My name is Rachel, and I am fiercely loyal to my friends. Perhaps you are the same way.
I’ll watch your kids at the drop of a hat. I’ll bring you ginger ale when you have the stomach bug or coffee when you get troubling medical news. When your husband is out of town on business, I’ll have you and your children over for a play date and I’ll send you home with a bottle of wine. I’ll send you birthday cards, attend your elderly relative’s wake, and listen to you vent about the parent-teacher conference that didn’t go as planned. I’ll expect the same in return, but not equally. I don’t keep score. Our friendship isn’t tit for tat, but it’s a give and take where we remain dedicated to grace, laughter, and most of all, support.
As I’ve gained experience, I’ve realized I just don’t have time or patience for certain people in my life. Now of course, a few friendships have changed because of relocation or changes in interests or priorities where the two of us seem to slowly bow out of the relationship. There were no hard feelings or arguments, just gentle unspoken goodbyes. But there are also friendships I’ve had to break up out of personal conviction because a transgression was just too difficult to get over.
Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when it’s the result of a wrongdoing, like an argument, betrayal, or in the cases of my few friendships gone awry, a lack of support.
The first time I broke up with a friend was when my writing career had just started taking off. I left my teaching job to be a work-at-home mom to focus on raising my children and writing. After my first book came out, I was invited to appear on a national television show to discuss what it’s like to raise black children in America. I was equally thrilled and terrified. Not only would I need to travel to New York (my first time traveling alone and to NYC of all places), but the television show was live. What if I said the wrong thing? What if I had lipstick on my teeth? What if I got so nervous I fell out of my chair?
I messaged one of my dear friends to tell her the exciting news. Her response was flat. The television show’s host was a well-known liberal woman. My friend questioned how I could have a live, televised conversation with someone who didn’t support my friend’s political values? (Yes, you read that correctly.)
Her response was selfish and dramatic. She acted as if my being in the company of someone with differing views would warp me into a zombie and send me into a liberal minefield. The funny thing is I’m far more liberal than conservative — another point my friend failed to acknowledge.
I went on the show, which was one of the best decisions I ever made in my writing career. (And no, I didn’t fall out of my chair or wind up with lipstick on my teeth.) My communication with my friend quickly ceased.
The next breakup happened when my friend got involved with a physically and emotionally abusive man. He did what abusers do: he manipulated my friend and began isolating her. One minute my friend would call me sobbing, telling me another thing her boyfriend had said or did, the next minute she’d call me elated that they got a new apartment together. This went on for months, and I tried to offer support, gentle advice, and even suggestions on resources to help her leave her abuser.
What broke us up was when one night, as I was telling my husband about that day’s drama, I realized the relationship was completely one-sided and I couldn’t be my friend’s savior or sounding board anymore. I was tired. I was depleted wasting my previous time and energy on someone who really didn’t deserve it. Meanwhile, I had adopted a second child and bought a new home — neither of which was celebrated or acknowledged by my friend.
Most recently, I was having a conversation with a longtime friend about my son’s sensory processing disorder diagnosis. Though we had made great strides to meet his needs, we were facing new struggles. While I was quite proud of our progress, my friend slapped me with a condescending question: how I could expect constant exceptions for my child? I replied calmly, yet firmly that my son receives accommodations, not exceptions. She released a slew of angry words and opinions, all unsolicited. I knew in that moment that our relationship would require some distance if we were going to remain friends. I abruptly backed away from texting, scheduling play dates, and extending invitations to meet for tea.
I am a person with a fairly thick skin. As a writer, I’m used to controversy, criticism, and even outright insults. I do, however, expect my friends to support me, my family, and my decisions even when we don’t agree. I will do the same for them in return. It’s totally cool that we aren’t the same or even similar. My circle of friends includes women of different socioeconomic backgrounds, different ages, races, religions, and sexual orientations. I think the bigger and more diverse my circle of friends is, the better of a woman I am. Learning from lovely women is one of life’s greatest privileges. But if you aren’t going to be supportive … buh-bye.
Breaking up, as the song says, really is hard to do. Because you go through the stages of grief, including anger, depression, and eventually acceptance. Saying goodbye is uncomfortable and awkward, even when it’s done subtly. But sometimes, letting go of a friendship is necessary, healthy, and liberating.
My mom taught me an incredible lesson that began resonating with me during a dramatic period in my middle school years: each of us is in charge of ourselves. We cannot control what others do, but we are responsible for our own lives. When you are faced with a decision to carry on in turmoil or to bow out with grace, you won’t regret choosing the latter. Sometimes saying goodbye means opening the door to a new and happier hello.