Thursday, November 11, 2010

Existentialism & the End of a Friendship

Recently a relationship in my life has changed; I tried to prevent this from changing, specifically for the past 2 months, but in my heart have known for some time that it has being transforming from the healthy and constructive relationship that it once was to something else. Focusing on the last two months though, I had been torn between a) the pain brought on by hurt, sadness, and the selfishness of another, and b) the knowledge that confronting the person who caused a. would end an important friendship. I had hoped that I could overcome or ignore a. and prevent b., I hoped that time would pass and I would be okay with the damages, or at least accept them and let life do what it would.

A wise woman told me that as life ran its course in this relationship, space, distance and reality would bring an organic ending or healing (she assumed ending, she was both wise and correct, though I had hoped for the latter), and that I did not need to force outcomes.

Considering that it felt like, still does truly, there was a complete lack of awareness from a.’s executor (hence forth called “x.”), the ripples set out by x.’s actions (resulting in a.) were continuing to expand inside my brain and heart. I was having a hard time balancing between the choice of managing the size of a. within me to attempt the prevention of b. (which was unthinkable to endure), to risking b. by confronting x.

And then it happened. I failed at preventing b., actually that is incorrect, I failed to maintain the size of a. within me, perhaps because it is unreasonable, and vain, to think one could prevent what felt like the inevitable just because they don’t want it to be true. And once a. was out, once some of it was said to x. there was no going back. Initially x. seemed aware (which was a happy surprise) and apologized (for a moment at least) and I thought that b. would not happen. I was elated! I had been wrong, despite the failed efforts in the past for me to be heard by x. regarding things that x. did not like or want to hear, and my feelings of impotence in an important relationship because I often feared b. thus not risking telling x. important things (previous to this current situation that brought about a.), and despite my fears of stone-walling or defensiveness, I had clearly been wrong and assuming the worst of a friend I loved so much; all along x. had been aware! But that was also incorrect. No sooner said (an apology) than was it rescinded. Shaking from hurt, frustration and anger, no longer just at me because a. had to get out as it was eating away at so much space in my heart and brain, but angry that it was true. That friendship was limited by x.’s capacity to see beyond x. My thoughts that years of friendship could outweigh how x. and my friendship have transformed within the past, were futile. X. decided, in less than the time that it was taking me to process these messages (less than 24 hours that is) - that had fluctuated from apology, to taking it back, to sincerity, to confrontation - that the whole friendship should end – without trying. X. even blamed me for much of it.

Following this crushing, if even someone expected experience, I was unsure where to go. In times of trial would I not usually talk to x.? Thus in my “now what” stage I feel that it may be best to evaluate this situation in the context of the four existential givens.

Beginning with this question: Is the inevitable simply inevitable? Yes and no, because that solely supports the concept of determinism, and, existentially speaking, I believe that destiny exists. If destiny does exist than we are not totally free, because of the concept of thrownness (that some basic conditions of the world are beyond our control) perhaps there was corruption to this process, or experience. This might make sense in a minute.

The four givens (basic truths about existence) and their application (my interpretation) of them to this experience:

Existential Given #1: Freedom, Responsibility, and Agency

This is complicated and it is very hard for me to articulate but in short, I was allowing myself to be a product of my biology, unconscious, and environment; allowing my fears to prevent my living authentically. To be free, responsible and not live in a passive state, I must try to exercise my will. I am responsible for my efforts to control b., but not for the actions of x. Just as I was not responsible for the egregious behaviors of x. that led to a., I could not prevent x. from making x.’s choices. I concur with the philosophy that people make decisions based on their own interpretation of meaning, and I assigned specific meaning to b., which was rooted in an awareness of the risk of feelings of despair, loss, and sadness if a. was expressed. But those are parts of a human prison, because freedom is not external, being controlled by this fear was only creating a more painful end.

Existential Given #2: Death, Human Limitation, & Finiteness

In this case this is a symbolic death. Yalom (existentialist) argues that there are “two ways of denying death: 1) the ultimate rescuer and 2) specialness. Both are tied to the heroic. With the ultimate rescuer, the heroic is an external hero while in the conception of specialness, the hero is internal.” I wanted to prevent the death of this friendship (i.e., b.) so I thought (unconsciously) keeping a. to myself was somehow heroic, like there was a specialness to preserve and I was good for trying. I do believe that there was a specialness, but I also believe that all things (in this case relationships) are finite, I was just hoping that it was finite in terms of physical death, that it would endure within the boundaries of my human life, not end within this year. It’s an understandable hope, because man is an irrational creature, but not accepting limitations such as those within this relationship was not heroic, it was a form of denial.

Existential Given #3: Isolation and Connectedness

For my purposes here I will consider the concepts of interpersonal relationships, and (a very limited understand and application of) the concept of I-Thou / I-It relationships. I firmly believe that we were made to be in relationship with others, that we need others to survive. Interpersonal isolation is a “way of being in relationships” that are “not satisfying relational needs.” A refusal to accept that there is a limit to this human relationship, put me at risk of a “neurotic, dependent, and symbiotic relational pattern” that prevented me from growing in my ability to relate on a deeper level. Perhaps I was moving from the I-Thou genuine relationship, with all of its mutual risks, to an I-It relationship. When “relationships are reduced to effective communication and management I-It), something precious is lost.” Because of my fear of that loss -of rejection and hurt to both myself and x. - I would not accept the reality of isolation, even at the cost of authentic connectedness.

Existential Given #4: Meaning vs. Meaninglessness

“An essential assumption of the existential theorists is that people are meaning seeking creatures. It is meaning that can make existence bearable. Conversely, the lack of meaning is one of the greatest existential terrors. Becker (1973) said it well: "Man cannot endure his own littleness unless he can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level" (p. 196).”
There are three types of meaning, false, transitory, and ultimate. Recently I (unintentionally) employed transitory into my relationship with x. Because I believe in growth and friendship, and that we, as humans, are both meaning seeking and meaning creating creatures, I thought that this was in the pursuit of an ultimate meaningful relationship. However following many occurrences of the past year, specifically of recent events, I was, without realizing it, living inauthentically, and irresponsibly, consequently preventing any true meaning. Thus allowing my relationship with x. to have false meaning. Allowing the development of an increasingly destructive relationship (internally for me if nothing else) I moved to create a negative transitory meaning that prevented growth or the fostering of an authentic relationship. Transitory became coping. And from an existential perspective, “merely surviving or coping is not really living.”

These existential givens were mostly lived out unconsciously. While I intentionally kept a. to myself because I feared b., I unintentionally constructed a new narrative that could not have anything but a destructive meaning. I did not know how to cope, so I stopped living.

Relationships need to be shared, and I did not feel any sharing from x., which I interpreted from a lack of awareness, and thus limited my own sharing. I still feel much of that (x. not being aware or taking responsibility) is true, but I can only trust that it is my interpretation of x.’s feelings, because I believe that truth, such as this, is subjective because objectivity is always suspect. I’ve read that a belief in objective truth is a belief that “bias has been contained, bracketed, or eliminated.”

In the opinions of others, some who have shared them without my asking - people who witnessed the events that led to a., not who have only heard my side - in their (as much as possible) objective opinions more than validate a.

I have been unable to respond to x.’s final message. My husband thinks that perhaps that is best, that all of x.’s words are out into the universe and maybe that’s enough. I am unsure. I have been afraid to say anything, publically or really privately, like there is a necessary mourning period and expressing happiness or being ‘okay’ somehow undermines the meaning of my previous relationship with x. Nonetheless with the quickness in x.’s decision to end our relationship (although I want to believe there was a significant internal struggle) it may be self-centered to think that it matters to x. what I put out there. That not wanting to hurt x. is an unnecessary concern, because x. did not mind hurting me – in causing a. or allowing b.

I used to say, mostly jokingly, not to cross a writer because they’ll immortalize you. I feel that despite my best intentions in keeping a. to myself, that x. (who is a writer) has interpreted it as a personal affront and for whatever reason (of which I hold many, primarily rooted in hurt opinions of) seems to have let this go quite easily, even made it a positive part of their current life experience. Making me a negative, when I know I am not.

All of this supports the theory that b. is, all in all and ultimately, the best outcome - but how can that be felt lightly? I cannot help but feel terribly wounded by all of this, and my response can only be to write this, an evaluative (while still emotionally directed) view of recent happenings. Hoping that I can find some solace or ending to the numb feeling that remains within me.

I desire freedom from this existential angst. With the removal of the object of fear (fear has to have an object, in this case b.), angst should not continue, it “has no such "constructive" measure” upon which to hang. It remains my own “nondirectional emotion” that I need to let go of. It is an act of living as a free agent that I can responsibly let this go, knowing that the consequences of my actions only went so far (are what they are), and the consequences of x.’s are beyond my control, and are x.’s own responsibility.

In the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, “Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you.”

About Me

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Portland, OR, United States
I am a daughter, sister, friend, wife, counselor and colleague. I am a work in progress. There may be some pieces out of place and things might be messy, but it's okay. I would rather accept that I am still unfinished than think that this is it. You can find my comments on faith and spirituality on my blog: And my comments and anecdotes on life at:

Books That Matter. Well, some of the many that matter.

  • Magical Shrinking: Stumbling Through Bipolar Disorder, Chris Wells
  • Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • An Abudance of Katherines, John Green
  • Dave Pelzer
  • Franny & Zooey, J.D. Salinger
  • I Was Told There'd Be Cake, Sloane Crosley
  • The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris
  • The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are, Daniel J. Siegel