A few months before I turned twenty-three, I went through a very painful breakup.
By the time we stopped speaking, Clarissa* had been my best friend for a decade. And I don’t mean “one of” my best friends; I mean we considered each other soulmates—explicitly.
In the aftermath of Clarissa’s departure from my life, I became somewhat erratic in expressing my emotions, often feeling compelled to cry and rage to my mom or then-boyfriend about the demise of what I considered my most cherished relationship. I was truly inconsolable, and I ended up struggling with the separation for years.
Clarissa’s leaving had felt to me abrupt and unexpected: in a world of uncertainties about my relationships with others—my boyfriend, my father, with whom I’d always had a tumultuous relationship, other friends—the future, and life in general, I had come to regard her as something of a constant since our days of pre-pubescence.
No one had ever made me laugh as hard as Clarissa did, and we told each other everything. We wore matching underwear; we threw parties of two with regularity; we stood up for each other no matter what. In my mind, we’d gone through everything together.
When we were kids, Clarissa said to me: “When you put your hand on my hand, I feel like your hand is mine.” I don’t know if she came up with the sentiment on her own or if she’d heard it somewhere else, but I cherished it throughout our friendship just the same. She even got my initials tattooed inside of a heart on her ring finger.
A few months later, we were no longer speaking.
Early on, I struggled to explain the larger cause of the falling out between Clarissa and me. The catalyst, while clearer, seemed too ridiculous to serve as a real explanation when others asked why we weren’t talking. And yet, in those initial years, I sacrificed precious hours to my obsession over it.
One afternoon, Clarissa and I were supposed to meet to go shopping; it was sort of an annual tradition for us. When I showed up, she wasn’t there. Since Clarissa had long had a habit of being chronically late to almost everything throughout our friendship, I thought nothing of it. I waited in the parking lot for a few minutes before calling her. When she didn’t answer, I waited a bit longer and called again. No answer. After about half an hour, I left.
A couple of hours later, I was at home when Clarissa called me. I didn’t answer; I was angry that she’d stood me up. Eventually, I texted her to ask what she’d called about (back then, I’d scarcely examined my issues with passive aggression). Clarissa texted me back right away, apologizing and explaining that she had forgotten we were meeting.
I received her words with a steeliness. In the weeks leading up to that day, she’d forgotten we’d had plans in favor of hanging out with her boyfriend on numerous occasions. (Even back then, it didn’t escape me just how juvenile these qualms were; still, they bothered me no less.) I explained as much to Clarissa. She apologized again and suggested we reschedule. I agreed but maintained my cold countenance.
Over the next couple of weeks, I found it difficult to get ahold of her. When I called, she wouldn’t answer. Instead, she would only text to tell me she was busy with work. At first, I shrugged it off, but eventually, I became agitated again. Why is she being so elusive? I wondered. I was starting to get nervous.
One day, as I rode the train into the city for school, I sent Clarissa a long text message venting my frustrations over what I felt was the recent deterioration of our relationship. I told her I felt that she didn’t put in the effort she used to—which was what I still wanted, and that I felt that after she’d apologized, she’d only grown distant. I told her I wanted to know why.
“I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around you,” Clarissa wrote. “I apologized and told you I loved you, and you didn’t say it back. I’m not going to chase you and beg you to forgive me.”
Clarissa’s response caught me off-guard. Had I made her feel as though she had to walk on eggshells to maintain our friendship? I became immediately self-conscious about this particular assessment of our friendship and ignored all the rest. Then, I became angry.
“I never meant to make you feel like you were walking on eggshells. But don’t you get why I’d be fed up with you flaking on me repeatedly? It makes me feel like you’re not making an effort.”
Clarissa didn’t respond to that text or any others I sent her after that. For months, I was nearly ritualistic in my commitment to emotionally flaying myself. I’d agonize as I lay awake, doing my best to will myself back to our conversation—to that moment. I should have softened to her, I’d tell myself over and over again.
Like I said, it took me years to move past the dissolution of my friendship with Clarissa. I think a big part of the reason for that was that I kept vacillating between who I believed was to blame, the whole time failing to realize the ways we’d mutually outgrown a relationship we’d begun when we were just kids.
Once it became clear to me that Clarissa was no longer speaking to me—even to let me know she didn’t want to talk anymore—I was howling. I truly thought I would never stop crying. At the time, I was in the thick of my pain, and all I wanted was to understand why she’d just disappeared.
That last part is a lie: when my other friends would insist that I find my own closure, the chip on my shoulder felt palpable. I was sure they didn’t understand what I was going through—how much my friendship with Clarissa meant to me and why letting go wasn’t possible. Even if it was possible, I didn’t want to; I just wanted to make things right with Clarissa.
Early on, most of my close friends waved off Clarissa’s silence as a byproduct of drama that’d blow over in time. “You two have been friends forever; you’re gonna talk again,” many of them reassured me. Soon enough, however, my friends began attempting—albeit gently—to nudge me away from my pursuit to understand what had gone wrong. Always, they claimed that Clarissa was in the wrong for having disappeared without warning.
Eventually, I tried convincing them that she’d had her reasons, even if I couldn’t appreciate them at the time. And while I’m sure there are many people who find that kind of lack of communication unforgiveable, I’m sure there are just as many who’d consider it justifiable under the right (or, I guess, wrong) circumstances—including the ones I helped to create in my friendship with Clarissa.
Her departure forced me to seriously consider what my silence might have meant to the people with whom I was no longer interested in continuing friendships. To be sure, I’ve long gravitated toward open communication in my closest relationships. Specifically, where some of my loved ones have shied away from what they’ve seen as unnecessary confrontation, I’ve seized what to me are opportunities for clarity and thus, further intimacy.
When it came to friends I no longer felt connected to, no matter how far south things had gone, I never simply cut off contact, especially if they’d asked for an explanation—if only because I’d learned firsthand how much such things hurt.
I’ve since moved on with my life without many of the friends I once considered dear, but it has never been for lack of legitimate consideration and communication. In a way, I’m grateful for the lesson bestowed upon me by Clarissa’s silence. I guess you could say it was the silver lining.
Now, Clarissa and I have been on non-speaking terms for seven years, and it’s much easier for me to see that I was harsh in ways that didn’t accommodate her and her needs in our friendship, just as I felt, at the time, that she was unreliable in ways that didn’t accommodate me and mine. Looking back on how much I convinced myself I needed from Clarissa feels strange, and I feel guilty for having put that sort of strain on her.
I’ve since been the “Clarissa,” so to speak, in several of my friendships. That is, I’ve had friendships I felt were predicated on the assumption that I’d always be available to the other person. Often enough in such situations, when I’d express discomfort or that I needed space, these friends would accuse me of “not making an effort” to maintain our relationship. For my part, I felt like I was making an effort in these friendships—it just wasn’t to a degree these friends were satisfied with.
I’m sure that in confronting me about what they felt was a lack of trying on my part, these friends didn’t mean to torment me. I’m sure that they likely didn’t realize how much anxiety I felt when I received their complaints—which seemed to me like accusations that omitted the fact that I too had a life of my own. I’m sure of these things because I’ve been these friends.
And I can see how it wasn’t just one way. Within these friendships, an unhealthy dynamic had been cultivated. Rather than be excited to spend time with these friends, I came to dread receiving their calls and texts, fearing that if I answered incorrectly or not soon enough, I’d be met with the cold shoulder.
Some friends did confirm my fears, and I understand now that they were just trying to protect themselves from what they felt was my hurtful lack of investment in our relationships. Still, I see how that kind of pressure—to be available, to be free—is not conducive to a friendship. After all, there’s a fine line between those sorts of expectations and what feels like the pressure to be who another person thinks you should be.
Although I’d been close with all of them for years, these friends are no longer in my life. And while I don’t have any resentment toward them, I think my experiences with them have helped me to understand a bit better where Clarissa was coming from during the last several months of our friendship—why she came to feel less at ease with me as we matured and why, despite all our affection for each other, it made sense for her to move on without me.
Even though it hurts, and I still sometimes wish things were different, in hindsight, I’m grateful for the lessons.