Friend fade-outs v friend fall-outs

This is a topic that’s come up a lot among my mates and I lately – the challenges of navigating tricky friendships. Not between us, but beyond.

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Over various martinis and meals, I’ve shared my thinking on the subject and thought I might share with you guys, too.

I think many people find navigating friendships as their life stages shift really difficult. Among my friends (most are in their late 30s and early 40s), different and competing commitments (some of us are single, some married with kids; all of us are busy) trigger disappointment and miscommunications. It can be challenging territory to navigate.

I used to cover stories on this topic when I edited Cosmopolitan magazine years back. To be honest, I never quite got the big deal with friend dilemmas. I think it’s because I’ve never had a “crew” of friends. I have a very select number of close one-on-ones and a broad network of acquaintances. Plus, I’m an independent loner. I don’t rely on friends to go about my life – I don’t travel with friends, live with them or date their exes. It’s just not how I do friendship. Of course, I treasure my friends’ counsel and company, but if there’s an issue between us it doesn’t impact me on a practical level, if you get what I mean.

It’s possibly from this perspective I proffer this as a way of dealing with trickiness when it arises: “the friend fade-out”.

I’ve not really had friend fall-outs or massive bust-ups off the back of a misunderstanding or whatever. I’ve done fade-outs.

A fade out is when a bad smell emerges between you and a mate. You might confront them and address the issue in some way. You give it one or two prods or chances. Then, sucking it up big time, you back off. You don’t email, call, confront any further. You put the whole awkward palaver on a shelf marked “To Sit For a Bit: Do Not Touch” and allow the smell to fade.

A fade-out allows things to settle naturally.

If it’s a good friend that you’ve shelved, a fade-out allows the situation or the issue (the hurt, the egoic pain) to dissipate and the two of you and your long-standing love and respect for each other to come forward into focus again, with little bad blood attached.

Fade-outs allow “what’s meant to be” to “fade back” into form when the light is ready.

If the issue is the two of you – an inevitable disconnect, for instance – a fade-out will allow you to part ways organically. It allows “what’s meant to be” to unfurl. Neither of you have orchestrated it. You’ve allowed life to sort it out.

Over the years I’ve placed a few friends on the shelf, over yonder in my peripheral vision where they sit in grainy black and white for a while. Sometimes they’ve sat there for a year or two. Sometimes I try to bring them back into focus prematurely but they just won’t take to the light. So I let them sit longer. Sometimes, they’ve walked off the shelf themselves and come into my full view, clearly and of their own accord. An old mate will call me from out of the blue and ask to meet for dinner – it happened to me just the other week, actually. This old friend told me she had the urge to reconnect. There was no talk of what happened in the past. To be honest, it was a life stage disconnect that didn’t need to be covered. I should highlight, this friend tends to be a fall-out type (something she acknowledged the night we met up). But this time she stepped forward into the space, which is now nice and clear and uncluttered with baggage. And everything between us is bright again.

Tell me, do you tend to fall out? Would you try a fade out?

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