Kids are stronger than they think they are.
I'm going to use various pronouns - he, she, and they - in an effort to maintain their anonymity.
A young person that I work with approached me for advice; a friend had cut ties with him. The friend said as much - that they wanted space.
The person sharing this with me was devastated. Hearing 'No' from a friend hurts. But it's normal. People get busy. our lives get taken down different and new paths. We have to give our friends space. Crowding them does not help and can create resentment. On the other hand, the friends that grow distant from us don't always intend to do that. People can get sidetracked by the shiny things in life, sometimes.
When I was in 11th grade, I found myself being accepted into a shiny new group of friends. They were beautiful and had nice things and money and they were shiny and did I mention they were beautiful? I was mollified by them and spent every chance I could with them. Until one day, my very best friend asked me why I wasn't talking to him. I had no answer, but the question pissed me off. Later, in a water-polo gym class (Yeah, we actually had a pool in our school and we had water polo!! ) I was scoring more than he was content with. My friend, who was on the swim team, and a way better swimmer than I, decided to put an end to it and pulled me under water, holding me down. We ended up punching and fighting in the deep end.
Yeah, we were literally fist-fighting while swimming in deep water. And yes, that's as stupid and dangerous as it sounds.
While sitting on the edge of the pool in 'penalty', we somehow ended up talking about it. He was hurt because I was spending time with the shiny new people for the wrong reasons - because I wanted their acceptance. But I was shutting him out. .
The guy punching me was a better and true friend. If your friend punches you because they're upset, it's like a sign that they truly care about you. Fake friends don't punch you. They don't care enough about you to expend the effort. Instead, they humiliate you from a distance, usually through technology, and often anonymously.
That's what cowards do.
Friends who truly care about you give you a bloody nose, or knock your teeth out or give you a black eye. Friends who care leave a mark.
The shiny new friends had something I had never had before. Or rather, they gave me something I never had before - a feeling of belonging. So much of high school and teenage life is about fitting in. But to what? They didn't have anything I didn't already have except access to a perceived status. In chasing that mythical status, I rejected my old friends.
Another friend stopped me in the hallway and said 'Hey, Tesh, do I smell? Why are you avoiding me?' I had been unintentionally rejecting him, too. I didn't mean to. In my mind, I was just putting certain friendships on pause while I pursued other friends. But I never thought about how my real and true friends felt about that. I was being an ass.
By fighting with me and getting in my face in the halls of our high school, my friends were telling me that I was being an asshole.
I was being an asshole. The fact that I didn't mean to be an asshole doesn't matter.
After being beaten up underwater and scolded in the hallways, I came back to my old, true friends and was much happier for it; they were my true friends - and still are today. The shiny ones faded into their own lives. I haven't seen most of them since high school.
Bringing it all back to the issue at hand:
The person who shared with me was super hurt by their friend cutting off from them. To compound it, the student was fragile, having dealt with a lot of rejection in their lives. So when a friend rejects you, it hurts triple, because it brings up so much old pain. The thing is, they took it as their fault, as if they had done something to incite this rejection.
The friend who was cutting off had their own issues to deal with and probably doesn't even know what they are. Just like I chose to pursue a higher-priced friend group, my friends didn't do anything to cause it. It was my own choice. Stupid, immature, and shortsighted, maybe; but it was still my choice, and no one else's.
I told the person sharing with me that the cut-off wasn't forever. Teenagers toss words like 'forever' and 'never' around like today's divorce rate. Friendships are complicated, just like any relationship. They go through challenging times. Best friends who spend every minute together can't go on like that indefinitely. People get busy with different interests, work, projects, or personal goals.
But if you find a friend drifting away, maybe you just need to remind them that you're there. And you might not have to punch them in the face to do it. (although that's what certainly worked for me.)
Hi. My name is Stephen Tesher. I am a novelist, screenwriter, educator, and father. I've authored three books, staged numerous plays and optioned screenplays, articles, and this blog.