Sometimes I go to the bar alone and order a burger and a beer and pretend to watch sports. But really, I’m thinking of the men I’ve loved.

Usually it’s football or basketball — those are the popular sports around here. Usually a stranger tries to talk to me about the teams, and I bump along in the conversation until they let me go distant again.

Sometimes I dwell on mistakes I made in those relationships. I remember apologies I’ve said in my head a dozen times but seldom aloud.

Sometimes I dwell on the truly good moments, golden, rare, and sweet. I sip my beer slowly and thank God for those, sighing.

But mostly, I remember those men. I recall what they were like, what they were good at, what was frustrating about them. I picture their faces, clothes, cars. I remember what parts of me originated from them — what rubbed off.

Little things: from one, a certain rural congeniality, lifting two fingers from your steering wheel in greeting to people in your neighborhood; from another, a taste for gin and tonic. Tonic water tastes objectively bad, and I don’t know how anyone acquires a taste for it, except I know how I acquired mine. He made me a G & T, and we played Mario, and I decided to like it.

Also, big things. In the summer of 2014, Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, triggering an avalanche of unrest about the relationship of law enforcement to racial minorities in America. My friend Jon (white, straight, married) isn’t usually very emotive, but the injustices of those years ignited deep anger and sorrow in him, and I paid close attention because my heart was set on him.

I wanted Jon to like me, so I also paid more attention to the news. What I saw didn’t feel like my problem and didn’t seem like it should be Jon’s problem either. Yet Jon wept. As I kept watching and listening, I began to see how you can have a racist society without many particularly, specifically racist individuals. I began to see the subtle ways privilege and complicity wind their way through our lives.

Whether you agree is, perhaps, between you, your neighbor, and God. But I realized washing my hands of it and walking away would not leave me clean.

When we give our hearts to people we are changed, even if they never give us their hearts in return. These effects aren’t scars — they don’t begin as wounds — and I wouldn’t call them baggage. They’re like paint splashes on our canvas hearts or imprints on our soft, clay souls.

They’re the telltale signs, the aftermath, of giving someone the power to change us.

“I can’t stop thinking about him,” my friend Scott confessed over a salad and wine. He’d just pulled the life-support plug on a romantically charged friendship that had lost its goodness. It had been necessary, but Scott was devastated. “A thousand little things remind me of him. I’m brought to my knees over and over. I’m never going to recover.”

I could empathize. I myself was grappling with the sudden collapse of my unbalanced relationship with Jon.

I had been unwise and was reaping the reward: a heaping dose of hindsight and that feeling when the solid ground you step on turns out to be air and your gut lurches.

I saw no end to the things that would remind me of Jon: steak, church, Lord of the Rings, all tinged by a sad, ashamed regret that would twist my stomach on contact and make me freeze up, forgetting what I was doing. Whenever I saw a Toyota Yaris, my heart would skip a beat and I’d have to see inside to know if it was him, though the knowledge was useless to me.

But pain, shame, and regret don’t have the last word. The same God who makes the sun rise and trees grow also makes broken bones knit and the cracked heart re-form. You can’t speed up the healing of a heart or bones any more than you can make the sun rise sooner or make a tree grow faster by pulling on its top. But it’s just as sure to happen.

In fact, if you are redeemed by Christ’s death and resurrection, no power in the universe can stop that healing from happening, eventually. It’s just a matter of time.

A year later, Scott and I were catching up over a different salad. “I’ve gone from pathetic to angry,” Scott reflected. “I don’t lose sleep anymore. I saw him from a distance the other day, and I wasn’t tempted to text him.”

Scott had been so sure he wouldn’t recover, but now we agreed that things were looking up. I was doing better, too. My remaining friendships were thriving, and promising new ones were forming.

I completed my half-finished reread of Lord of the Rings, crying in public over the last chapters and texting someone besides Jon about it. My heart stopped skipping a beat when I saw a Yaris, and I learned to accept but not surrender to the gentle gravity that car exerted on my gaze.

“When I was with him I felt so weak,” Scott continued. “But I feel strong now — more than I ever thought possible. I feel like I threw years away in that weakness. I hate it, but I can’t un-live those years. I’ll always have those thousand things that remind me of him, needling me.”

I told Scott I didn’t think the pain would always be there. The memory of pain might always be there, but that’s different.

Watching football’s inscrutable choreography unfold, I remember the pain but also the joys. I remember the ways Jon was kind to me, how he ventured outside his comfort zone for me.

I remember his heart for racial reconciliation, how it grew me, and I recognize that, at least this time, I’m better for having given someone power to change me.

Can you point to particular imprints left on you by other men in friendship? Do you struggle to move on from broken friendships?

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  • On September 24, 1984, my best friend killed himself. It devastated me because I loved him. I didn’t go to his funeral nor did I know where he was buried. I never grieved for him (until 2016). This led to many bad behaviors, as I was confusing sex with love; they aren’t the same thing at all. My boyfriend and I had a bad, codependent relationship. I was having sex with him because I thought I was supposed to since I was gay, not because I loved him.
    It was perfectly okay for me to cheat on him, but I flew into a jealous rage everytime I found out he was cheating on me. How hypocritical. The last time we were together happened after a fight with my wife over laundry. I felt awful about it, and said it could never happen again, He said I was only good for sex. His words devastated me, but again, I was confusing sex with love. That was fourteen years ago.
    I loved David, though we never had sex. I had sex with many guys, but I didn’t love them. I might have said I did in the heat of the moment, but it wasn’t true. I was seeking what I had lost, and miss him terribly. God showed me the grave in February 2016, so I could begin to grieve. He also showed me that I was having sex with me because I hadn’t grieved for David. It is a hard process and I even had to seek psychological therapy. With that came emotional healing and I quit seeking porn (been sober 19 months). I have leaned to like myself and quit objectifying men. I also have to accept the fact that I will not see David again in this lifetime.
    I also get what you say about sports. I have to fake my through being interested in football (it is worshipped here, so much so that pastors end their sermons early so parishioners don’t miss the start of the game). I actually had to learn a lot about the games to have an intelligible conversation, but I could really care less.

    • Ugh, grieving takes SO LONG. It’s such a process. But if you don’t face the grief, everything comes out sideways, like you describe. I’m so glad to hear you’ve been working through some of it over the past few years. And congratulations on 19 months!

  • Ryan,
    THIS SPOKE TO ME on a deep heart level. Thank you for sharing your experiences in this area with us. I know that talking about broken friendships can draw us back into an unsettled spot.
    I have to say that I have enjoyed fairly strong male friendships my whole life, and the past four years, I’ve found really strong friendships with guys in the Church. I’ve experienced great joys inside these friendships (both with guys in the church and those that aren’t). Most of my strong/close male friendships (especially in the last four years) are with straight guys.Some of those friendships have simply ended due to drifting/growing apart, and some have ended due to an unbalance like you mentioned, or something happens to create a brokenness that for whatever reason, can’t be put back together.
    I am by nature someone who gives and dives fully into friendships, but some things have made me learn the beauty of slowing down and discerning early on about certain things that could be potential pitfalls. I had a friend (lets use his initials) BG, who I was very close to. For a period of almost two years, we were very close. He walked away from Christianity and with that, walked away from all our friends. I missed our routines, our jokes, and the deep conversations we would have. He moved to California from Texas a year ago and called me to say bye and meet up to give me a hug and he thanked me for being a good friend to him. It was unexpected closure. Most people don’t get that, and for that, I will always be grateful. The pain has lessened. I think about him fairly often still, but it is more settled. He imprinted on me a love for his home state of Michigan and July 4th.
    When these “friendship breakups” happen, it is very easy for me (and I assume most people) to question what I did wrong. Why was it so easy for someone else to end the friendship? Do they miss me at all? Do they know that this caused me pain? Do they not care about that? But like you said, healing comes. it always does! You look up one day and it feels lighter, you breathe, and you take a step forward. and another.
    I have a tribe of guys I do life with that are very much like brothers and hold special spots in my heart/life. Two of those guys are my best friends and it used to scare me to think of those friendships potentially ending. What I’ve learned with those two guys is that how a friendship looks/feels might be different based on seasons of life, but the commitment and love and devotion can be the same, as long as it is spoken about and checked in on routinely. And I’ve learned to be grateful for the friendships where they are,as they are. one of those two guys, we have known each other for 13 months and we are currently roommates. He is getting married in August and will move a few blocks away. I know our friendship will look differently but I am grateful for him every day and thankful for our friendship. It is both our spoken desire to remain lifelong best friends and we entrust that to the Lord. John has imprinted on me (a Texas rangers fan) a love for the Houston Astros (his hometown) and a few other things. I know that I will always be able to say I am a better man, friend, and believer because he in in my life. The other guy, MP, him and I have been best friends for almost four years. We are in the middle of untangling some patterns we developed that were unhealthy in terms of emotional codependency, and it has been really sad at times. We are moving forward in friendship with some changes and sometimes that scares me, but again, I am so grateful for him. I would not be the man I am today without him. He has imprinted on me so many things that it is impossible to really think of my life ever being truly separated from him.
    Broken Friendships can make us really hesitant to form new friendships. The vulnerability it requires to open yourself up to another friendship knowing it could end in some level of pain, is a unique reminder of the cross and Personhood of Jesus. He chose to love us, knowing that some of us might reject him. armed with this reminder, It allows me to allow another person in, and receive the invitation into their life.
    I love what you shared about paint splashes! Beautiful way to think of it. Thank you for sharing. You prompted quite a long response from me! Sorry!

  • Yes I’ve had so many of those in my life. I know all of those things I tried out to get other friends to like me more and now when I see them all I can think of are those friends, either still there or long lost. Its very hard to move on from some of those friendships that are more broken, partly because there is a part of me that’s thinking maybe just maybe they can be salvaged or they’ll be reconciled some day. I always keep that hope in me.

    • I think renewal is a good thing to hope for in the long run, but sometimes truly, fully letting go is part of the growth that needs to happen before that renewal can begin. Like, in some situations I’ve had to tell myself, “I hope and even believe friendship can happen with this person, but it might not be this side of eternity, and I have to be okay with that.”

      • That is a patience I have been learning to better exercise over the last few years. I am so grateful for that hope of connection which is not constrained in any way by lack of time. I hate having to wait, but I believe it will all be well worth the wait.

  • Every close friendship I have also changes me in some way. At the very least there will be memories brought back by familiar places or circumstances.
    When I see Brandon’s 20 year old son, I remember the image in my mind of Brandon when he was 20. When I drive past the place I lived with Justin, I think of the arguments we had there when I was emotionally dependent on him in a very unhealthy way.
    These memories actually reinforce the positive things I have learned from the mistakes I made in each friendship. I thank God for the happy things I remember but also memories of those painful things I that learned from!

    • I’m imagining spending time with the 20 year old son of a friend whom I’ve known since 20, and wow that must be a powerful feeling. I hope God blesses me with a few friendships like that.

      • Ryan, I have been in the same church for over 30 years and God has blessed me with several friendships like that. It is worth the cost to consistently build trust and show love over the years. Yes, the feeling is powerful and reassuring, but sometimes strangely awkward because we know each other’s bad stuff.

  • One of my favorite posts ever to come from this community. Thanks for infusing so much rawness and detail into this post, Ryan. I very much struggle to move on from broken friendships or friendships that didn’t pan out at all the way I hoped. But it makes me all the more grateful for those friendships that have stuck. Gives me hope for future reconciliation and unity.

    • You’re welcome! I’m so thankful to have a place to share it. Yes, thank God for the friendships that remain, and there’s nothing, not even us, that can stop us from having reconciliation and unity in the end.

  • Hello, Ryan…I am an Enneagram 2..or maybe 4 … or maybe 6… just can’t seem to nail it down…I am a lovely blend of all of them. The footprints left in your heart are precious memories, but how much better it would be to have the feet, the presence of the person, making those footprints. How well I understand your heart’s pain, your soul’s ache, but I can scarcely imagine the degrees, the depths, and dimensions of those multiple sorrows. How glad I am for a friend like you to share that part of your heart’s scrapbook with me. I am grateful for you, as well, because if I were 40 years younger, I would have loved to have had a friendship with you as I struggled to understand the various facets of my own life. May you draw more and more people to you, and find, within that community of caring, your own Faithful, your own fellow-pilgrim.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Paul, and thanks for reading! Yeah I feel like Enneagram is primarily useful as a language to talk about patterns of thought and interacting with others, even if you have a hard time identifying with only one type. Like, even though I call myself a 9, I think I can have some strong 2 patterns and 4 patterns, and it’s handy to have the language to talk about that.

  • Ryan,
    THIS SPOKE TO ME on a deep heart level. Thank you for sharing your experiences in this area with us. I know that talking about broken friendships can draw us back into an unsettled spot.
    I have to say that I have enjoyed fairly strong male friendships my whole life, and the past four years, I’ve found really strong friendships with guys in the Church. I’ve experienced great joys inside these friendships (both with guys in the church and those that aren’t). Most of my strong/close male friendships (especially in the last four years) are with straight guys.Some of those friendships have simply ended due to drifting/growing apart, and some have ended due to an unbalance like you mentioned, or something happens to create a brokenness that for whatever reason, can’t be put back together.
    I am by nature someone who gives and dives fully into friendships, but some things have made me learn the beauty of slowing down and discerning early on about certain things that could be potential pitfalls. I had a friend (lets use his initials) BG, who I was very close to. For a period of almost two years, we were very close. He walked away from Christianity and with that, walked away from all our friends. I missed our routines, our jokes, and the deep conversations we would have. He moved to California from Texas a year ago and called me to say bye and meet up to give me a hug and he thanked me for being a good friend to him. It was unexpected closure. Most people don’t get that, and for that, I will always be grateful. The pain has lessened. I think about him fairly often still, but it is more settled. He imprinted on me a love for his home state of Michigan and July 4th.
    When these “friendship breakups” happen, it is very easy for me (and I assume most people) to question what I did wrong. Why was it so easy for someone else to end the friendship? Do they miss me at all? Do they know that this caused me pain? Do they not care about that? But like you said, healing comes. it always does! You look up one day and it feels lighter, you breathe, and you take a step forward. and another.
    I have a tribe of guys I do life with that are very much like brothers and hold special spots in my heart/life. Two of those guys are my best friends and it used to scare me to think of those friendships potentially ending. What I’ve learned with those two guys is that how a friendship looks/feels might be different based on seasons of life, but the commitment and love and devotion can be the same, as long as it is spoken about and checked in on routinely. And I’ve learned to be grateful for the friendships where they are,as they are. one of those two guys, we have known each other for 13 months and we are currently roommates. He is getting married in August and will move a few blocks away. I know our friendship will look differently but I am grateful for him every day and thankful for our friendship. It is both our spoken desire to remain lifelong best friends and we entrust that to the Lord. John has imprinted on me (a Texas rangers fan) a love for the Houston Astros (his hometown) and a few other things. I know that I will always be able to say I am a better man, friend, and believer because he in in my life. The other guy, MP, him and I have been best friends for almost four years. We are in the middle of untangling some patterns we developed that were unhealthy in terms of emotional codependency, and it has been really sad at times. We are moving forward in friendship with some changes and sometimes that scares me, but again, I am so grateful for him. I would not be the man I am today without him. He has imprinted on me so many things that it is impossible to really think of my life ever being truly separated from him.
    Broken Friendships can make us really hesitant to form new friendships. The vulnerability it requires to open yourself up to another friendship knowing it could end in some level of pain, is a unique reminder of the cross and Personhood of Jesus. He chose to love us, knowing that some of us might reject him. armed with this reminder, It allows me to allow another person in, and receive the invitation into their life.
    I love what you shared about paint splashes! Beautiful way to think of it. Thank you for sharing. You prompted quite a long response from me! Sorry!

    • Thanks for sharing all this, Henry! I’m so glad you have close guy friends around you. May God provide you wisdom and courage in your changing relationships with John and MP.
      “Broken Friendships can make us really hesitant to form new friendships.” I have certainly struggled with seasons of that. Sometimes I wonder if I don’t pursue friendship as freely as I could, for fear of screwing it all up, but it’s probably one of those things that’s best not to overthink.

      • Overthinking is my specialty! The change is scary because I am learning to trust God in the middle of all the uncertainty. “Will this ever feel whole again?” is a question I find myself asking lately.
        And yeah, I want to encourage you (and i’m speaking to myself here too) to keep being open to pursing new friendships and investing in them. The fear of “what if this hurts me” or “what if this friendship doesn’t work out too” is a real fear for sure. But when we do that, we are essentially withholding friendships from other people because of our past. someone once told me “you can’t punish other people for your past.” I try to remember that whenever I feel afraid of a new friendship. Certainly discernment matters, especially if we sense something, but fear is a liar!
        Ryan, I’m genuinely grateful for you and this post. This came at a really perfect time for me. (also, a comment you made in another post has me shook cuz it called me out! Lol it put words to something i’ve been trying to define about how I can gravitate towards aesthetically pleasing/emotionally interesting men for Friendship.)

  • Dear heavens, I could write you novels of stories about the imprint and heartache of past relationships- caused by yours truly sadly.
    You are spot on, Ryan, with how we carry things on from those relationships. Some can be great, some not. Either way, it’s still the reality of our situation.
    Thank you for sharing yours. It was awesome to see from someone else a similar process I have gone through.

    • Thanks for reading, Dean. Yeah, the things we carry are more complicated than just good or bad. Reducing our pasts to those categories would feel like a such a loss.

  • Beautifully written and described, Ryan. Thank you for so eloquently writing so many feelings I’ve had with many of my friends, whether they’re still an active part of my life or not. This may be one of the most impactful blog posts I’ve read to date. Carry on, brother!
    -Kastle

  • Thanks Ryan for your heartfelt post. I am late for this…as I have been getting ready for some surgery this week.
    Anyways, something that has been hard for me over the years has been people I have known who have pushed on me marriage…partnerships…this…that…and other stuff. All I wanted was to be a friend to talk with…do things with. But, when they found out I was not available for their desires and needs, they walked away. Yeah, it hurts, but then again, it’s a blessing in disguise.
    One thing I have been working on is to see myself as a servant…with no strings attached. It’s hard to die to self…a daily struggle in fact, but those are the best. Anyways, thank you for your wonderful post.

    • Thanks for reading, WaveDave. I hope your surgery goes well. Keep us posted!
      Yes, I think we are meant to be primarily concerned about how we can serve others in friendship, not how our friends can serve us. But having relationships with truly no strings attached is so difficult. I let those terms and conditions sneak in so easily. It’s something I think about on some level probably every time I take communion–the blood of the Lamb covers my failures there, and sets me up for God to grow me into a better sort of person.

      • Thanks. Just had my surgery and am home now. Things went well, thank the Lord. It was surgery on my “private area” and fixed something I have had most of my life. Have a lot of stitches…but am okay.

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