I used to believe in the myth of the urban family. I used to believe that biology or shared-history didn't matter much; only the family I would build myself.
I was wrong. Or, maybe just unlucky.
I had a best friend. Close since toddlerhood, with only one or two minor hiccoughs in our union of more than 30 years, I thought she was my family. She was one of only two witnesses to my wedding. She was one of the only people to witness me cry. I could not imagine a future in which we weren't friends.
We are no longer friends.
It is easier to think of her as dead. She disappeared from my life with no explanation, no call, no email. She must feel I've done something, but I don't know what. At first, when she withdrew, I wanted to know so that I could fix it. The silence grew, my calls were ignored, and no explanation came. I became angry. After three decades, how dare she not only disappear, but deny me a chance to make it better? I probably hadn't done anything at all, I thought. She was being a bitch for no good reason. But as the silence stretched into an ocean, some of my anger gave way to despair. My friend had died. That was the only explanation. It hurt too much. I tried not to think about it.
In Hollywood, the myth of the urban family looms large, and is often attached to gay men: Rupert Everett as George in My Best Friend's Wedding. Robert Downey Jr. in Home for the Holidays. Often, but not always. Consider every single moment of Friends. That's what I thought I had, but now my friend is gone and I'm not sure I've ever experienced a more disappointing realization than that the urban family has failed me.
Friendship loss is no small or rare thing. In an article about coping with it, published in Psychology Today, Seth Meyers Psy.D touches on why such a rift hurt so much, and why I didn't expect it: "When a friend breaks up with you, it's undoubtedly painful. [So many films] flaunt the idealistic notion that friendship lasts forever … Beaches is an example that comes to mind, the story of two girls who sustain close friendship over the course of many decades and life changes. But I ask you: How many people have a friend who is so devoted over two or three decades? Sure, such friendships exist, but they are far from the norm."
So I had a friendship that was far from the norm. The hurt makes sense. Knowing this doesn't make it better.
Platonic closeness wanes for myriad reasons. It is natural to become less attached if and when we find ourselves living in different cities, or busy with new jobs, or engrossed in our children, or our disparate day-to-day lives. It is less natural to lose a friend suddenly, with no closure. This was not a gradual waning of affections — it was a deliberate disconnect after years of connection.
In another Psychology Today piece, Thelma Duffey Ph.D. writes, "Friends can be family members … And when they're really good friends, they're the people we trust most." The breaking of that trust has been devastating. I see the loss of my friend as a huge fissure in my life – the aftermath of a sudden earthquake – leaving me unstable.
Duffey goes on to say that it's important to practice self-compassion in these situations. It's important to grieve. I try, but I am mostly just sad and resentful. I feel sick when I consider what now seems like three decades of wasted time, wasted love. My friend made the choice to cut me loose. She took a shit on our history, frankly, and all the self-compassion in the world isn't helping me cope. I don't know if I'll ever get over it.
Meyers says that in middle age, "One begins to see how the notion of lifelong friends is absolutely a rare commodity. While your teens and 20s are filled with so much hope and emotional energy, mid-life pulls the cover back on the true nature of friendship: Even the closest ones may be circumstantial or temporary, regardless of how connected two friends feel at one point in time."
If this realization is a product of age, I wish I'd stayed young.
I don't want to sound bitter, but the disappearance of my friend has ruined everything. I doubt the sustainability of every relationship now, the fidelity of all my human connections. What is the point of investing in friendships that won't last? Who can any of us count on? Possibly only those bound to us legally. Maybe only those we give literal birth to. And even then, I guess you never know.