December 3, 2021 | OPINION | By Tom Byron | Illustration by Emmaline-Hawley

People don’t talk very much about losing friends. There’s endless talk about making friends, maintaining relationships with your best friends, building up a connection from an acquaintance to a “real” friendship, and even worry about “losing touch” with friends. But our culture doesn’t seem to have a way to talk about how it feels to lose a friendship.

You can break up with a romantic partner, divorce a spouse, or disown a family member, but we don’t even have a word to describe the process losing a friend, let alone a cultural shorthand for how that might make someone feel.

The closest I can think of is “drifting apart,” where friends just gradually lose touch over time, both people independently deciding to get together less and less until one day, they see each other for the final time. It’s a slow, mutual, almost gentle way to imagine a relationship ending, and it’s likely the way we imagine our own friendships will end, if we think about it at all.

It’s probably happened to all of us already –– we just don’t realize that we’ve seen somebody for the last time. One of the gentlest things about drifting apart is that you’re never sure that it’s really over.

Here at Colorado College, we have more experience with losing friendships than most. The block plan makes it easy to make close friends in a few weeks and just as easy to never see those people again once the block is over. But even with those block friends, the two of you will be on the same campus, maybe have each other’s numbers, see each other walking across the quad and say hi. There’s that same sense of gentle uncertainty that comes from drifting apart. You never know for sure that any meeting will be the last.

But, like so much else, the pandemic turned our ideas about losing friends upside down. People were suddenly socially isolated, cut off from the friends that they loved and desperate to get back to them, and unable to meet new people outside the Internet. We were forced into temporary isolation, knowing that we’d come back to our “normal” lives in a month, or six months, or a year.

Once we came back, though, could things really be the same way they were before? And what would happen to the friends we made along the way?

When I was living and working during the summer of 2020, I met another CC student named Lauren. I knew I’d never see her after the summer. We ran into each other in the dark kitchen of our group house and got to know each other over a few hours of doing dishes. Neither of us knew the other people living with us, and we ended up spending more and more time together, complaining about our jobs or worrying about the pandemic or politics.

We got so close that we helped each other move out of the group house as fall rolled around. By that time, we’d gone through two COVID scares together, watched as the most terrifying event in our lifetimes consumed more and more lives around us, and lived as independent adults for the first time. I remember watching the sun set on the house’s old porch with her, sipping lemonade out of the last few glasses we hadn’t packed away, and talking about how hard it is to remember life before the pandemic.

The whole time I knew this person, though, I knew that one day soon we’d say goodbye for the last time and never see each other again. I was heading back to the east coast, she was graduating, and we both knew that we wouldn’t stay in contact. This friendship had an expiration date. As it got closer and closer, we talked about it, and realized we’d both come to the same conclusion.

Despite all the technology at our fingertips that lets people stay connected from half a world away, we knew that we were moving to a new part of our lives. And that was okay.

Nothing lasts forever, and some friendships are going to end. Some of them will end well, with two people sitting together in a park and breaking social distancing to give each other one last hug before they drive away. Some will end badly, and most will just sort of drift apart.

But just because something doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it’s worthless. I got to know Lauren knowing that sometime soon, we’d see each other for the last time. And despite knowing that it was temporary, every minute of it mattered.

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