Moving to Vienna is great for my professional and cultural life but was temporarily nightmarish for my social life. I am doing really well on my own but it is crucial to have some friends to connect with; especially without children, to overcome my social brokenness. It is not easy to start all over in a new city, a new country and leave all my friends behind. In the first couple of weeks, I felt like the human incarnation of this wired cigarette cockroach. Ready to do things but all alone.
Tired: pizza rat— Tom Kretchmar (@tkretchmar) October 18, 2019
Wired: cigarette cockroach pic.twitter.com/HPxBLkWstX
First, we walked around to explore and expand my network. I figured out subway and bus lines, cafés, bookstores (obviously). Then we moved on to museums, galleries, and playgrounds. Here, as a mother, it doesn’t just mean facilitating hangouts with basically strangers, it means being honest with myself and others about my desires to grow my connections in Vienna. The second thing I did was even more important than that: I simply let time pass. I learned how important patience is in the process of making friends.
To find new friends is one thing. How about letting go of a friendship? My friend Laura Kelly recorded a great podcast about how she broke up with her BFF. Check it out if you would like: Laura Kelly’s You Might Not Like It Podcast
I moved many times in my life and it is natural that certain friendships end. Maybe “end” is not the right word. They fade out naturally. But those who have substance will last. When is it time to end a relationship? Also, when a friendship ends, does it alter the value it had? The timing feels eery, as I am grappling with ending a friendship myself. This also meant I wasn’t sure I was equipped to speak on any of it yet. Did it matter that I hadn’t fully metabolized the experience? Or intellectualized the shit out of it until I could explain it away with the right words? “I don’t know why it bothers me so much,” I said, my chest tightening.
As contact with this friend of mine started to wane, the health of our friendship was not always clear to me. Was our drifting organic or evidence of a more serious problem? In hindsight, I should have asked because communication is key. At that time though it felt alarmist, or even self-centered. So, the not so smart thing to do is to keep trying to be normal with the person until it was clear my efforts weren’t being reciprocated. Quietly filling in the blanks through all this probably made things worse. And more pressingly, it gave my fears a lot of mental real estate, especially as they pertained to the new friendship(s) I am trying to build in Vienna.
From an outsider’s perspective, maybe it was obvious we were going in different directions, but from the inside, it felt like a kind of betrayal, the way even necessary change sometimes can. Friendships exist at an unusual emotional intersection in that they feel both deeply important and easy to push aside, mentally, in favor of things like love, family, and work. This incongruence can be startling when a friendship is a source of pain rather than bolstering and additive. Friendship breakups may not happen all at once or even require us to change our lives to weather them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be just as consciousness-alerting. I think, friendships are primarily driven by mutual understanding or compatibility unlike family, who are not chosen, and unlike romantic relationships, which are charged with something more primal. Moving on from those often means acknowledging a deeper change within, or within the friend. It is a personality problem and I know I cannot move on from a friendship without moving on from a pat of who I once was. I realized that it means to accept that I also cannot control how the other person feels about me.
When I first met my friend, we were going through different but compatible transitions, and this lent our connection a key of alchemy and harmony. However, when our situations changed and the connection fizzled, I was left to question if we ever had anything in common at all. A loss of a friendship can feel disarming like that which brings me to the question I raised earlier: “When a friendship ends, does it alter the value it had?” My insecurity wants me to interpret this breakup as proof the past was somehow false, or my reading of it delusional. It is probably more true that our connection was strong for a reason, even if that reason was somewhat ephemeral. This reminds me of the trope that friends come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. It is the kind of cliché one forgets until we
Some friendships aren’t forever, but that doesn’t make them any less important. Friendships represent parts of ourselves, and navigating them isn’t so different from figuring out who we are. [Yes, I finished “A New Earth” by Eckhart Toll]. Simply confront the other person. Ask. Talk. Sometimes it may lead to a really difficult conversation but it may primarily save the friendship you have. This then may inspire you to approach some of your other relationships with a similar kind of care. When we downplay how they make us feel, I think we miss an opportunity for a unique form of introspection. Social connection, with all the comfort, and sometimes heartache, inspire. They can be external reflections of our internal worlds.
After a friendship ends, don’t feel like the wired, lonely cigarette cockroach. Go out and play with someone else.