Source: Hunter Newton on Unsplash
A few years ago, I first read The Art of Loving and Losing Female Friends. It hasn’t left my mind since. The article hit me in all the right places and fills me with a bittersweet melancholy about all the friends I’ve loved and lost throughout the years, as well as love for the future friends I am yet to meet. When I reread it last week I was reminded just how much I loved it, but a few lines in particular really stood out to me:
“We can have a friend crush, be totally in love with a new friend, love our friends dearly. But that in love-ness and that love do not seem to hold the weight, in language or otherwise, that they might in a romantic or sexual relationship. Certainly, we don’t speak much of the heartbreak of losing a friend, and there is much less talk of surviving a friend break-up than a romantic one”.Rachel Vorona Cote
It struck me as strange that we apply so many words usually connotated with romantic love to friendships, but don’t use romantic terms of loss when talking about loss of friendship. It almost feels like a sort of double standard, like losing an important friendship should not influence someone as much as losing a romantic partner. Like the author of the article, some of my toughest “break-ups” have not been with romantic partners, but rather friends. In general, I mourn lost friendships for much longer than I do relationships. Perhaps it’s because my friendships usually last longer than romantic relationships, or because I tend to stay friends with exes, not losing them completely, but my heart still aches on the birthdays of former friends that I haven’t spoken to in at least seven years and it can still bring tears to my eyes to make a grilled cheese the way they taught me to do it.
Letting go of friendships is something that I’ve never been exactly great at. I tend to linger on the what-ifs and often blame myself for losing them — could I have been a better friend? Would that have kept them by my side? Even when I know I’ll meet amazing new people, letting go of the old ones that clearly do not wish to stay in contact is extremely hard for me — I’ve cried many times during the first few weeks of university in Amsterdam considering almost all my friends were going to a different city. However, staying in contact with people is just as difficult for me. Vague plans never seem to come to fruition — and when you’re not used to texting someone because you see them every day anyway, contact tends to fizzle out. This leaves me missing them even though I could technically contact them at any time. Something that has helped me in these situations is the realisation that I deserve better than friendships that have me pulling all the weight of it and if the bond between us was meant to last longer than it had, it would have. However, there’s always the consideration of the circumstances of the separation. Following your own path and trusting that life will bring you together again if it’s meant to is sometimes the best for two people, whether that’s in a relationship or in a friendship. If it is not the right time or place in your life, for the bond between you, it might be in the future. It’s the way of life and unfortunately we all have to deal with it our own way.
Maybe the reason why the article hit even harder this time is because I recently regained contact with a close friend that I thought I had lost forever — thanks to my own mistakes. As it turns out, she felt the same way during the two years we weren’t talking. It certainly brought up many what-ifs of other friendships that I’ve lost along the way. What if I just gathered the courage to talk to them again, too?
At any rate, regaining a friendship after so long feels like finally coming home after spending ages away from it and rediscovering all the trinkets you gathered while living there, remembering why you loved them so much in the first place. It is a special kind of feeling to once again say the same thing at the same time because there are so many interests and habits you once shared and still share after all this time. To find that they enjoyed the same new series that you did and watched the same movies; that you’re still able to predict what their favourite moments and characters were in said series and movies. Falling back into it was almost as easy as breathing, and after barely a day of lingering awkwardness we were back to how we had always been.
Rediscovering that friendship reminded me of something else — the wonderful feeling of having just met someone and already knowing that you’re going to be great friends. Sometimes it will be because of something specific they’ve said or done, other times it’s just a good feeling you have about them; that sense of instant connection and comfort of immediately feeling at home with someone is unlike anything else. There is a Japanese phrase for the premonition of love, the feeling that you will inevitably fall in love with someone when you first meet them: Koi No Yokan. I feel that this can apply to friendships, too, the same way you can have a friend crush, and be in love with your friends.
Connecting with people almost feels like a process of falling in love. Sometimes it happens quickly, an instant bond that only gets stronger over time. Other times it takes longer, because you see them less frequently or just because it takes awhile to truly ‘click’ and find your rhythm of being together after coincidentally being forced to hang out. Sometimes you realise it as it is happening, while with others you’re in the middle of that connection before you knew it even began. I try to treasure each connection as they’re happening because humans are constantly-moving creatures and life moves on faster than you realise- you never know how much time you have with someone before circumstances separate you again. Even short connections that barely lasted longer than a day have had influences on me; I still loyally check the close friends story of a girl I knew for only half a week on a vacation, and one of my still favourite artists was once recommended by someone I haven’t spoken to in years. In the end, I believe we are all just mosaics of all the people we’ve met and loved throughout the years.
The concept of soulmates has intrigued me for as long as I can remember. Not necessarily the romantic notion of one person who is absolutely perfect for you in every way (though this has its own appeal), but the idea of soulmates that are made rather than found. Especially in addition to the notion that one person can have several soulmates through the course of their life, romantic or platonic or otherwise. I feel like the intimate feeling of true connection that you only reach with some people or can most easily be explained through this concept of soulmates. Sometimes it just feels right to be with someone in a moment, and it doesn’t matter how it ends as long as they touch your soul in some way, no matter how small. Considering soulmates have mostly been seen as a romantic concept, it seems fitting to challenge this along with the notion of romantic-only breakups.
For the same reason that connecting with people feels like falling in love to me, I’m nervous about making new friends. There’s of course the possibility of rejection, but also the even more terrifying aspect of most friendships dying. I’m so afraid of getting attached and loving a friend more than they care about me, and to be left stranded and heartbroken over losing them months after the friendship has ended while they go on with their life without thinking twice about it. Even if they do care as much, time still moves and there’s a very likely possibility that it will eventually break whatever bond I share with someone. Especially when you’re surrounded by and constantly befriending students from around the world who will most likely return to their home country after getting their degree at some point. In short, everything ends, and it sucks. However, the finality of things shouldn’t take away from the joy that you experience while being together with someone. I would even argue that the finality of everything is the reason we can enjoy it so much, especially regarding other people. If there weren’t endings, there wouldn’t be beginnings of new connections and friendships you can experience.
Knowing this, I still love putting myself out there to try and make connections with people. It is what makes us human and one of the things that brings me the most joy in the world: I refuse to rob myself of that out of fear of what might happen. In my experience, it has always been worth it. No matter how badly it ended, the moments of joy that I got from them outvalue any kind of heartbreak that might have followed.
Written by Merel Langeveld