Letting Go Of Guilt When Friendships Drift Away

Our lives are moving so fast that keeping up with so many friends is an impossible task.
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Monica Gabriel Marshall
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Our lives are moving so fast that keeping up with so many friends is an impossible task.
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Art Credit: Hedda Selder

“She said ‘Yes!’” the Facebook announcement read. Brimming with joy and rapidly multiplying likes, the notification lingered at the top of my newsfeed. I let out an audible squeal of delight as this update from an old friend caught my eye, but as my finger lingered over the little blue thumbs up I remembered a time when I would have been one of the people she called on this magical day of her life.

I was overcome by the desire to call my friend and tell her how happy I was for her, to demand drinks and a detailed rehash starting from the very beginning. But I hesitated. I remembered that we don’t talk any more; we haven’t spoken in years. Would a phone call be welcome? Would she even recognize my number? The sting of regret and the awareness of an empty little corner of my heart left me guilty and confused.

I want to know what happened. Was it me? Was it her? How did this friendship that feels so important now, slip away like this?

Drifting away from friends and even family is a common modern-day phenomena, and many of us struggle with it considerably. It seems like there was a time, not very long ago, when the friends you made growing up were the ones you held onto for life. You ran around the schoolyard together, raised your children together, and grew old together. You were there for one another in every celebration and every loss. But our generation’s grade school friends are not our college friends, and as we move from city to city, even our college friends get farther and farther away. New friends are constantly being made and—thanks to social media and the accessibility of world travel—at a rapidly expanding rate. Our lives are moving so fast that keeping up with so many friends, from so many walks of life, is an impossible task.

Life happens so quickly that drifting actually happens rather swiftly and suddenly; so quickly, in fact, that it might be a year before we even realize it has happened. For most of us, keeping in touch with long-distance friends means a phone call once or twice a month. We all know how quickly one missed phone call becomes two, and one month becomes six. Still, looking around to see that a friend has drifted downstream leaves us feeling guilty and too exhausted to do the necessary back paddling to catch up with her.

This brings us back to the question we are left pondering when the illusion of Facebook friendship is pulled aside and we realize that we are no longer a part of someone’s life. What did I do wrong? How did I let this friendship slip away?

Simply put, you did nothing wrong.

The human heart is made to expand infinitely, and we should not be afraid to gather friends to ourselves, to cherish them and pour ourselves into them. But our physical bodies can only extend so far, and that includes our mental space. As we move neighborhoods and jobs, marry, have children and send them off to school, the number of people who can remain in our physical day to day is finite. We must accept this and be grateful for the time we have our friends in our lives.

Understanding that our physical capacity is finite, it’s important for us to take stock of who our friends are and be intentional about the ones we spend our precious little time with. This requires more then a sleuth-style Facebook swoop while you are having your morning coffee. Choosing to keep a friend present in your life requires time, effort, and sacrifice; it requires us to make phone calls and to prioritize an hour coffee over one more hour at the office. It means we should keep a to-do list and a stack of “Thinking of You” cards for rainy Saturdays. But most of all, friendships requires forgiveness—for your friends and for yourself. Wait for your friends with open hearts when life pulls them away and don’t let guilt teach you that friendship from the past represents a closed door.

I know how it feels to suffer from a sense of loss and guilt as friendships come and go. But in my experience, true friendships never really pass away. They reside as a timeless jewel—with all its memories and gifts—in our hearts, even when the phone calls and coffee dates have drifted past our physical reach.