What happens when your deepest values clash?
By Caitlin Kelly
There are many moments in life that can test, end or even strengthen a friendship — graduation from years of shared classes and experiences, engagement, marriage, divorce, becoming a parent, miscarriage, serious illness, injury or disability.
What is friendship really based on?
What keeps it alive for months or years or even decades — and what causes it to wither and die?
I’m really fortunate to have friendships that have lasted for decades, even through many major life changes on my end: leaving my home city, leaving my home country, getting married and divorced and re-married, getting (early stage, all gone) breast cancer in June 2018.
The people I became friends with in my teens or 20s are people who share my social, professional and ethical values, just as they are now.
They tend to be people who have traveled widely — and not necessarily in luxury or comfort — they’ve worked for an NGO or as a journalist or physician or photographer.
Many have also weathered some tough issues in their lives, like mine — like a mentally-ill sibling or parent or someone who’s alcoholic or abusive.
Many have lived outside their home cities or towns, and most have lived outside their native country, often many times, adapting to new languages, cultures and customs. It has taught them to be open-minded, flexible, aware that there are many ways to work, relate, worship, vote, savor leisure.
They’re really curious about the rest of the world and how it works, or why it doesn’t. The rest of the world can mean anything outside their postal code or zip code — not some tedious, annoying abstraction, but a place as filled with contradictions and joy as our own.
Sometimes, though, a friendship springs to life through the least likely — and such fun! — common interests. On Twitter I became friends with a Berlin-based archeologist because we started tweeting the lyrics to Time Warp (a song from the Rocky Horror Picture Show) at one another.
Other friends share my passion for books or writing or design or antiques or travel.
My oldest friend is a mother of three adult women and lives a very different life from mine and very far away. I have no children and have only met her husband maybe once or twice in decades, thanks to our geographic distance.
But we have deep roots, thank heaven! We met in freshman English class at U of Toronto, rolling our eyes at one another.
We dated two men who were also best friends, both of them faithless shits!
She was my maid-of-honor at my first wedding, when I whispered to her before it started — “Just be my friend if this doesn’t work out.”
It didn’t and she did.
Sometimes friendships end, as our lives diverge or our values shift — or our tolerance for bullshit just finally evaporates.
I had three female friends a decade or so ago I thought, like my earlier Canadian pals, were likely to remain my friends for many more years to come. They were not.
Weary of biting my tongue, I confronted all three of them, as politely as I knew how, asking them to examine their privilege and be more sensitive to the difference between their income level (never enough for them!) and my own. Two chose to end the friendship instead.
A third married a man whose values just appalled me, boasting to me about his enormous income as a corporate executive — while making my friend work non-stop through chemo for her breast cancer.
I didn’t want to be a part of their lives any longer, and vice versa.
One friend, who was really supportive of me through a work crisis in 2014-2015, was weird when I got breast cancer and said some really stupid things. When you’ve gotten a cancer diagnosis, even the least threatening, everything changes forever.
Like every relationship, a truly intimate friendship allows enough room for disagreement, conflict and, ideally, resolution. Over time, we reveal our tenderest bits to one another, confident those soft spots will be met kindly and with respect.
It was decades before one friend of mine even knew I had/have a half-brother. It wasn’t a subject I wanted to discuss.
I’m watching my friendships carefully now, since it’s been more than three months since I’ve seen most of them face to face as we continue to isolate due to this pandemic.
It’s a time of real reflection and re-assessment.
Have you had, and lost, friends?
Did you ever reconcile — or just move on?