Ode to the Friends-Who-Might-Have-Been
Missed opportunities for things I care about are one of those things that really niggle at me. However, life is full of regret, so to avoid being weighed down by that burden nearly all of the time, I’ve gotten quite particular about what I decide is valuable enough to pursue and invest time in, but also pretty good about letting things go when my wants or efforts don’t work out (“I didn’t think that really expensive dress looked that good on me anyway.”)
There’s a certain regret for things-which-might-have-been that feels separate from a decision made by others that you can justify away (”I’m better off not working for that company”) or one that was totally on you (“Damn, I really regret not starting that business.”) There’s one category of regret that I keep coming back to these days.
And that’s the friend-who-might-have-been.
Friendship as an adult is tough. We know this. We are all so busy, constantly calculating our personal opportunity cost for how to spend a day, an afternoon, or a burst of energy for an impromptu hangout. Will it be with a new friend or an old friend? I’ve had to fight hard to hang on to friends who moved away from me, and who I moved away from. It’s so easy to lose momentum or just never start in the first place.
There are valid reasons why it doesn’t work out to be friends with someone, reasons I don’t blame anyone for - but these are the lost opportunities that I carry with me.
This niggling feeling kept popping into my mind recently, so I began pondering why this ghostly presence was staying with me. Thinking through my personal friends-who-might-have-been list, I don’t feel guilty. It's different from regretting not being friends with those college girls after we swore we'd be in each other's weddings, or moving on from the friend who met that guy and dropped off the face of the earth. It’s not my fault or hers. It doesn’t come down to a text message I should have responded to, or a happy hour she should’ve gotten scheduled.
Rather, these are the friendships that were simply non-starters. A recognition once or twice that we have something strong in common, and all signs point to a kindred spirit but it just never works out. We don’t have the time to bond, and we become those ships passing in the night - similar but perhaps too different, full of goodwill, but not traveling in the same direction long enough to stick.
So while this niggling feeling is less of a burden than stressing over regrets of jobs that didn’t work out or that dress that looked so great on the mannequin, I realize that it’s still real.
I acknowledge it.
So this is an Ode to the Friends-Who-Might-Have-Been. May this homage lay our almost-friendship to rest, and the memory of what-could-have-been-awesome continue to bless and inspire my current and future friendships. (Because adult friendships need all the help we can get.)
To the girl with shared professional interests and our bond that deepened over how to assert yourself as a young woman and the realization that we both lost our fathers before we turned 25, keep rocking it until your business is on a magazine cover.
To the random cool business student I met while traveling...if time and money were endless, yes, I would totally keep up with our email exchange, and maybe you would too. I hope your master’s degree takes you to new heights.
To the girl who pursued the career I thought I would've...keep cracking me up with your sarcastic humor. I’ll still be envious of your bookshelves.
To the girl who’s so similar but definitely not exactly the same, keep playing classical music. Maybe one day I’ll make it to a performance.
To the girl with the curly hair that’s a shade I always admired, keep that charming enthusiasm every time we run into each other, even though that’s all it is.
To the women who made the birthday parties, the happy hours, answered the phone, partied until 3 a.m. and hugged me in person or via text...thank you for putting in the work to become that oh-so-rare thing...one of my best friends.