OK. I’ve had my ups and downs with friends. I’ve dumped a few. I’ve taken a break. I’ve held on for dear life for better or worse. But, I’m wondering are friends for life? Are friends like a marriage? I mean am I supposed to put up with all sorts of shit, and get through it, for the sake of the friendship? Til death do us part? I don’t mean to put marriage in the shitter or compare a bad marriage to a typical friendship, but it’s the only relationship I can think of, other than family, where you force yourself to stick it out.
I mean life is short, right? I just finished spending some time with extended family, and I was reminded of that saying from Harper Lee about picking your friends but not your family. So, if we can pick our friends why do we suffer? We don’t have to suffer. We don’t. Even the Dalai Lama says so.
I harbor a lot of guilt, though. I do. I feel bad for friendships that came to an end. As far back as middle school, I feel bad. I still think about writing a letter, explaining why I stopped being friends with one girl in particular. You know, just a letter, briefly discussing the issues we were having at the time. I guess the middle school one would go something like this:
I’m writing to apologize for ditching you the summer before 9th grade. I didn’t plan it. It just happened. We were not going to be at the same high school, and I noticed that we didn’t really enjoy the same things anymore. I mean you liked dating older guys, and to be frank, I was kind of into it until my mom read my diary. After that, well, it became too complicated to see you. I mean there was no way my mom was going to let me stay the night at your house anymore so what was the point? I’m sad it ended the way it did. I’m sorry for dropping off the face of the planet. I hope you enjoyed those four years of high school and beyond. Take care.
Looking back I’d say friendship, like all relationships, is a precarious endeavor that shouldn’t be entered into lightly. I also think the word friendship is tossed around too casually like the words love, hot, should, WTF, LOL, and OMG. But let’s focus on friendship for now.
I don’t know how many of you have heard this saying: Friends for a reason, season or lifetime. I guess I would call Jane (above) a friend for a season and that season was middle school. Or maybe a reason? Her mom let us do whatever we wanted so I knew I could explore while at her house. Either way, I felt bad about cutting off the friendship. I did. I do.
Today, some insane years later, I still struggle with friendship, and I often find myself pondering which of my friends will be around for a lifetime. So I decided to do a little research on friendship, and I’ve come to some conclusions/opinions on why some friendships are for a reason, why some are for a season and why some last a lifetime, and finally, why there is no need to feel guilt about any of it.
Friends for a Reason
Now, if I were to go negative, I could look at Friends for a Reason from a victim standpoint. Sure, I’ve had friends that I feel have used me. You know, friends who I felt have chosen me for a reason. They wanted something from me. My named popped into their head (picture a talk bubble with my name in it and a lightbulb inside their head glowing) when they realized I was exactly the person they should call. Were we friends before? Maybe. Or maybe we were just acquaintances, and they went out of their way to become my friend because they needed me for some reason or another. Have I had this happen to me? Probably. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve felt like the opportunity sometimes. I mean I live in Los Angeles, so if I was cynical, I could say that’s pretty much the basis of most friendships in LALA Land. But I’m not a cynic.
Enough negativity, let’s spin this positive shall we? Let’s look at this from a universe perspective. You know Karma type stuff. I am of the mindset that the world ebbs and flows as does energy (that magic stuff they pontificated about in The Secret). From that mindset, one might consider someone who enters their life, who becomes a friend, who enters their sphere for a period, is for a reason. I might ask myself questions like what am I supposed to learn from this? What does this say about me as a person? What was I hoping for in this relationship? Did I simply want to help, or was I trying to heal a relationship from my childhood? Was I trying to help them? Was I trying to save them? Was I codependent again? Or did having them in my life give me a different perspective? Did it make me consider a different existence? You know, what if a friend for a reason didn’t mean that someone “did” something “to” me? What if it simply meant that friendship was FOR A REASON. Like most things in life. What am I supposed to learn from that? Or more importantly, what did I learn about myself from that friendship?
Friends for a Season
My translation of friends for a season is usually a period in life, maybe a decade or a particular time. For some this might mean life stages such as when they were single, married, divorced, had small children. You get the picture. When I think about decades, I realized that each decade brought with it a focus, you know what was important, what mattered to me, what I cared about.
In my teens, it was all about partying and boys, sorry but that was true for me. I cared about school too, but my focus was who wants to go out and dance, who wants to go to Dead concerts, who wants to check out this party? Who wants to play quarters with me? LOL. And, who wants to cut school and go to the lake?
In my twenties, it was all about travel, exploring, finding myself, figuring out what I liked, didn’t like, making mistakes, hopefully learning from them and figuring out how to earn a living. I was a serial monogamist during my twenties so most of that time, my partner was my best friend. And, in my case, one of my partners had a sister who became my bestie. Once that relationship went south (the one with my partner), so did the relationship with his sister, the same day, in fact. Not my idea, but she had a right to cut that off. Season done, her choice.
In my thirties, it was all about kids and career. New mom groups were big in my life and so were mommy get-togethers. We had a lot to talk about being new moms and all and let’s face it no one else wanted to hear about how long my labor was, which foods gave my baby gas, how breastfeeding was going and if he was sleeping through the night. Then I had twins. That was a whole other era or Twilight Zone. During that time, I spent a lot of time reaching out to moms with twins because they were the only ones who could relate, or, at least, it felt like that to me.
In my forties—I’m still in them—I’d have to say Wow, it’s been an interesting decade so far. This is definitely the decade of no more bullshit, and according to my other friends in their 40s, we are riding the same train straight toward menopause and the dreaded bit 5-0. Yikes. (I’m assuming it won’t be such a dreaded thing once I’m in that decade, but boy do I wish I could pull on the brakes and slow time down to a snail’s pace.) I find myself saying the word BASTA often—enough in Italian.
My life is full. Career, Family, it’s a lot. And, health or staying healthy has become a top priority. Much of the time I used to spend commiserating on the phone or at coffee shops with friends (baby in tow) is now spent on nurturing my sanity, my health, and my well-being. I’ve learned that drama is toxic and being in other people’s business is none of my business. (Although I have to remind myself of this constantly.) In my forties, I am more cognizant of mortality. I am stingy with my time because time is finite after all, and how I spend it is up to me. It’s a new season for me, on a personal level, and I’ve had to make some changes. Trim the fat so to speak. If my forties were spent aboard a ship, I’d say I’ve lost a few passengers. Some have chosen to go ashore, some have jumped, and others I’ve simply thrown overboard. Ugh. But alas, I’m the captain of my ship, and I can only carry so much weight. Sink or swim. Right?
There is a silver lining, though. My friends, the ones for a season, have been important. Something brought us together and kept us together for a period. It was great while it lasted. But as seasons come to an end, so must some friendships. Why? Maybe I wanted to move on to Spring; maybe they wanted to stay in Winter. Either way, that’s okay. They weren’t put on this planet to live by my rules, just as I’m not here to live by theirs. C’est la vie.
Friends for a Lifetime
Friends for a lifetime is a whole new ballgame. I’m fortunate to say I have several of these. Five of whom I’ve known since middle school. The thing about these friends is that we can go years without talking. Years. We’ve been through a lot. I know, even if we don’t talk for awhile, we will catch up eventually. We are respectful of our individual journeys and have learned through the years not to take everything personally. Some of them I didn’t know we’d still be friends. Some I lost touch with for a long time. Some I never did. I can’t pinpoint lifetime friendships or how they happen. It’s as delicate as a dandelion is whole but as individual seeds spread through time the friendship never dies. It’s the connections, the evenings spent in laughter, the shared interests, the memories, the tears. It’s everything. But sometimes, even friendships I thought would be for a lifetime are not. It’s only when they ended that I realized they were for a season. I recently found an article, “The True Meaning of Friendship” by Alex Lickerman M.D. in Psychology Today that defined why friendships last or, better yet, why they don’t. Several points rang true for me including a commitment to my happiness, inspiring me to live up to my best potential, mutual respect, equality and shared values. I’d like to elaborate on those last three.
Mutual respect. For me, this begins with simple things from not telling each other to shut up (one of my triggers) to not sending passive aggressive emails or texts. It’s also about respecting one another enough to accept them for who they are and not try to change them. That’s hard. But, now I believe if I have a friend who I want to change, a friend whose behavior consistently upsets me, a friend whose values (see below) are vastly different than my own, this is where mutual respect comes into play, and it’s best to part ways, for me anyway. Any therapist will tell you; you can’t change someone. You either accept them for who they are or move on. Your problem with their behavior is just that, your problem.
Equality. A big one because I don’t mean you text me, I text you back. You leave me a message; I call you back. Nope. To quote Dr. Alex Lickerman, “If one friend needs the support of the other on a consistent basis such that the person depended upon receives no benefit other than the opportunity to support and encourage, while the relationship may be significant and valuable, it can’t be said to define a true friendship.” Yep. No need to add to that one.
Shared Values. OMG, this is huge for me. Granted I can have casual friendships where values diverge for a reason or season but lifetime friendships for me definitely require like-minded values. So, at the end of the day, after all my research and thinking about they way most of us toss around the word “friend” and maybe feel bad or guilty about a friendship that has come to an end, I’ll ask everyone to consider this:
True friendship isn’t easy to come by, just like a good marriage. Without shared values, mutual respect, and equality, the friendship probably won’t last more than a few seasons.
Remember there are reasons for friends who flow in and out of our lives. There are seasons for everything including our own existence. When we learn to stop holding on, when we learn to let go, when we learn to be ourselves and be okay with our friends being themselves, when we learn to stop judging, when we learn to mind our own business, when we learn to live the life we want to live, we become free to smile, to laugh, to love. And when we love ourselves first, it’s a whole lot easier to find true friendship with people who are deeply committed to our happiness and inspire us to live up to our best potential.