Letting my friends go

Because friendship is about freedom, not obligation

Letting my friends go

"I'm not bitter," I told him, "I'm not resentful. I don't feel like you betrayed me. I'm just... hurt." A tear rolled off my eyes.

"I'm hurt, too." he said.

We had a shared dream, once, that at the end of this year he would come back to Delhi. We would build a life here. We'd have a pet, and we'd go out drinking every weekend, and talk about life at late nights. No matter what we face at work, in relationships or families, friendship would affirm our lives.

No matter what we face at work, in relationships or families, friendship will affirm our lives.

You know how this works, though: a job came along, an identity was formed, and before you knew it, the decision was already made.

Sometimes when people leave, they don't come back even if they've told you they will. They find things in the places they go that they want to hold on to, and the life they left behind looks like a step back. And who ever wants to take a step back

Loving Friends In Freedom

This always happens, right? Friends drift apart in your 20s. But I had the conviction that it wouldn't happen to me. I choose to live with my friends from college, and keep pestering those who aren't in Delhi to move here. The project is to build a warm and loving community, a place we do not hesitate to call home.

The crushing realization, though, has been that this is our project, not mine. My friends get to choose their own ways of relating to it, and sometimes that means they move away. They take jobs or go to study in alien lands.

I wish they chose not to leave, but I will need to love them when they do. For Aristotle, those who are "most truly friends" love each other "by reason of their nature," i.e., for being the people they are.

A friendship is a collaborative enterprise. It exists not within but among us. It's like a sand castle we're building together on the beach. Sometimes, my friends will want to create a tunnel in the castle that I'd rather not have. Other times, they will leave it half-finished to go play in the water.

When you start building a sand castle with someone, you sign up for such uncertainty at the outset. The freedom inherent in it means that at any point, either of you might choose to leave. If we still choose to build the castle with them, we must believe it's worth it even if it does not last.

Reinventing The Project

My project was once that my closest friends and I will live together in Delhi. That project is dying, but my friends assure me it can make room for new ones. We'll take annual trips together. We'll start a reading circle, or do nothing at all for a little while.

Without effort, with utter and absolute freedom, these friendships might not survive. But who knows? We could choose to use our freedom to make them survive. To make a friendship last by taking freedom away, by binding it into a contract, is a contradiction in terms. What lasts, if anything, is mere obligation.

I will learn to love the uncertainty of this endeavour. But I will also dream that one day, he'll call me and say he's back in Delhi. No matter where I am in the world, I will pick up my bags and come.

This Week's Recommendation

The Atlantic has so much great writing on friendship that I honestly have trouble picking. This essay, though, deals with a whole range of issues around adult friendships, and does so beautifully. Here are some questions it wrestles with:

  1. Are friendships about freedom, or must they involve commitment?
  2. How do we cope with envy and power imbalances in friendships?
  3. What does it mean to be a better friend?
It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart
The older we get, the more we need our friends—and the harder it is to keep them.