An illustration of three women of different ethnicities hugging

It’s like inching your fingers down the dry end of a lit match. You anticipate how things are going to burn. You light another match thinking, “Maybe less oxygen this time.” But then, you watch as the flame eats its way down, knowing things might not go any differently this time around. 

“Friends come and go,” those older and wiser folks say. However, the phrase skims over the surface of the true heart. It does not tell of the grieving process, the letting go or the starting anew.

In the past six years, I’ve lost friendships like hair ties—elbows locked one season and wondering what happened the next. Guilt says, check the common denominator. Faith says, in this season of growth, there will be pruning. Expired matches litter the candle lid, but finally, three wicks are flickering, dancing together in a glass orb. 

In this season of growth, there will be pruning.

I was under the impression that my best friendships would never change. In childhood, it was the boy who lived down the street, whose mom was best friends with my mom. A bond born from the only connection an infant can claim: familial ties.

Then, we moved, and the ties weakened. Now, I can only remember the sound of his voice and that time we turned the driveway into a busy street with bikes and sidewalk chalk. I remember the metal containers holding simmering sandwiches in the campfire and what the pictures tell me we did together. Today, I don’t know him, where he lives or who he’s married to. The ties get weaker and snap, but there are no hard feelings.

Friendships in youth are about ice cream flavors and boy bands, but friendships in womanhood are built around real life and identity. So when they end, the aftertaste is bitter and wanting. In the past three years, I’ve lost a handful of friendships. Some of the hairbands got too tight on my wrist, and some too loose to the point of falling off due to jarring activity—the hardships of life, divorces, disagreements, and disasters. 

Friendships in womanhood are built around real life and identity. So when they end, the aftertaste is bitter and wanting.

As I grow older, I’ve grown in my understanding of friendships. We all want that hair tie that feels right at home at the base of our arms—there when we need it, ever-present when we don’t and at home with us. 

It was midday on a Thursday. I was taking a break in between projects and scrolled right onto a picture of two former friends, arm-in-arm at the same beach outing. Smiling, together, sandy and sunkissed. It was a moment of surprise, but also the ache of matches I couldn’t keep lit. 

It’s why we repeat the phrase, “Friends come and go.” Those older and wise folks know how painful it can be, too painful to feel it every time it comes up. Therefore, a smooth catchphrase is necessary to take the place of letting go—a full circle. 

As I sat with that moment and processed the feeling of loss, of remembering why I couldn’t hold onto those friendships and pushing away the idea that two old friends could commiserate on their past friendships with me, I realized something. It’s more important to find those friendships that fit just right than to dwell on the fact that some friends are in your life for only a season.

It’s more important to find those friendships that fit just right than to dwell on the fact that some friends are in your life for only a season.

Instead of sitting in the ache, I realized the joy that was found in the present because even though I couldn’t make those friendships work, maybe they were making something work together, without me. And I was making something work without them, with others. There is no cause for mourning here, but rejoicing in the fact that there is plasticity in the way we live our lives, in the ebb and flow of it all and in the grace that fills the cracks. 

The most we can do is cover our tracks. Engage in apologies when the awareness strikes. Leave a situation that’s harming our psychology. Be thankful for the moments drenched in sunlight and rejoice in the ways we find our people. Hold them tightly when we’ve found them and recognize when a change might be best, even if it means letting go. 

There is plasticity in the way we live our lives, in the ebb and flow of it all…

I think there is something to be said for that time of life when it all settles. When identity settles into the soil of your spirit and produces flowers that finally feel authentic. I’ve come to find that not all friendships are the same, but when we find those people who recognize all the work that’s gone into our flowers, we’ve found a kindred spirit.

Some of those people will stay to help you prune and grow. Some people will pick what they see because they haven’t figured out how to grow it themselves. Some will judge you for what you’ve grown. However, those friends who will lie in the sun with you and tell you how beautiful you’ve become, that is true and good.

When you can give them back the same and grow together, that is friendship at its best.

Have you experienced friendship endings that left you wounded? How have you learned to embrace your people while also learning to hold friendship with open hands?

Image via Rachel Chung of Yumi in Color

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