Losing Touch, Part II

Goodbye, Ann Perkins (2)

My friend wrote (in response to Losing Touch, Part I):

I know what you mean. There’s the inevitable sorrow of loss. But at the same time, it’s important to accept that some loss needs to happen for change to take place – sometimes better things can replace what you lose.

Your regret over losing a friendship means there still is some feeling left there, and if that feeling is mutual, maybe there’s hope to start anew. And maybe you’ll find a deeper level of acceptance than you ever expected with these old-but-newfound friends.

All I know is my own life, so I’ll share that. I’m not as physically close with my high school friends now as I was back then, but the two or three times a year I see them, it’s like old times again. It is different, but it is also good in its own way.

We pick up where we left off, albeit with slightly awkward moments like “So when did you start dating that guy anyway? I saw your FB post but…” But the newfound blessing of this is that they still accept me, no matter how much I’ve changed (or not), and likewise me for them.

I know they’ll always be there for me no matter how much time or distance stands between us. We will always pick right up whenever we meet, as if we said bye yesterday. And that’s beautiful in itself.

My reply:

I agree that sometimes there is hope for starting anew, that a second start can bring better possibilities. But I don’t know if I buy into the idea that “it’s important to accept that some loss needs to happen.” To me, this is an adult platitude that gets mistaken for real growth and maturity. Or, I should say, the modern narrative for growth and maturity is really a platitude in itself. Rather than ask us to be thoughtful about when and how and why we change – about whether these changes contain autonomy and enrich our lives – these platitudes instead coerce us to accept change, and loss, simply because it happens. It is somehow important to embrace change merely because it’s a reality of the world with which we are presented.

In short, we pretend change has nothing to do with choice, with intention or awareness.

I think we accept change, and loss, at face value not because it’s important to do so (what does ‘important’ even mean?), but because we fear the alternative. This alternative involves reflection. It involves considering why change has occurred, and whether that change says something positive about the lives we live and the persons we are. Often, it does not. And so these reflections are actually quite painful, especially if they force us to confront the selves we have forgotten, have forsaken. It’s much easier to paint change in broad strokes – “Oh, it happens. Let’s work from there.” – than to examine its nuances.

In my own life, these nuances often come in ugly shades. While not always the case, sometimes friendships fade because we have become less authentic, less raw and ready to speak our truths. We are less willing to be honest, and hide more behind our accomplishments (thinking they somehow represent the best part of who we are). We avoid the kind of connection that involves saying real things and being real people. We think we have something to prove and thus miss the opportunity to bring something to share. Perhaps we have made choices in the years since we last met that don’t reflect the ideals we used to revere, together. And so every word that falls from our mouths is an attempt to justify to each other – but mostly to ourselves – why we haven’t been brave. This particular chip on one’s shoulder is a staple of all high school reunions, of reunions in general. It is not accidental, nor is it “important to accept.” It is not inevitable, but is made inevitable by the fact that we accept its happenstance. We perpetuate its inevitability when in fact, it’s a conscious and shitty defense mechanism, a veneer that – if we wear it long enough – grafts to our skin and becomes who we are.

This kind of change – and the loss that follows from it – IS a choice, albeit a poor one. And the more disappointing choices we make, the more we deny that a choice ever existed. We imagine ourselves as victims – rather than culprits – of loss, when in fact we are both. Oh, but it’s so romantic to be a damsel!

That kind of change and that kind of loss, I think, is important to reject.

Her thoughts:

The acceptance of loss that I was talking about isn’t so much a justification of passivity, but the best coping strategy for things that are simply out of our own control. How others think of us is entirely not in our control – we can do our best to be good friends, to be supportive, to be present, but it’s always up to someone else to respond, and we cannot force another to respond to us no matter how much we want it.

I used to blame myself every time things went downhill – was I too weak? Did I do something wrong? The delusion that I had control over this situation, while less terrifying than the thought that so many parts of life aren’t under my control and sometimes, yes, “shit happens,” was ultimately burdening me with unnecessary guilt.

We’re all imperfect actors, bound to act in ways that are less than what we aspire too. I think it’s important to both aspire to be better higher purer human beings, but also to keep in mind that often blaming ourselves for things out of our control, instead of accepting that situation as a first step to figuring out how to move forward from it, doesn’t lead to anything productive, only grief.

The acceptance of loss that I was talking about isn’t so much a justification of passivity, but the best coping strategy for things that are simply out of our own control. How others think of us is entirely not in our control – we can do our best to be good friends, to be supportive, to be present, but it’s always up to someone else to respond, and we cannot force another to respond to us no matter how much we want it.

Mine:

“How others think of us is entirely not in our control…we cannot force another to respond to us no matter how much we want it.”

I agree. The key isn’t to become undeservedly self-loathing, but to really examine whether we have been good friends, and supportive, and (in particular) present. If we have, then that indeed is the best we can do. But it’s a tricky thing to define, isn’t it? And what we are willing to give is often less than what we are able to. This is not to say we have too much control over what happens, but it is about how we define what is “not in our control.” We never have as much control as we’d like, but I imagine we have more than we think.

“I used to blame myself every time things went downhill – was I too weak? Did I do something wrong?”

This happens to me too. Sometime after, when I achieve a degree of clarity, I realize that my thoughts in these moments are less about the friendship and more about indulging my own insecurities. It’s more a fear of having fucked up than it is a fear of having hurt someone else. And it is remarkably easy to conflate these fears though they are actually quite separate. While one leads to more self-involvement, the other can spark consideration, awareness, and even revelation. It’s the latter I think we should spend more time on, not the former.

“We’re all imperfect actors, bound to act in ways that are less than what we aspire to.”

An important fact to keep in mind when we’ve exhausted what is within our control. But fatalistic and irresponsible when we’ve done little except to keep this in mind. And are we doing the former, or the latter?

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One thought on “Losing Touch, Part II

  1. Pingback: Losing Touch, Part I « whatshihsaid

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