The trajectory of a long friendship is not always an arc. It can zigzag or bend. It can go underground like a subterranean river, reemerging later. It can be like a river in spate, seemingly rough but with depths only those within it can know. It can break: half a bridge.
Recently, I had dinner with someone I’ve known for fifteen years. We had spent a lot of time together initially, but drifted apart within a couple of years. Still, we maintained a semblance of contact, although we had seen each other barely a couple of times in a decade. At our meeting, something stirred, and I brought up the incident that had led to our drifting apart. We spoke about it with mutual kindness, with awareness that while it had not caused a rift, it had created a diminished bond. My friend sighed at one point, indicating regret for time lost. “Well,” I said. “We’re still here, and so many BFFs are not.”
I had shared earlier in the conversation that certain friendships, expected to be lifelong, were gone. But, I also had no idea until my father passed away just how loved I am. I had always isolated myself and chosen poorly in relationships. So I was astonished by how much support came to me upon bereavement. People I thought I’d lost, or who had been collateral damage in other wars. People I didn’t know I actually had.
I also found out how little I mean to some. The person I had considered my best friend, who was certainly the primary relationship in my life for a dozen years, chose to boot me out during this tragedy. I thank having so many other arms of love around me. Those undistorted or at least less distorted mirrors showed me with clarity that this denouement was a gift. A door was held open for me not so I could be removed, but so I could be free.
It took a while to forgive myself for that long friendship, for all the ways I failed myself by choosing it again and again. I was finally able to when I began to see myself applying the lessons – withdrawing at the first signs of abuse, unravelling the knots in my own wiring, reminding myself that my lack of self-trust meant good decisions could feel bad but were still right, and more.
Speaking recently to another friend, I shared about how the element that had cemented that toxic relationship was the other party’s largesse when it came to a valuable commodity: time. No matter what crisis I was in, little or large, no matter how many times I wanted to regrind the wet flour, as we say in Tamil, they would be there. For hours and hours. Nobody else ever gave me that much of the luxury of time.
What the longue durée offers is perspective. Time has many measures. Had I misspent mine? The question has arisen sometimes, and lingers until I see that its answer is in friendship with myself – love and understanding for myself. I am my longest-known friend, the only one who is certainly forever.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in October 2022. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.