The topic of the death and active shutting down of friendships was going to be included in a previous post about friendships but once I got started I realized that it deserved its own day.
I have a problem with the death of friendships. I know that friendships die. Often fading away due to a lack of common interests, or time, or attention. But when I lose a friend, it hurts so much. Maybe because I have never had that many friends, maybe because I wonder when I will find another friend, maybe because there is a kernel of self doubt in me that wonders WHAT DID I DO WRONG? Like Midas, I want to hoard my friends and never let them go. Unlike Midas, I don’t have that many to begin with.
Sometimes the hardest part of the death of a friendship is the apparent lack of concern from the other person. Was I the only person who cared? I experienced this one myself and it still troubles me. I graduated college and moved 1000 miles away to a job with the government. I met many wonderful people there and had a roommate for two years. She was beautiful, from Boston, very NT. I was her Matron of Honor at her wedding. She was nice to me in a reserved Bostonian way. I moved back to my hometown, she a variety of places following her husband’s job, and then west. The friendship has wilted to once a year holiday newsletters where I read about how wonderful her life and her children and her charity work is. She was even in the same state as I (90 minutes away) since her eldest son is at college now near me. No calls, no personal letters, nothing.
Now logically, it makes sense. Our lives diverged greatly.
- We live in different parts of the country
- She quit her job after the second child, husband makes pots of money, does charity work while I continued to work, husband makes a decent wage but not enough to quit (and I don’t know if I would completely if I could), and my charity work directly involves my son
- She has a stereotypical perfect family: everything normal while mine is everything but.
So it makes sense that this friendship would not last, the connection may not have been that close to begin with and the necessary care and connections did not or could not happen. I don’t think its anyone’s fault but still, I wonder. I wonder if I talked too much about my son’s issues to her when we still talked on the phone, or how things were tight, or didn’t realize how much her charity work meant to her. My aspergers brain appears to be blaming myself for the failure even though it probably was inevitable.
Then there are the friendship that should die. Put a stake through their heart kind of friendships. There is a danger in not accepting that some friendships are not healthy and should not continue. The best example I have is from my son’s early teen years. At his school was a classmate with similar interests in computers and martial arts and he lived near to us. I shall call him Shamus. Shamus and my son would talk and play at each other’s houses. It was heartening to see my son with a friend. Then my husband and I started to notice things that concerned us: Shamus had a hair trigger temper, he mocked my son to his face and in front of us, he caused trouble at school. When we would talk to my son about these issues and whether my son should move away from the friendship, my son became very agitated.
There was a final incident concerning a fall festival in our community. Kids loved to attend and eat bad for you foods from the stalls and play games. Parents liked it since the kids had fun and the parents could gather together to talk while the kids ran about. My son loved the fall festival and wanted to attend with Shamus and talked to him at school to set up where and when to meet. After school, my son was sullen and withdrawn. When I finally got him to talk, my son told me that Shamus had told him that they could go to the festival at the same time, but Shamus didn’t want to be seen with him, that my son would have to pretend to be there on his own.
At first, my son was willing to do just that. He didn’t want to lose his only friend. His father and I (and even his sister) talked to him and helped him realize a) Shamus isn’t your friend if he is ashamed to be seen with you b) my son deserved better. My son told Shamus what he was asking for was wrong and Shamus dropped him like a hot potato. It was a bad time for my son as Shamus treated him badly at school.
Shamus would have troubles in the school in following years, especially concerning his bad temper. He would be suspended for hitting a classmate. With time, my son would discuss how he was glad he had nothing to do with Shamus anymore.
But the message I would stress is that, for many Aspergians, they may not understand what makes a good, healthy friendship. That their loneliness and past failures in friendship may make them more likely to stay in relationships that are not good for them. Sadly there have been stories in the news of NT’s befriending autistic people and mistreating them and the autistic people not wanting to end the relationship. And it is hard to read of the humiliation and disrespect and not wonder, ‘Why do you put up with it?’ Maybe, because loneliness hurts too?