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May 30, 2010

Putting a deadline on friendship

My recent post on ungrateful people, as well as a comment from the excellent Dawn, reminded me of something that happened to me a few years ago.

Any of you who have been following this blog (and most of you know anyway, since most of my readers already know me in some way) know that I graduated from Iowa State University. In the last two years of my time there, I became good friends with a couple of great guys. We hung out together, and we even lived together for our final year. Three bedroom apartment for $600/month, split three ways? Sweeeeeet!

After I graduated, I stayed in touch with Mike. He stayed in Ames while I moved to Chicago, but we'd talk often. I'd come to Ames and visit at least once a year, and he would come to Chicago too. I remember one visit we gorged ourselves on Mexican food at Carlos Sweeney's, and then listened to the Star Wars soundtrack triple-CD boxed set that I had bought before dinner while our food digested. We had a great time together overall, and I considered him one of my best friends.

Something happened when I moved out to Vancouver, though.

He got married, I got married and moved totally away, and we fell away from each other.

My friends back home know that I am not the best Internet pen-pal out there, and I am sorry for that. I have no idea why that is, but sometimes things just get away from me. But even though we don't talk that much, those bonds of friendship are still there, and they know (I hope they know, anyway), that if they ever need me for anything, I will do my damnedest to be there for them. If they email me with something they need an answer too, I'll be as quick as I can be about it.

Just general "How are you doing?" emails, though? I do my best. I really do. But sometimes I'm just really lame.

How does that apply to this situation?

After about a year or two out here, where we hadn't had much contact, I received another email from Mike. It wasn't anything urgent, more of touch base type of email. I took a while to respond to it. I don't have an explanation, it just happened.

A week later (or something like that; it wasn't too long, though), I get another email from him basically saying that if I can't be bothered to respond to him, then he could no longer be my friend. I was stunned when I got this email, and my first thought was "What the fuck?" But my second thought was that we had been friends a long time, so it would be worth it to try and save the friendship.

So I responded to him, apologizing profusely, stating that unfortunately, I'm not great at doing this kind of thing. I asked him how things were going, etc, etc. He responded positively to it and we had a good dialogue going for a couple of emails.

But then something happened that made me lose track of things again. I don't remember what it was, but I know I took a while to answer his last email. He sent me another email basically ending the friendship.

Seriously? Friends move away all the time, and sometimes you only talk to them a couple of times a year! Sometimes you get Christmas cards and that's about it. But those bonds of friendship are still there, and again, if you're needed, you're there. They are just a phone call away, or an email, or whatever. But to end the friendship over two weeks? Maybe it was a month, but I do know it wasn't *that* long.

Needless to say, I didn't try again.

The incident did teach me something, though. While I'm still not very good at *initiating* contact regularly, I do a good job of responding to it. At least I think I do.

Of course, this all happened before things like Facebook came around. Nowadays, it's easy to stay a part of somebody's life with periodic contact that doesn't require that you sit down and write a long missive (I know some people are saddened that this is no longer the case). If Facebook were around back then, we'd probably still be friends. Who knows?

Is it right to put a deadline on friendship? I know friendships can fade away when neither party is making much of an effort to keep it alive, but can you put an execution deadline on a friendship? Where if that line is passed, you put it out of its misery?

Or is it possible to stay friends even though the contact is periodic? I know it's possible, because I have a few like that (or, at least, I like to think I do). I guess I know of at least one person who doesn't feel that way.

Edit #1: Added a couple of commas and words to that third paragraph. No, we didn't buy the CDs while we digested our food. :)


  1. It's understandable. And I have noticed that I too am in the same predicament. As we grow and change in self, so do our relationships with others. Friends and family alike.

    Marriage, kids, jobs. Those three things are pivotal in life's decisions, and ultimately in our personal relationships with those that are closely in our lives (or were at one time in our lives).

    You have to go case-by-case basis on this one. If you and/or the other person just feels too distanced, then it's better to just agree that the friendship that you once had is no longer there and move on amicably.

  2. I was sorry to read that about Mike. Is there a chance you could re-connect on Facebook & get back your friendship? It's always sad to lose a friend.

  3. There are too many people with the same name, and none of them are obvious. So no, it's not possible.

    At least not on my end.

    And thank you, Melissa, for your thoughts as well. I agree. A lot of the everyday things in our lives make long-distance friendships tough. Some are able to weather that storm. Others aren't.

    I came to terms with this a long time ago. Just thought that the experience might be valuable to others out there.

    Thanks for the comments!

  4. I'm afraid I'm the same way. Hell, I have over 700 unread emails dating back 2 years. Granted, most are review alerts... but a few are not. I just get side tracked so very easily the older I get.


    (and this comment thingy is whack. It had DrDevience at first, then sat 15 min trying to upload a picture of me... then decided I was anonymous)

  5. Thanks, Doc!! Good to see you here (and on Twitter as well). How long have you been reading?

    Don't get me started on the Blogger comment system. LOL

  6. Hey Dave, thoughtful post here. I think each situation is unique when it comes to maintaining a friendship. The person who did end the friendship with you clearly felt he had given you ample chances to get things back on level ground, and when you didn't meet those expectations, he called an end to the relationship. I've been there and have had to make that choice more than once over the years. You may have just been a casualty of something difficult going on in that person's life that they weren't willing to reveal. It's not uncommon for people to lash out at those who are close and safe when they're going through difficult things in another part of their lives.

    It's never easy, but at times it is necessary to cut ties w/ people. You can look at this as an opportunity to look at what was done on your end to cause this person to act as he did, make some changes to your personal habits and become a better version of yourself. Or you can let it go as a Life Lesson that was a tough one to weather and move forward. Some of it will never really make sense unless you can speak w/ that person and get it all untangled.

    There are no wrong choices here; life is challenging and we constantly make mistakes. The benefit is if we learn from those mistakes. And you never know; perhaps you'll reconnect with this person in the future. That has happened in my own life over the years as well. And as is true of all writers, I'm sure that writing about this helped you get it out of your system!

    ~ Dawn (aka The Excellent Dawn! ;-) )

  7. Thanks, most Excellent Dawn, for such a thoughtful comment!

    Notice how I added that "most" in there? :P

  8. You know, I believe that there are Friendships and friendships. The Friendships do not happen often. They are rare but they are for a life time. Other than that, friendships are something that we happen to face through different stages of life. How many of school friends are still there in your life? How many of University friends? First job friends? Not many. People do not make it to your future for some reason. It is not like putting a deadline for friendship, it is just the truth of life. Once we are not connected through some common place, interest etc it is tougher to stay in touch. And naturally a friendship fades away.
    However some people expect more, they do not want friendship just to fade away because they give more meaning to it. They are the ones who initiate staying in touch process. And when someone does not respond they get hurt because they think you do not care. And no matter how much you will try to explain that you do care and that you just were in the middle of something important that is why you did not respond the mail or did not return the call. They get mad because they expect from you the level of commitment they are giving.
    Maybe it is for the best that things end when you are not able to match their commitment to friendship, because if it continued you would hurt that person over and over again. Not something you would want to do, right? :)
    Anyways I do not believe in friends for Christmas only. Friendship is something more than just sending cards once or twice a year. In this case it is a memory of friendship, of times that were and that never will be.
    But even then the best you can do to at least respond in order not to hurt people's feelings.

  9. Hi Lena

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment.

    That's why I love doing these posts. To get comments like this. I guess I will have to do more of them. :)


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