Death and Friendship

For whatever reason – chance, the Fates, karma, bad luck, just life – death of various sorts has been resonating in my life this past year, leaving me hurt, thoughtful, and struggling to accept myself as I am.

The true manifestation of death closest to me is, of course, my Dad, almost a year ago. As my mother put it, life feels unreal after my Dad’s death. Something askew. Which really means that mortality has never felt so real. And who wants to know that. Knowledge of mortality inspires so very much of what human beings do and how we do it. It doesn’t seem to traumatize the elephants, but it does us. In this culture, it motivates everything from youth obsession and conspicuous consumption to poetry and daredevils.

But I’ve also been dealing with rejection-as-death this year, having unintentionally chosen to invest myself in several friendships that ended badly and with complete severance of contact. I am the type to always maintain a friendship at some level, disliking any sort of permanent ending and feeling there is always something positive to come from two people who care for one another, even if there is great distance between them of some kind (physical, emotional, intellectual, etc.). Friendship closeness can just be the knowledge that we care, even if we talk rarely and just think good things about and for each other. Or it can be frequent contact and sharing life narratives and emotional needs. And anything in between. But I don’t sever contact, and I loathe rejection. It’s death. This is not to say I’ve never rejected anyone. But if there’s been emotional closeness shared, I do my best to keep good energy between us always.

This past year, I’ve had friendships wax and wane, and I’ve had several go bad in painful ways. And all with men. Hmm. On the positive side, I remain deeply bonded to my wonderful and loving husband, and plan always to do so. In addition, I have several close male friends who are not freaking out or severing ties. I also have strong and close female friends, from longterm childhood friends to more recent theater pals.

But the rejection from male friends really has me hurting. That ability to compartmentalize that some (many?) men grow into from childhoods in which they’re told to toughen up for the big hard world (or however they come by it) is so alien to me that when I come face to face with it, I feel shocked, astonished, and helpless. I can explain some of this to myself sociologically and psychologically, and that’s fine for the intellectual end of the “dealing with symbolic death” equation. But what about my gut, my heart?

Yes, I invest myself deeply in friendships with men and women, and I know many people do not. They “reserve” deep caring for their partner or family only. But I don’t. If I care about someone, then I just do. And the men I’ve been hurt by this year did care, did show strong signs of valuing my friendship. But they were able to distance themselves, sever ties, and do it absolutely. I just plain don’t get it. Yes, I know one of them is having marital issues and is not very effective in communication, and I do not want to be in the middle of that. One has never had a successful long-term relationship, and I don’t even know if he has any close friends. He’s a loner and I was wrong to think he’d be able to maintain a friendship with me. (Ah, the temptation to link friendship with therapy is strong in me.) And the friend I’d had for 3+ years decided he needed only friends who have no critical thinking skills. At least that’s how I read it from a distance of a year of no contact.

And it’s the no-contact thing that I’m complaining about here. Yes, friendships come and go – just the nature of them. But a need to never talk again? I just loathe feeling forced to remove a cell phone number from my phone and knowing I cannot call to ask a question or share a success. It hits me very deeply, and moreso since my father's death.

All I can do is ask: Why invoke that kind of death when death is all around us already?