move on when you are not able to or unwilling to speak directly to the person you are letting go of?  I’m open and ready for that manicure…


20 responses to “Hangnail Friendships

  1. So ironic you posted this today. I tossed a former friend out of my life today, after he proved himself a total douchebag. The whole story’s not worth repeating, but we’ve known each other a decade now. He made a pass at me once, via email of all things! We got past that sticky situation to what I thought was a comfortable friendship, but then he professed to be scared his wife would ever find out he had a female friend. After a decade, you worry about that?

    So, out he went. And I was extremely firm about it, too. I gave him the bashing of the century, calling him all sorts of names. What a wuss!

    Otherwise, I lost a long friendship when the friend wouldn’t stop sending me religious email that bashed everyone who wasn’t fundamentalist Christian. And guess what? I’m not. When I asked her to stop she went ballistic. That was at least six or seven years ago. We haven’t spoken since.

    I do have a couple hang-nail friendships now (love that term!), friends I used to work with, etc. It’s not that I don’t want the friendships but we seem to have drifted. Plus, my life is nutty between grad school, work, etc.

    I respect what you’re saying about friendship. I think that’s the way it should be, but like you say it’s not always easy navigating that path.

    • Lisa G.: That is so wrong! How could he have you as a friend and never tell his wife?

      Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. I miss you and hope you are doing well with all of your projects. Come back soon!

  2. I’ve had friends like this– hangnail friendships (I like that term too!)… and reading what you wrote here made me feel very bad. I haven’t been a good friend to you. I really enveloped into myself in 2008, but I think I needed to, considering what I was going through… and now I am starting to work on repairing and rebuilding friendships that I neglected (and releasing those who didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t stick around during my crises).

    Good friendships are hard work– not as hard as marriage, but you have to do some nurturing of each other, and you have to truly listen. It means slowing down, ignoring the cell phone, ignoring everything but what your friend is saying. Sometimes, that’s hard to do, and sometimes it’s downright impossible. But if the friendship is a good one… it’s definitely worth it.

    But, I think making an appointment is good. For a long while I had a monthly “date” with a friend of mine, until finally we drifted apart. I chased after her for a while, but never heard back from her. We occasionally run into each other in Frisco and the connection just isn’t there anymore. It’s kinda sad.

    Making good, close friends is so hard, you’d think I would work much harder to keep them. I know that being an introvert sometimes has disadvantages in this respect, because I can focus all my energy on only one or two things at a time… and usually that’s my husband and work. Friends get tucked in there somewhere. It’s something I am consciously working on for 2009.

    This in no way answers your question, does it. Haha.

    I think you have to come to some kind of closure on your own, whether you write a letter to the person, or find a sense of detachment from the friendship and the pain you’ve felt because of it. Sometimes that can only happen with time. I’ve done this before, and it does help.

    • Thanks, Linda Lee. I am glad that you still want to be my friend, even though I hadn’t considered you to be a hangnail friendship. I felt fairly confident that we were still friends since you agreed to meet me for lunch, even though it never worked out. Glad we will see each other soon.

  3. I have several friends that it’s very hard to keep in touch with but nevertheless I feel very strongly about them. I’ve found that I can pick up where I left off with them pretty easily, and even though we’ve promised to stay in better touch, it doesn’t generally happen. But for me that’s just the nature of our friendship. If I move back to LA, there are some that I would resume with and we’d have a much easier time – with one friend we used to like to go to breakfast together at least every other week, and we can’t do that now. And for me, there’s not necessarily “something wrong here” with the people I love dearly but don’t talk to regularly. It doesn’t occur for me as a reflection on me that they don’t call me regularly or email me or whatever.

    Having said that, I’m in another city, having moved twice in three years, and I don’t really have a lot of friends here, and you are one of the few friends I talk to regularly and consider myself close with. And you know, it’s not really enough for me, so….. YOU are, of course, but I really could use more friends. I need to get out there more and pursue friendships a little more consistently.

    • To Laura: I agree. You do need to reach out and create more friends. You are a warm loving person and having friends on the phone isn’t enough for you to really express yourself. I remember being in Thousand Oaks after a year and realizing I didn’t have one friend who lived within 5 miles of me. I was lonely. Making friends, even just social friends, helped.

      I consider myself lucky to have you as my friend after we both moved and so many years. We work to keep it close, and it worth it.

  4. Great post and so true! Llike you, I’ve moved around quite a bit and have simply gotten busier. I know my friends have as well. The friends that understand this and accept things as they are, have been the friends that seem to last. The friends with greater expectations seem to fade away.

    I’ve remained in contact with two male friends from high school (that’s some 20+ years). It’s a great relationship of occasionally touching base with no hard feelings if it’s been a year…or two. Very refreshing.

    I guess what I’ve learned and try to practice is acceptance and patience – for both myself and my friends. If a friendship fades away, there may be a reason.

  5. One of the big reasons why you’ll never find me on Facebook is maintenance. My BF has a profile & She emailed me to say “Do you remember ‘what’s her name’ and ‘so-and-so’?” I said yes, ‘What’s her name’ was a bitch and, hmmm… did we ever even talk to ‘so-and-so’? She remembered the former to be true and admitted she really never talked much to the latter…. but there they are. Friends on her Facebook page. For every High School acquaintance I would love to hear from, there are about 15 that I wouldn’t. Guess which ones would find me?

    Other than that, I kind of agree with Laura. Most relationships need no maintenance. Two of my oldest friends live about an hour away from me in either direction. Other than about once a year, we don’t see each other. But when one of us decides to call the other, it is a riot. We are right on the page we left off, as close as ever. We do the weddings and funerals, but with tots, life is too busy for much else.

    This is the way I see it – the friendships that need to be maintained should be manicured. The people who are always sucking you dry, or the ones you feel you “have” to respond to, or give a poke or whatever they call it, should be left behind.

    For instance, take you & I. We never got the chance to hang out and have coffee, but it’s nice to read your blog and just be a friend who doesn’t have to do anything except be me & lend an ear (or be an editor) when you need one. No maintenance necessary & vice versa.

    The hangnails aren’t the people you don’t put in enough effort for, they’re the ones that are too much effort.

    • To Liz:

      Well, you are still my friends because I am cool in association with you.

      Unfortunately, I don’t totally agree that friendships need not maintenance. Really close friendships faced with long distance go through a transition – hard to remain very close without effort. That said, not all friendships are that close, and that is okay.

      I am sorry we didn’t have more of a chance to meet and hang out. I liked having our now-defunct blog of women writers – that helped. But now we have our own blogs, and hopefully we can stay in touch and remain in each others life. You made a big difference for me, specifically in my writing. I can’t thank you enough.

  6. I like my friendships that can take the years. Some years we talk all the time others not so much. Since I’m pretty non-confrontational, I tend to let friendships that are ailing just go. A couple of years ago a friend sent me a save the date for her wedding then never followed up with the invite (no matter I was going to be in Hawaii anyway). Once it dawned on me I wasn’t getting the invitation (flagrant etiquette foul) and that she hadn’t even called to tell me she was engaged…I just wrote her off. It drove another friend crazy that I wouldn’t call her and find out what happened. But I just envisioned a very uncomfortable conversation that I just didn’t want to have. If she was done being friends, I could be, too. I had been the one putting the effort into maintain the friendship toward the end and by the time I apparently, finally took the hint, I was over it too. Maybe I’m not willing to put in a lot of extra effort to save something that’s floundering. I guess I don’t want to do the friendship work that feels like work. It just happens and doesn’t feel like effort when it’s worth it. Does any of this make any sense??

    That being said I think there’s been different times,stages of my life that maintaining friendships in general seems hard: like after college, after a move, leaving work to stay home with the kids, etc. I guess I just try to wait it out and let things balance themselves out instead of feeling like I’m forcing anything.

    • To Cara: What a crazy story. I think that kind of obvious blow off would make me laugh. I mean, that is just the best way to tell someone to get lost, right?

      I have definitely let some friendships fade out, and a few might probably fade away but we seem to keep it alive with bi-yearly emails or phone calls. That works for me. Perhaps these people will think of me and get back in touch. One person I think is simply too immature to suck it up and call, and after putting this post out there and getting responses, I have decided that that is okay. There’s something powerful to let go of, something to say good-bye to that is bigger than the friendship.

  7. Ok, this post is great timing for me. Not because I have an answer, in fact the opposite. I want to pose the question: What happens when you finally acknowledge a gut feeling that a friendship is just wrong? You can’t put your finger on it. It just doesn’t feel right. You’ve both been prats at various times (time that were never acknowledged) and now you just don’t want to go there. You wished you’d acknowledged your annoying/hurtful ways in the past but by the same token don’t want to have a conversation where you say … “hey I’m pulling out bc this friendship is going nowhere and hey I’m deeply sorry I was an imbecile a few years ago). My way of dealing with this (nothing nearly as conscious as a ritual) is to ignore phone calls and emails. It feels inadequate because my friend would have no idea why I’ve just dropped away. I’ve never had a friendship like this one and frankly am baffled by our very own dynamic. Any ideas?

    • To Jo:

      Well, would have a conversation with her (assuming a girl, here, okay?). But I would acknowledge when I was a jerk in the past and apologize. Once that was done, I would see how felt and if I though it was done, I might just end the conversation and not make any commitment either way. Not sure a horse that is dead needs to be beaten. I guess that is what I am learning through this process. These hangnail friendships I have are done and I am the one who hasn’t accepted it yet. But I don’t feel I have done anything that I need to acknowledge to them directly. Since your friend is reaching out to you, I think you owe it to her to be honest (without being hurtful). As the person on the other side of the un-returned phone calls, getting the truth would be better than being ignored.

      Thanks for asking and making my blog more interesting. I hope you return, even if my advice was horrible.

  8. I am the worst at this. I can’t keep long-distance friends because I’m all ADD but i think about them all the time and miss them. It’s the worst of both worlds. I am no help at all.

  9. I’ve moved around lots too. But in my true friendships, I have been able to just pick up where we left off. I think there are several layers of friends. Some are at our core, very close – those that we share our innermost secrets with and could call in the middle of the night, some are the next layer out -would share quite as much but still good friends that would can count on to listen have fun with etc., and then still another layer of our acquaintance friendships. I think all of these layers are important. What I have learned in my life is that friendships can move between these layers. And that’s OK. Everyone of them is an important and integral part of who I am and needs to be cherished – even if the contact and context of the friendship has changed. Good luck, and I hope you find the answers you are looking for.
    AZ Mom of Many Hats

    • To AZ Mom of Many Hats:

      This is a very mature way of looking at friendships. I can recognize my relationships in the categories (although that word sounds cold for friendships). I agree that the layers are important. My issue has been that a few friends have said they want to stay close but haven’t acted like they do. That is what has been painful.

      Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. I appreciate you taking the time.

  10. I just love your blog. I don’t know what else to say. I am a little late to the conversation, but I seem to have the same friend issues as The Bloggess. Too ADD, too scattered, but think about and miss them everyday, even after several years. Also, I’m a dork.

  11. Hey memoirgirl … you may be right. I’ll give it some thought. However … when someone gives you honest feedback, you feel the need to respond. Even if it’s in the “i feel so and so” vein. And then there’s an argument and I’m not sure it’s worth it. I”ve been speaking to two friends about it .. and I”m leaning towards leaving it.