She looked at me and added, “That taught me a major lesson. There is no such thing as a derived relationship. You care for a person and develop a relationship with him or her. That is all. You do not develop a relationship with a person because that person is husband’s sister or a friend’s brother or a colleague of your beloved cousin. Your husband, friend or colleague may care for a person, but you cannot derive a relationship from that. To have a genuine relationship it has to be a direct relationship with you, not a derived relationship.”
It is a sad loss, for Charlotte lost a number of friends, who meant a lot to her. It was also a loss for those friends, who felt they had to leave her, even though their relationship with her husband, Chris, was no longer so close. They wrongly thought of their link with Charlotte as a derived relationship and let it dissolve. It is a pity, for we know how hard it is to find a good friend. Or develop a genuine relationship that endures through life’s many changes.
I know the loss well, for it has happened to me too. When I moved to a larger, better-known school, mostly because my parents changed home, good friends in the earlier school thought I was now in a more prestigious school and did not care to continue our friendship. I cared little for prestige and I certainly cared more for them than they realized, but our relations eroded. In college as much as in school, friends who broke up, for whatever reason, often insisted that others had to choose between them and could not remain friends with both. It was a great pity that I and many others lost valuable friends for such flimsy, factitious reasons.
At work our friendships are often transactional. We seek contacts which can be useful for some reason. To gain clients, to have access to power, to gather useful information, to have an indirect link to the boss. By happenstance we also acquire a genuine friend sometimes. However we acquired that friend, whatever the motive, if the connection is personal and genuine, it is worth taking pains to retain the link. It is frivolous to drop the relationship because it was sought and cultivated for a trivial reason that does not exist now. All that really matters is a human connection that mattered to two people.
Cynthia, my friend, used to tell me how happy she was that her son married Gloria after a brief courtship. She jokingly said she understood her son’s reaction perfectly, for she herself fell in love with Gloria at first encounter. She was just perfect: warm and friendly, ready to talk and share. When her husband was busy with work, she passed hours with Cynthia. Cynthia adored her, almost like the daughter she wanted but never had.
Sadly, perfect things don’t always last, and, in the third year of marriage, her son’s relationship with Gloria hit the rocks. They tried reconciliation, failed and divorced the following year. Cynthia was devastated. She felt she lost a daughter-in-law and a daughter at the same time. Gloria didn’t want to lose her and her last words to Gloria were, “Please don’t lose touch. I love you, and you will always have a place in my heart. Come and see me whenever you can, whenever you want.”
When her son decided to remarry six years later, Cynthia was happy for him, but her first thought was about Gloria. She knew Gloria was alone and the news would hurt her. She longed to call her, offer her some words of solace. But the last three calls she had made in as many years had all remained unanswered.
She would drive past the house where she knew Gloria lived in an apartment. She longed for a glimpse of the woman who had had such a large role in her life for a few years. She wanted Gloria to know how much affection she still commanded in her heart. She wanted to say, “I have missed you. I will always miss you. I can’t forget you.” She never could say them. Luck was not on her side; she never once encountered Gloria.
Cynthia told me, “She lives in this town. Other people see her. How come I never get to see her? Most unreasonably, I keep wanting to meet her. But I never get to meet her. I feel there remains a hole in my heart. It can’t ever be filled.”
I can guess why Gloria does not call. She wants to leave behind anything that reminds her of a supremely painful episode. It is an episode she would rather disappear from her memory, but it never will. She prefers to step away from it as far away as she can, though its shadow haunts her forever.
But it is a loss for both Gloria and Cynthia. A grievous loss, of someone you cared for, someone whose special place will not be replaced in a thousand years. Someone who had an abiding and inscrutable bond with you but now must live at an immeasurable, painful, insuperable distance.