Monday, September 22, 2014

The Friends We Have Loved and Lost


I remember writing the story of my own friendship break-up

It was the end of last summer, and I had just come home from a Jersey Shore vacation with my family. It was on that vacation, and in the two days following, that I realized that my friendship, one I had loved and cherished and depended on since the first week of my freshman year of college, was no more. Even though the evidence of its demise had been piling up for some time, the final realization that what we had was no longer reached up and slapped me on the face so hard that for the first time, I understood what whiplash must feel like.

So I did the thing I do when I'm not sure what else to do. I went to my computer, opened a new post on my blog, and I wrote. As I wrote I discovered wells of grief hidden inside of me that I hadn't been entirely aware of, and I typed words on a keyboard wet with tears I barely realized were falling. And when I was finished, I pressed publish, too drained even to proof-read what I had written. 

Lots of people read that piece. So many, in fact, that it became the second most popular piece I have ever published on my blog. Despite all of that, it would be months before I could go back to read my own words.

So I understand. I understand how much energy it takes, and how painful it is to re-visit the stories of the friends that we loved and lost. To rip open our hearts and to write words about the relationships that once occupied a central place in our lives, but that are no longer.

And that is what makes the anthology My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends so remarkable. Edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, founders of The HerStories Project and editors of The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain and Power of Female Friendship, the book explores the loss of female friendship. 

Thirty-five women have bared their souls to tell their stories of breaking up with a friend that they had once assumed would be in their lives forever, and although each story is different, similar strains run through them all.

The book makes us understand that female friendship is complex and mysterious, and that the wounds left over from the loss of a female friend are long-lasting, painful and deep. Many of the women told stories from long ago, but it is still fresh pain that seeps through their words, as if the friendship had just ended days before. We learn from these stories that female friendship has the power to give us joy, closeness and connection, but also to cause a pain and loss that is unparalleled in the human experience. 

In her incredible essay Going Without Sugar, Cheryl Suchors writes, "I wasn't divorcing, but we have no language for the collapse of a friendship. No civil or legal understanding exists to encircle, protect or declare its existence. No public ceremonies seal the relationship or shore it up when rocks pierce the hull and we have to swim for shore, the sound of wreckage and cold seawater filling our ears."

I kept going back to these words over and over again, unable to get them out of my head. These sentences sum up more than anything the message of the book; that a friendship between women is so much like a romantic relationship - soul deep, involving powerful love, a shared history and a connection that seems unbreakable. But there exists no framework around which we end a friendship; no formal vocabulary to use to declare that someone once so central to our lives no longer occupies the space that only they could fill. So the friendship ends and we feel lonely and adrift and filled with a pain that may dull over time but that never truly goes away.

Maybe the friendships that we lose weren't ever meant to last forever. Some of the essays in the book explore the idea that certain people were meant only for certain seasons of our lives, and some friendships we lose may even come back to us one day, but that doesn't make their loss any easier to navigate. It doesn't make us question ourselves any less, or keep us from wondering if there was anything that we could have done to hold the friendship together, even if we know there was nothing.

But what we can do, and what these brave and talented women have done, is to share our stories. To tell our tales of friendship, love and loss, so that no one has to walk the path of lost friendship alone. 

When you read this book you will see yourself in these pages. I did. Knowing that others have weathered the loss of a cherished friend as I have hasn't taken away all the pain and confusion of my loss, but it has reminded me that I am not the only one who felt the particular brand of sorrow that swims in the wake of a friendship lost, whether you are being left or you are the one doing the leaving.

The wisdom of these thirty-five women and the power of their stories will stick with you long after you have closed the book, and will remind you that even though circumstances may differ, in the crucible that is friendship loss, you are never, ever alone.

Thank you so much, Jessica and Stephanie, for the privilege of reading this book and reviewing it here. I loved every single word.

5 comments:

  1. Great review. I could never tell which relationships were going to endure and which ones were going to blow up. It's a mystery to me.

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  2. Such a great review! You know I loved it, too.

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  3. Thanks for your beautiful review, Samantha. I can't help but acknowledge that your essay in the first book was so powerful that it helped to spark the interest in this topic. Thank you for that!

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