When a Friendship Dies, Do We?

walkingSomething weird has happened in the last year with a former friend – a yoga and walking buddy and neighbor from down the street. We pass on the street walking. I am usually alone. She is usually with one or two friends, taking up the whole sidewalk. She’s easy to spot because she has a distinctive walk – a sort of lope that’s all over the place and odd for such a small woman. She also wears a distinctive outfit, the same one no matter the weather. An expensive, long-sleeved track suit. And from the neck up, a large flappy, floppy hat with fabric like a veil coming down on either side and in back, some hanging free and some tied under her chin to keep it on her head. The result is that she looks like a beekeeper.

After not seeing her for more than a year (she stopped going to yoga and we couldn’t seem to find convenient times to walk), I recognize the loping beekeeper from a distance and smile as we pass on the sidewalk. She keeps looking at and talking with her friends and ignores me. Maybe she didn’t see me, I thought. But then it happens again, and again. The second time we pass, I look right at her, catch her eye briefly and say hi. No response. Nothing. Nada. It’s as if I wasn’t there. I felt cold and hot and then empty. A shiver of shock, a blast of anger, tepid with sadness.

My god, what are we? Seventh graders?

Since then, it’s happened several more times. I won’t see her for weeks, then I’ll see her two or three times in a few days and she pretends I don’t exist. One day I can’t help myself and yell out, “You are being so childish!” I hear her gasp and then her friends, gasp, gasp. It takes me straight back to that childhood summer when my best friend went off to Lake Ontario to visit her grandmother and the other neighborhood girls decided I was worse than a worm.wrong way

I’ve tried to figure out what I may have said or done to this former friend to warrant this treatment. We enjoyed regular walking and talking for a couple of years when we met in yoga class and realized we lived on the same street. We had several things in common – close in age, both divorced with grown children, both self-supporting. I enjoyed our conversations and appreciated her words of support when my mother died. She even remembered the anniversary of my mother’s death a year later. We didn’t always agree on everything, but who does?

I think it had to do with the handyman. I needed one, asked for her recommendation. My luck so far had not been good with handymen. One young guy I hired at the local hardware store failed to show up two or three times in a row because he “slept in.” Another I found online said he was new to the profession after being laid off. It took him two hours to attach a paper towel holder, which was crooked and kept the cupboard door from closing. A third one I ran into around the corner where he was working in a neighbor’s garage. He was nice-looking, youngish, new to the area and eagerly came over to look at my projects. He mistook my friendliness for something else and the next morning at 6 a.m. was sending me text messages that make me want to laugh, cry and curse. Let’s just say his idea of putting his tools to use didn’t involve the nails and hammer he was using around the corner. After two days of this, I texted back that my son was coming to stay in my place while I was away for a long time far away and that he’d have his pit bull with him.

So, I asked my walking friend for a recommendation and she gave me the name of a man she’d been using for years, said he was great. I called him. He was gruff and uninterested in talking. “You do know it’s Sunday, don’t you? Call me back tomorrow and let me know what you need.”

Why did he answer the phone on Sunday if he didn’t want to talk? Maybe because of my recent experiences, I decided I didn’t have the patience for yet another strange handyman and told my friend this when she asked if I’d called him. She was shocked. “Oh, he has a heart of gold,” she said. “He’s the only person who works on my house I trust with a key. And my friend (one of the gaspers) has used him for more than 25 years. I guess I’m just used to his gruffness.”

So, was it the handyman that was the friendship breaker? I have thought of emailing my former friend, but I doubt she would answer. It is frustrating not to know. Not only is it hurtful, it defies all reason. I suspect she decided we didn’t have enough in common to continue a friendship. Even if the handyman were not an issue, something else would be. But even so, even if we realize we are not friends with someone, does that mean we ignore them, pretend they are dead? Perhaps if I had done something offensive like sleep with her ex-husband …

It is even more frustrating with her because she is a psychologist, very proud of her PhD. She counsels people who want to improve their behavior and their lives.