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It's my loss too

We humans aren't always very good at expressing empathy for one another.  We probably feel it more often than we express it, and when we express it it may not come across as empathetically as we intended it to.  But even then, I think that we don't feel empathy as often as we could--or should.

I have lost so many friends over the years I couldn't hope to count them all.  Sometimes it's harmless--time or distance allows people to grow apart.  Sometimes it's gradual, sometimes it's abrupt.  Sometimes it ends very disappointingly for both parties.  It may be very hostile or peaceful.  Sometimes it hurts more than others.  I mean to focus on those times when it hurts deeply.  Perhaps it was a close friend, or perhaps the fight which ended the friendship was particularly intense or personal.

I appreciate my friends who say things to try to cheer me up when a friend is lost.  Most of the comments which people make are, in my opinion, clearly of the nature of trying to relate to my feelings or help improve my mood about the situation.  And for these comments, I am very grateful.  It is not the intent of the comment or the person giving it to which I object.  Rather, it is the content of some of the comments themselves.  I'll explain what I mean by that by offering some examples.

"It's their loss" is probably one of the most common comments in such a situation.  Someone who chooses in whatever setting to avoid affiliation with you--whether business transaction or a social event, a friendship or romantic relationship, etc.  It is used in many different contexts for very similar purposes.  I understand the purpose of this sentiment to be "I'm sorry you're feeling bad.  I want to make you feel better by complimenting you."  The logic is "You're a good person, interacting with you is a positive thing.  They're missing out on that potential positive interaction."  I think that's a very nice thing for a friend to say.  But I believe it is bad for two reasons.  First, it devalues the hurt that I feel due to the loss of friendship.  In other words--it's my loss too.  It's not just eir loss.  Ey isn't the only one who is experiencing unpleasantness because of the end of the friendship.  I am as well.  I hurt.  I lost a friend.  I have a hole in my heart now, which will take time to heal.  To assert that I have lost nothing is to be dismissive of my pain.

The second reason I think that particular line of reasoning is bad is because it dehumanizes the other person.  Yes, I may be a pleasant person to interact with, but more likely than not the friend I just lost is also.  Most of the people who interact with em on a regular basis probably say similar things to em.  In fact, they are probably telling em "It's his loss" in reference to me no longer being eir friend.  I would probably have fun hanging out with em and continuing to interact with em.  Ey's probably funny and pleasant in most situations.  The simple fact of the matter is that ey and I have encountered irreconcilable differences.  Perhaps we were both stubborn and refused to agree to disagree on a particular issue and let that ruin our friendship.  Perhaps we have differing world views which are simply incompatible, such as homosexuality and fundamental Christianity.  There are many reasons which might cause people to end their friendships, none of which necessitate that one party or the other is mean or evil or anything of the sort.  Of course, I don't mean to say that in every case both parties are to fault.  There certainly are cases, for example in romantic relationships, where one partner is doing eir best and the other is simply abusive.  So, it is entirely possible for it to be the case that only one person is to blame for the relationship not working out.  But I believe that is probably more the exception than the rule.

Some other comments are even more dismissive of both parties' feelings, particularly the other person's.  For example, "Good riddance", "bye, Felicia", or "It's about time they left."  Certainly these sentiments have their place.  There are two people (each was a spouse of people that I know) I can think of right off the bat that deserved having that said to/about them.  However, in most cases it's overly callused and inapplicable.  Perhaps I like to hang on to friends too much, too long, or too hard.  But I think that saying something along the lines of "good riddance" to a person has far too much finality, too much insensitivity.  There aren't many people who I truly wish to never speak with again.  Most of the friends that I have lost I would welcome back into my life if we were ever able to resolve our differences.  But it's also dehumanizing.  It requires the person uttering the sentiment to revoke all human feelings toward the person at whom the comment is directed.  People have feelings, even people that don't want to be friends with me anymore.  To assume or assert that they do not is unkind, untrue, and uncompassionate.

Thinking on all of these thoughts and my feelings over the last several years has made me want to be more conscious of the way I express empathy toward others.  Rather than saying to a friend "It's his loss", perhaps I could say "I've been there.  I know what you're going through." or "Would you like to talk about it?" or "Yes, life is tough.  It hurts.  And I'm here to go through it with you."  When a friend is going through a rough time, I want to be able to convey my empathy for em without devaluing eir emotions or dehumanizing anyone with whom ey is in conflict.  I believe we can help each other heal more fully when we express empathy and sympathy in a way which does not demean or dismiss.

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