Rightsizing Your Friends and Lovers

“Rightsizing”—it used to be a sinister term, a euphemism rolled out by tycoons laying plans to throw hundreds of employees out of work. To us at Women’s Voices, though, “rightsizing” signifies making appropriate change—looking positively at the transitions we need to make as we head into the second half of life. This article is part of a series by writers who have made those transitions—both the easy ones, mentally or physically, and the hard ones.  — ED.


I remember, when I was eight or nine years old, counting the number of friends I had, disappointed that I had fewer than Mimi, a popular, pretty, elegantly ostentatious girl in my class. The phase lasted as long as the squabble we must have been having. But even from a young age I recognized that friends were important to my well-being.

I seemed to naturally gather friends at school, college, my teaching jobs, my shared apartments in London. As I grew older and wiser, but less than wise enough, I grew my friend list through the frilly, wild exploits of cocktail and dinner parties in the early ’70s swinging London . . . going to friends’ weddings . . . going on vacations. That was how it was done in those days.

Then I moved to the British Virgin Islands – knowing no one.

Rightsizing relationships is about the choices you makenot others’ choices—through attrition, pain, and, yes, death. Circumstances change, prompting decisions that have probably already been made subconsciously.

My deep sadness at leaving my friends when I moved to Tortola and then New York was, strangely, a sort of embalming salve for the relationships that wouldn’t survive. I received fewer letters from fewer people as time frayed and the relationships wore thin, and I made new friends as time walked on. Other old friends proved their troth and their truth. Our connection remained, closely woven and vibrant despite the distance, through the earth-stretch relocation of environment, culture, and all the life changes we all experienced over the years.

A longtime friend and I had been in casual, inconsistent touch over 30 years, through marriage, parenthood, and career developments. The merit in the relationship was like the benefit of an old worn shoe, sometimes with a pebble in it! We knew each other’s foibles and delights without need for explanation. This familiarity was the seeming soft leather of the shoes we shared from time to time.

Bob was charming, educated, cultured, highly successful, old-world eccentric, and occasionally testy. There had been occasions over the years when conversation could erupt unexpectedly into a frisson of temper. It took me a while to recognize that these unnerving symptoms were brought on by alcohol. Recently, toward the end of a pleasant, updating, cultural discussion, there was a pause and then the whap of heightened disagreement that strode into abuse in one stride of a shout. Then ensued a tirade of insults. Shocked and distressed into petrified stillness, I allowed the stream to rise over me and fall into extended silence in a swamp at my feet. In a monotone, I demanded politely that he leave my home. The final pebble in comfortable shoes! I didn’t need them anymore.  This was rightsizing through pain.

Sometimes the prompt to rightsize happens when you least expect it. I had had a bedraggled affair with a footloose boyfriend who, after deserting me and my young, undying, passionate love, would torment me with possibilities of renewal from time to time. Until . . . the day I heard that my mother had died. That day, as I was packing to go back to the UK, out of a few years’ blue he phoned. I was stricken with a stone silence of the soul, responding to his questions with one-word answers. It felt right—then and now, more than 30 years later. Though I felt that my heart memory was still attached to him, my sense of my life was not. It took the stark knowledge and importance of the death of my mother to bring this tattered relationship into true, painful focus.

Having been taught emotional separation from my biological family since I was a very small child (I was sent away to boarding school), I learned independence the long-leash way. Friends were playmates, sometimes just acquaintances, occasionally perceived enemies, coworkers, teachers, lovers. Over the years, a handful have become family.

You don’t rightsize your family.

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  • Wendl in Manhattan May 3, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    Why shouldn’t we rightsize family members (blood and otherwise) if they consistently make us unhappy, frightened or angry? The pain and guilt of separating from a family member may be healthier and easier to bear than granting them unlimited access to ourselves.

  • Mickey M. May 3, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    “You don’t have to ‘rightsize’ your family.” I disagree. There are those of us who have black sheep, unpleasant members of our families. I have rightsized a family member who is a thief who steals from family members. I chose to distance myself, refrain from contact, even Christmas, birthdays. It felt too risky to stay in touch. Sometimes it feels wrong, sad, unhappy, that I made this choice. But what is my risk? Loss of my identity through computer fraud? It’s possible. Which reminds me of the movie Pacific Heights, Michael Keaton. My family member is as charming and personable as Mr. Keaton’s character and possibly as devious.