Friends (not always) forever
When I reflect on all the friends I’ve had since I was a kid, and then consider how many of them are still my friends today, I’m struck by what has been the ebb (mostly) and flow of friendship in my lifetime. This doesn’t mean I’m a terrible buddy and unable to sustain companionable connections. It just means that, like most people, I experience friendship as it actually is – a wonderful, close, trusting and empathic – albeit ever-changing – relationship.
Just what to do when a friendship no longer serves us was the subject of a discussion on Life Matters earlier this week. And here it’s important to distinguish between genuine friends – somebody you could call in a crisis at 3am – and mere acquaintances (e.g. most of our “friends” on Facebook). A listener had written in with a friendship dilemma: should she break up with two of her chums, one whose company bored her, and the other whose anger was unpleasant to be around?
This wasn’t much to go on. Maybe there were some good things about these friendships too. Otherwise why would the listener have formed them? The segment’s two guests, historian and writer, Maria Tumarkin, and CEO of the Inspire Foundation, Jonathon Nicholas, obviously decided to take the view that these allegiances were ultimately worth salvaging because both advised honest communication, despite how difficult this often is for both parties.
Nicholas: “If no one is honest … you’re both doomed to this situation of feeling unhappy and frustrated which isn’t good for anyone.”
Tumarkin: “Friends are often like tuning forks, accoustic resonators and they reflect us back to ourselves. Sometimes it’s not pretty but this is a vital service that friends provide to each other.”
All well and good if the friendship still matters. But what if it doesn’t, if only because the connection has for any number of reasons (divergent interests, different values, diametrically opposed lifestyles) run out of puff? If the feeling is mutual, then this isn’t a problem and the friendship can be allowed to fade away like a dying ember. But what if she/he still wants to be your friend, and keeps calling/emailing/texting and suggesting get-togethers?
It’s a good question and one I’ve asked myself on a number of occasions over the years. The truth is, friendships are cyclical, not static, and the future is unknown. In other words, some friendships have a defined middle, beginning and end, but plenty of others don’t, and you can just never predict when or if an erstwhile mate may assume a very special place in your life again.
If I feel a friendship has run its course, I think it’s fine to stop initiating phone calls and coffee dates. But I also try to keep in mind the golden ethic of reciprocity, ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’, and refrain from being nasty, assigning blame or hurling insults. Why sabotage whatever potential there might be for reconnection down the track?