Drift and Earthquakes: On Friends

Many years ago, I read an advice column about ending friendships. The columnist pointed out that it’s not like a romantic breakup, which has a protocol and a timeline and had been immortalized in fiction and onscreen (mostly by John Cusack); friendship breakups have their own weird energy, and we don’t really have a cultural language to talk about it. The cleaving of pal from pal is a sad moment, for sure, and it comes with its own special grieving process.

A brief history of my friendships ending:

// In the sixth grade, I was adopted and then quickly dumped by The Cool Girls in my rural middle school. I don’t know what it was—maybe my boobs, which came in sometime between Labour Day and Halloween? Maybe it was something I said or did, or someone’s Important Emotion I didn’t tend to lovingly enough. In any case, I was dropped and then bullied, which is actually something I never really talk about, but it was suicide-ideation brutal. What cured it was moving to British Columbia, taking up with the sexually precocious kids (don’t worry Mom, I just listened), and developing a series of crushes on closeted middle school boys. As a cure, I can’t really recommend it, and it also did nothing to reassure me that, against all evidence, I was/am actually worthy of friendship. Formative!

// In the tenth grade, I ditched my band friends for the theatre kids, which, in retrospect, was a lateral move, but at least I now had people to bum cigarettes from. I was the turd in the punch bowl this time around; I eventually reconnected with one of them, and she’s a close friend, but to this day I don’t feel awesome about how I acted. But, she’s gracious and hilarious and I feel like our souls vibrate on the same frequency, and the four times a year we connect now are always so wonderful.

// In my first year of university, my best residence friend and I got into a massive freeze-out fight which ended abruptly in the face of personal tragedy (hers) and encroaching depression (mine). We’re actually still besties and I would lie in front of a bus if she asked me to; she won’t, because she’s a nurse, and that would be against her professional code of conduct (BUT I WOULD DO IT).

// The summer before I got married, my high school bestie and I went through this slow-motion realization that we kind of didn’t…really…like each other any more? And it was terrible because we had been each other’s rocks for so long, and we had spent so much time together, but then we both got engaged and I was an asshole about it and she told me she didn’t didn’t want know me any more (which: fair point, but it hurt like crazy). And then there was this hole in my heart, but I felt stupid because she had been just a friend, and sometimes not even a very good one, but I still miss her.

// The summer after NS was born, a friend sat me down and told me that I regularly said hurtful things. And you know what? I am mean sometimes. But most of the time I’m just thoughtless or trying to be funny in a shady (and unsuccessful) way.  I think she was trying to be helpful, but with a six-month-old baby and a dad in chemotherapy and some pretty intense PPA, it wasn’t the season of my life for deep personal reflection on my flaws, you know? Now I feel sort of edgy and quiet around her. We’re still friendly, but I don’t think we’re quite friends anymore.

OKAY, so all this filthy laundry is circling back to this idea: FRIENDSHIPS ARE TOUGH. And I know at least two friend groups that have been tight-tight besties since high school—elementary school?—but those people are wizards and I don’t understand their lives.

In my experience—and not just my experience, but in many, many people’s experience—there comes a time when you look around the room and you’re like, UGH who ARE these people? And then you moodily drink a glass of wine and look over the edge of the balcony and vow to only be friends with people you adore, truly adore, and not these sheeple who are currently eating all your cheezie snax and debating the merits of Ryan Gosling.  These people you’re only friends with because you used to play hockey with them, or they’re in your book club, or you had the same Anthro tutorial, or your parents were friends growing up. They were just close by, you didn’t choose them, but you got to know them and you were like, “Eh, good enough.”

Until one day, maybe they weren’t? Or maybe you weren’t? Or maybe there was just some fundamental schism between yourselves: values, communication styles, priorities, drinking habits. And the habit of your friendship wasn’t enough to overcome this schism, so there was some continental drift (which felt easy), or an earthquake (which was much harder), and then you weren’t friends any more.

If you were lucky, you spent the time during the drift or the earthquake making new friends. But the thing about new friends is that time isn’t on your side. Mom friends are, for me, a breed of new friends. I made some, they’re wonderful, I’m grateful, I think they’re hilarious and wise and I love eating baked goods with them. But, if I’m being honest, I can’t be my entire open horrible self because A) I’ve burned before (in grade six, whatevs, the scars are real), and B) because I am terrible at timelining. I have no idea when to drop personal info: in the first coffee? Two years in? I do this weird dance of the veils that alternately hints at my truest and most heinous judgments, and then covers it up with inane small talk about, like, which organic yogurt drink I buy for my son. I would love a chance to be like having a baby has cracked open my marriage and my relationship with my parents and I don’t know who I am any more and do people even like me and what have I done I am so lonely and tired and GOD can we just go drink orange wine in your backyard because I live in a shame-dumpster but in the face of that much raw emotion, most new friends back up slowly until they can make a break for the door. And I don’t blame them.

The truth is, I feel different than I did two years ago. I’m not the same. I’m weirder, slower, more patient, less willing to put up with bullshit. Old friends who don’t quite fit haven’t made the transition so well; new friends aren’t quite ready for my jelly. And as a result, I’ve been so fucking lonely. It’s such an ugly thing to lay out there on the page, but it’s true. I’m not alone—I have friends who have been by my side for decades—but they have non-tedious toddler lives and like to be out of the house past ten PM, which is such a nonstarter for me. I adore them, and I’m waiting for them to have kids so we can loll around in a park somewhere (except you never loll with a toddler, that’s strictly a newborn move). I’ve molted some of my older, ill-fitting, just-here-for-the-snacks friendships, but I haven’t quite let myself be vulnerable enough to let others take their place.

Friendships, man. They’re tough. But I guess being in a holding pattern about friendships is also tough? I’m tired, I want some orange wine, I want some human connection, I want NS to see me have amazing open, full-throated-laughing friendships in my life. I want that for myself.

About the Author

Kaitlyn Kochany
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Kaitlyn Kochany is a Toronto-area freelance writer and editor. She had her son, NS, in January 2016, and has been trying to sleep and write since then.

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