As queer people, often living our lives far from our families, we tend to make friendships that ultimately come to resemble family. The idea of chosen family is one that our community has championed, refined and normalised.
And we often have valid reasons for this. Primarily because many of us are unable to share life and community with our family as our most authentic selves. In some instances, we have been disowned or relations are so strained that even seeing family members once a year is just too much. And so, we build family and community with the friends and connections we meet along our way in life.
As an only child from a fairly small family with about five cousins, I have a ‘good enough’ relationship with them. But I too have felt for some time that my family does not quite get me the way I ought to be gotten. And sadly, I’ve chosen not to invest in them getting there.
This is why I am the ‘clingy friend’, the friend who commits. I treat my closest and dearest friends as family. Of course, this is a destination I only arrived at as an adult. I believed, when I was younger, that friends are just friends; until life taught me through some difficult situations that they can indeed be the family you need.
Since my 20s I have built friendships with men and women who I consider to be my brothers and sisters; the siblings I did not have through blood. They are there when I reach milestones and they are there when I fail and need a shoulder to cry on.
When I was in an accident, the first people I turned to were friends. When I get a job, the first people I call are my friends. They are there both in good and bad times, for the highs and the lows.
With that being said, I’ve been mourning the loss of some of that chosen family. Over the past two years, I have seen the severing of ties with some friends I had relied on, supported, brought close and deep into my life; wishing for them stay there for a long time. And it can be more painful and more difficult because these friends are still alive.
The pain that comes with losing a friendship – one that you hoped would survive the hard knocks of emotional turmoil, distance as a barrier to physical contact, and any petty fight after a drunken night – that pain tears you apart. My mourning has involved incessant texting, small talk, and a bit of stalking in the hope that we could snap back and find our way back together.
Having dealt with break ups with men I loved (and those I still love), I was never prepared for this kind of break-up and the resulting pain. Some nights I’ll check these former friends’ social media and realise they are alive and well, and they are having good times with their other friends (or new friends). Sometimes I’ll wake up in the morning ready to text, ‘What did I do wrong?” but life slaps me across the face and asks, ‘Why do you think this is about you?’.
And so, some friendships die a slow death because the hurdles you thought you’d survive are so insurmountable that there is no going back. There is no reconciliation and there is no room to rebuild or reset to where you once were.
It could be because there has been a loss of trust or a growing apart, a change in your individual directions. And, sometimes, they evolve and the person they become is someone you cannot be friends with.
The loss of a friendship, one which had come to resemble family, hurts and requires mourning. The ending may feel like something between a break-up and death.
There are no guarantees that that kind of relationship may come again and that the gap left by them leaving can be filled by another. My losses have taught me that just like the pain of a tragedy, you learn to live with it and without the person you’ve lost.
I recently looked back at the many friends I have had over the course of my life; the friends I have kept, but at a distance, the friends who have become close, and especially those who have insisted on staying in my life despite many barriers. I reminded myself that friendships are relationships like any other.
While these relationships can be just as special as those involving blood or intimacy, they require just as much work. And they require acknowledging when you have done wrong and being held accountable, and they require communicating your feelings, if we value these deep connections.
I have answers as to why some of my friendships with those I considered family ended but, for others, I am still in the dark. Despite all of this, I know that I still love my friends, even when they are no longer in my life. The friendships may have ended but the feelings have not.