Lifecycle of Friends

Friendship is the hardest thing
in the world to explain.
It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned
the meaning of friendship,
you really haven’t learned anything. 
 
Muhammad Ali

We all know the dreaded words, words that were uttered to me 😊, “Can’t we just be good friends?” 

But these are words I crave to hear now! 

Youthful exuberance, animalistic needs, reckless ambition, and of course our insatiable egos pushed and push many people away from us. People who could be great friends.

And through our wit and charm and really, sheer luck, we established and maintained a cadre of comrades.

Seems like my circle of good friends is mirroring my life. It is declining to its essence. The constellation of shiny friendships which once seemed infinite like the universe is becoming a smaller system of souls whose gravitational pull keeps me together. 

I am filled with gratitude but wonder where it is going and why.

I just want good friends.

I guess it is natural flow of things. Growth-maturity-decline.

When we grow up and our cancerous egotistical need to call everyone a friend, to impress others and to make ourselves feel liked, can go into remission. Seeking the antidote of authenticity, or just letting time elapse our mass of good friends shrivels or sharpens.

Befriending people is not as easy as it once was. We meet people but finding and keeping good friends can be super challenging and even counter intuitive.

Go to the library or the bookstore or flip through any popular magazine and you will find a mountain of advice about romance, dating, and how we should find our partner in life. There are no classes, instruction booklets or even parental coaching on the “art and science of friendship.” So like most things we make it up as we go. We have loosely called people “friends.” It is either a commodity of undiscerning value or something special and precious.

Our preoccupation with success can relegate friendship on a lower part of the priorities. Friends get lost in the maelstrom of life. We drift, our friends drift and suddenly we have drifted apart. Friends can become  a convenience and not a necessity. Friendships can fall to the bottom of our to-do lists and we suffer the consequences wittingly or unwittingly of a life out of balance.  

Life happens and friends change. We have kids, we move, we divorce, we switch jobs, our interests evolve. And there are always a few cataclysmic incidents, part of fading longer story, that blew up several friendships. The inexorable and sometimes mysterious centripetal forces of change, success,  stupidity, envy, failure, happiness, and sadness separate us. 

Explosive and conclusive endings may be filled with hindsight, but they occupy a well-lit place on the memory shelf. But for me, the mystery is in the slow drifting apart of the land masses that ultimately end up in continental divides. Especially amongst good friends.

The research on the life-giving value of strong social connections is voluminous and validated. And while we are more “connected” to one another through our devices, loneliness is our real epidemic. The average adult has roughly 16 people they would classify as friends, according to one 2019 poll of 2,000 Americans. Of these, about three are “friends for life,” and five are people they really like. The other eight are not people they would hang out with one-on-one. To me this is disturbing. I could not live with these numbers, especially the last category. I need to be starting and nurturing trusting new relationships to energize me. Not necessarily as a farm team to get anyone new into the BFF big leagues. 

Think about how your portfolio of friends. How many “friends for life”, “people you really like” etc do you have. Not to flex your friendship six pack, but to honestly evaluate your circle of friends and especially your good friends. And where they came from.

When we really think about the state of our friends we will be confronted with our interesting and predictable lives. Your circle of friends will make you appreciate the incredible diversity of your life experience or not. We all have a strange collection of not-so-good friends, problem friends, the negative friend, the cheap friends, the friend who talks too much, the friend who never calls us back or responds to text messages or emails. We judge our friends all the time. Always raising the obvious question of why? Why is she or he a friend?  By the way, I wonder, my wife and I wonder if we are those friends. 😊  

As we “mature” we build a Friends Filtration System that runs on a sophisticated Big P algorithm—Politics, Parenting, Prayer (I know it is a stretch), and Pocketbook. 

Like lactose or spicy food our tolerances for friends narrow as we age. We say we love variety, but we seek predictability. More dependability than drama. 
Adding new friends into the mix is no picnic. Because we are no picnic! 😊

My unscientific Ass Kicker research is giving me a number of lessons.
•    Amongst my good friends I want deeper more soulful relationships that reveal our vulnerabilities and our ability to help and learn from one another unconditionally. This has altered some of my friendships. It has opened the door to some new ones. 
•    Reciprocity is important but not necessary to maintain a good friendship. Never been one to keep a ledger, but the fact of who initiates the contact, invites, hosts is irrelevant. My friendship is so much bigger than these measures. We must keep stoking the warm fire of mutuality, connection, compassion that fuels continuity .
•    Rituals are important. Not just texting on birthdays, but making time that is dedicated to #1 above. Quality time that is regularly scheduled (I love my weekly Zoom calls!) or takes the forms of road trips, adventures and or experiences. Celebrating friendships as we would do all of  our beloved relationships!

Some of my friendships thrive under these lessons and some have withered and passed.  These transitions and milestones need to be acknowledged. “old friends” who move on take with them a chunk of life and memories and we have to appreciate what that meant and means—and keep moving. 

I have heard comments like these: 
“If you didn’t call I am not sure we would ever talk.” 
“After you stopped hosting your annual event, we lost touch with you. Your party became a reunion for several of us for 15 years. Now we have to get together separately.”
“I know it is our turn, but can you host everybody again.”
When asking a good friend to try and regularize contact to make sure we stay connected I heard this: “What a hassle to schedule a weekly call/zoom or luncheon. What would we talk about?”

We have all said these words and meant them or not:
“See you later.” “Talk to you soon.” Let’s get together and catch up”.

Setting aside my judgmental mind, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. I try to make authentic commitments. I also try to re-up my verbal appreciation for them. They need to know how much they mean to me/us. Good friends are so much bigger than the two people. Belonging, community, connection brings worlds together. The connection to our history, their family and their constellation of people and interests.

Fortunate to have really good friends in our lives. 

Good friends are people that we love, who ride our shared roller coaster of emotions of successes and depressions. They remind me of what life is about. They hold me accountable. They make me a better human being!

Time is not our friend. How do we make time to elevate our friendships? To express our appreciation for them? To make them the priority they are. 

“Can’t we just be good friends?” Let’s try. 

Thanks for reading. 

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