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Despite our best intentions, talking doesn't always repair the rift: Not everyone is able to listen without becoming defensive or blaming the other person. Feelings stirred up by a close friend often echo unresolved issues from childhood, like sibling rivalry or fear of abandonment, and unless those feelings are acknowledged, no amount of discussion can save the relationship. "My friend Gail seemed to have me confused with her older sister, whose attention she'd always craved," says Joan. "I spent years trying to convince her that I really cared, but eventually I threw up my hands. I told her I didn't have the time or energy to give her the constant reassurance she needed." Gail felt hurt and rejected, and a 20-year bond was severed in a single phone call.

Bottom line: There's no single template for friendship. Some people are in our lives because they carry a precious shard of our history, while others reflect our passions and priorities right now. Still others are in danger of becoming ex-friends because we're either too preoccupied to pick up the phone or too scared to speak our minds. As Virginia Woolf said, "I have lost friends, some by death—others through sheer inability to cross the street." Which brings me back to Sarah: I'm not sure where this friendship is headed, but I realize I still care enough to cross the street and let her know why I've been so out of touch. As for Natalie, I hope that one day she'll do the same.

Barbara Graham, a regular contributor to O, is the author of Eye of My Heart.

More on Friendship
From the August 2001 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

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