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My Friends Changed and Moved On, but I Couldn’t Let Go

Personal Perspective: I realized I missed a prior version of a friend, and not that friend herself.

Key points

  • Two of my friends have changed and moved on. How come I haven't?
  • Sometimes one person can leave a friendship and you need to make peace with that.
  • Your friendship may be irrevocably changed, but you can still relive the part you loved in your memories.
Caroline Leavitt
Caroline Leavitt

I tend to have intense, lifelong friendships that I cherish. My friends and I go through things together, from divorces to marriages, from having kids to deciding not to. We roll with every punch of life because our caring about each other is the foundation. But recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about two different women who have extricated themselves from my life. They changed and no longer want to see me, though I still miss them. They’ve moved on. How come I haven’t?

When I first moved to Manhattan, I was young and recovering from a bad first marriage, booted from my home and in a strange (and thrilling) new city. The first day I moved in, I got a knock on my door. It was a woman who lived across the hall from me. “Want to play in the city?” she asked.

We soon became fast friends. She was the kind of person who could walk over to Lincoln Center, smile, and someone would give her extra front-row tickets to the ballet or the opera. She told me she had come to the city with a broken leg, unable to afford NYC rents, but within days, she had found her apartment, charming the landlord into giving it to her at a rock-bottom price.

She was the strongest woman I had ever met. She created her own business and was her own one-woman publicity team. She crashed parties and when I had a book out, she made sure she told every person she met, even strangers on the street. She was my family in so many ways. I slept on her couch, borrowed her clothing, raided her fridge, and hung on every word of her advice. When my fiancé died two weeks before the wedding, she moved me into her apartment for months to take care of me until I was ready to try and make it on my own.

But eventually, she left for Los Angeles, the city she really loved. I was heartbroken. We swore we’d keep in touch. We did for awhile, until she stopped writing and calling. I had a husband and a child and life got busy. But still, I thought, we loved each other. When we saw each other, I just knew that we’d pick up where we left off.

Two years ago, out of the blue, I got a call from her! I was thrilled! And also a little upset, because she told me things had become hard for her. She had had some emotional issues, and was now in a facility, paid for by her brother, and on disability. But on that first call, we talked for what seemed like hours, about our pasts, about our futures, and when I hung up, I felt, well, renewed.

But she, I found out later, felt differently.

She wasn’t seeing me as her friend anymore. For her, too much time had passed. Instead, she saw me as a conduit. She wanted me to contact old friends of hers, since she had no phone, which I willingly did. Then she started mailing me packets of her writing, all done in longhand, scrolling up the side of the paper and around the back. None of it made sense, but when I told her I couldn’t make sense of her writing, she began to read it out loud, asking me to take notes and see where it could be improved. At one point, she told me to hush and listen to her.

This wasn’t the renewal of a friendship that I had yearned for. She didn’t want to talk about her life, or mine. She didn’t ask me about my husband, my son. Instead, she wanted me to edit her book. For free. “I love you. I want to hear about you. But I can’t be your editor,” I told her. There was silence, and then she hung up.

I never heard from her again. She wouldn’t take my calls. My other friends, hearing of this, said, “Well, she isn’t the same as she was. Do you really want to be friends with the way she is now?” I did. I missed her. The her she used to be.

There was another woman. A beloved family member I grew up with. She took me under her wing, and helped me through my thorny childhood, my difficult adolescence. She took me on her dates, introduced me to live music and clubs, showed me how to dress. She was everything I wanted to be: a great writer, arrestingly beautiful, smart. And though I knew that I could never compare to the wonder that was her, she did let me bask in her light. We told each other everything. We wrote illustrated books together. We promised that when we were 90 years old, we would sit on a porch together and laugh and tell stories. We told each other that whoever died first, would have to send the other a sign—and we agreed on what that was, and no, I am not going to tell you.

But then we grew into adults and our lives changed. I still adored her, and I adored her family, but to my surprise, she told me I was interfering and to step away from her family and have no contact with them because I was a terrible influence. I didn’t understand, and wanted to talk about this, to figure it out, because our relationship was so important to me. Instead, she insulted my “crazy life” in New York City. She mailed me back gifts I had made for her, destroyed, without any note.

Pollyanna that I am, I keep trying. I send emails about books she might like. Sometimes I just send an email that says, “hope all is well” and sign it with love. I open that locked door over and over again, but no one ever comes through. I know what is happening. I’m loving and yearning for the past version of her, but that version is gone.

I admit I am having a hard time with that moving on business.

Am I like the Great Gatsby? Trying to forge against the tide to relive a past that was precious to me? Or maybe it is just that I don’t want to give up the times that were so good, that shaped me, that made me a better person. I want that feeling back.

Quantum physics says that time is manmade, that perhaps everything is happening at the same time in different dimensions. I like to think that’s true. I like to think that somewhere I am romping through the city with my friend, or hugging my family member and laughing. Sometimes, I can curl up in a chair and go into a kind of reverie, reliving my time with these women, flooding myself with that love, that warmth that I no longer have with them. Those versions, I know, are finite. But the memories are forever.

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