Friendship Break-Ups 4: Letting Go or Holding On?

There are two extreme responses I see women consistently make when it comes to responding to the Drift in our relationships.

One is to hang onto every friendship "no matter what." They feel guilty if they don't make them all work, hitting their heads against the wall of unhealthy relationships, or connections that are no longer meaningful.

The other extreme is to always make new and current friends that reflect only who you are right now, letting go of people from the last city, the last job, and the last relationship.

Regardless of which path tends to be your default: we are called to learn how to do both.

The Gift in the Drift

Unlike a Rift where we feel that some painful grievance occurred that demands a decision about whether our mutual acts of forgiveness also means a willingness to stay engaged in improving our friendship, a Drift doesn't require a big obvious yes or no decision.  The gift to us in a Drift is that it doesn't have to be all-or-nothing.

When we see the spectrum of relationships displayed in our Circles of Connectedness, we can see immediately in our relationships that there is a movement, a pipeline, a progression of consistent time and shared vulnerability among our friendships.  And just as we can move friendly people from the Left-Side into friends that matter on our Right-Side, so can we move people the other direction, too.

I've had friends who I would have, at one point, placed in Right-Side of my closest girlfriends.  But life changes--that ended up impacting our dynamic, our time together, the presence we showed up with, and the needs we had--soon alerted me that we were possibly experiencing a Drift.

Reversing the Drift: In one of those cases, I knew instantly that I didn't want to lose the friendship we had invested in just because she seemed consumed with different things in life now than I did.  So while our friendship may have become less consistent for a few months (moving back toward the Left on the Circles of Connectedness), when I saw what was at risk, I was able to write an email saying, "I miss you!  Our friendship matters to me.  I know we're both going through such different life phases right now, but that doesn't diminish how much I love you and want to be a good friend to you. What do you need from me right now in this phase of life?  How can I support you?"  In that note I was able to 1) call our attention to the possible drift 2) state how much she means to me and 3) ask what she needed from me. It prevented our Drift from being permanent and we landed back in the Committed Circle.

Letting the Drift: In another case, as much as I adored my friend, I had this quiet peace about our friendship having served its purpose.  Our time together had been less vulnerable and less consistent--ultimately making it less meaningful.  And I had several other really amazing friends in my life so I wouldn't be left with a sense of alone-ness. I was at peace with letting that friendship Drift.  But even here, it isn't an all-or-nothing invitation.  I can whisper a little prayer for her, "Keep her safe, surround her with friends, lead her to joy," and look forward to still seeing her when I see her.  It's not ending something, but letting it become something different.  She moved from my Right-Side to my Left-Side-- still someone I will meet for coffee every couple of months and cheer for when I see her or hear about her.

How To Know Which Way To Go?

We often feel that Drifts "just happen" to us, like we're a victim to changing circumstances.  While I do think that often it takes our consciousness some time to see what we've already been doing, feeling, and responding to subconsciously, it's really important to realize that we have a voice in the process.  Taking a victim mentality increases our chances of blaming the other and feeling defensive-- two reactions that never lead to peace.

So that we don't go through life reacting from the two extremes-- hang on to every friend with a tight fist no matter how little joy we still share OR to let go of everyone because life changes and they're no longer just like us--we have to consider each friendship separately.

There are no hard-and-fast rules.  Here are questions I ask first:

  1. To the best of my knowledge, what provoked this possible Drift? Is this a permanent change or temporary?
  2. Why do I think I started pulling away?  Was it from listening to my inner wisdom or was it from my wounded ego voice? Did I get my feelings hurt or did I just sense a peace with not being as close?  Am I reacting to something else here-- am I possibly jealous? Am I judgmental? Am I scared?  Is this really about her or is there information here for me about my life?
  3. Is this someone who I deep down still want to be good friends with even if I can't see whether we can make something new or whether it would yet be meaningful? Is she someone I can enjoy? What side of me does she bring out? How has she fed me in the past?
  4. Is one of us in pain or crisis-- possibly calling me to a less meaningful season of our friendship, but not necessarily giving me an exit strategy yet?
  5. Is this a situation where if we were to talk about it (no matter how awkward!) that there is the chance for an enhanced relationship?  Are there scenarios I can at least imagine where we might not only keep enjoying our friendship, but actually improve it?
  6. Do I tend to leave too easily?  If so, what scares me in this situation?  What is getting triggered in me? Am I projecting my feelings on her?
  7. Do I tend to stay too long? If so, what am I hoping will happen? What does us staying connected represent to me? If we let go of this, what am I scared of?
  8. Do I have other friendships in place or am I at risk of letting go of something, that while not ideal, is still supporting my life? Would I be better served investing more vulnerability and commitment here where we have a foundation?
  9. If I give permission to let this relationship Drift-- what am I still willing to do to show up in her life occasionally?  How can I make sure I'm not choosing all-or-nothing?  How can I love her best as we move forward?

Maybe it will help you journal out your answers?  Even if you think you already know what answer you want to hear... sometimes the best information for our personal growth comes from going through the process rather than simply jumping to the conclusion we want.

I have found that after processing some of the above questions, I then just need to get quiet and check in with my own inner voice.  In those moments there is usually a clarity.

And if there isn't-- if you feel like you don't know which way to go-- I vote our default should always be to improve the current relationship we have.

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Previous blog postings about Drifts & Rifts:

Friendship Breakups 1: A Drift or a Rift?

Friendship Breakups 2: Saving a Drift, Avoiding a Rift

And, a previous blog posting about friendship drifts and rifts that pertain to the Circles of Connectedness: "Was She Really a Friend, Anyway?"