When I was 14, my family moved from Alabama to Minnesota. In 20 hours of American highway, I lost every single friend I’d grown up with. There was no Facebook back then, so the only way to keep in touch was a phone call or writing letters. Since it was 1997, no one my age had a cell phone so not many calls were exchanged. And at 14, no one really realizes that it takes work to keep friendships alive. When you go to school every day and all of your friends are built into your environment, it doesn’t take much effort to keep relationships going. I didn’t necessarily expect anyone to keep in touch with me. I knew I might be forgotten over time. After all, I was 1,100 miles away. But my adolescent mind also didn’t realize that transient friendships aren’t just part of life. They happen when you don’t make the decision to keep them alive. We let friendships die, sometimes without realizing it and sometimes subconsciously…and in the more painful situations, we consciously let them die.
As time went on, I made new friends in Minnesota. Some were great friends, some not-so-great. Like any teenager, I was inadvertently learning that where you invest your time, you invest your life, and that you become like the friends you surround yourself with. Through high school and college I met so many incredible people. I made some of my favorite memories with these people. So many laughs, so many tears, so many hours spent together wondering what it would be like when we were grown up. With many of them, we had a deep friendship for a time–and then it ended. Without clear reasons, it just ended. With others, I’m blessed to call them my friends even in our adult years. As friendships have proven themselves to have this transient quality in my life, I’ve been thinking about why that is. Why do some friends stick around while others fade away? Am I the one fading away? Is that ok sometimes? Is this just how life goes?
I’ve decided there are three categories of change in friendships. And I think we can see friendships through these filters to make sense of their transience, a little bit more.
WHEN TO INVEST IN A FRIEND
- When there’s mutuality in effort.
- If you see a deep alikeness in your personalities, opinions, beliefs, hearts.
- If you’ve shared major life events like births, deaths, graduations, weddings, heartbreaks, etc together.
- If they’re markedly different than you are, but make a continual effort to invest in the friendship with you. It grows us and makes us better people to continually feed into friendships with those who are different from us.
- When you support each other through hard times and cheer for each other in good times. Don’t let those friends go.
- When you both seek good things for each other and aren’t jealous of each other.
- When you can be in separate life stages and still participate in each other’s lives.
- When you can ride out the ebbs and flows of how often you get to communicate or see each other. If you have natural grace and understanding for life craziness playing into the dynamics of your friendship, hold on whenever you can. I believe that natural grace flows out of a spiritual connection to that person.
WHEN TO MOVE ON FROM A FRIENDSHIP
- When it’s one-sided. If you’re consistently the one reaching out, with little to no reciprocation from the other side, it’s probably time to consider moving on.
- When you’re being manipulated.
- When you’re being used or taken advantage of.
- When there’s gossip or insincerity at play.
- If they have an unsettled or inconsistent personality.
- If the friendship meets a need for them, but drains you.
- If it becomes clear that you know a lot about them but they don’t know much about who you are.
- If there’s not much support coming from either side or if the level of support is unbalanced.
- If it seems to be based out of convenience–if this is ‘just who’s around’ or if they see you as just a convenient person to interact with.
- If there’s exclusivity or cliquiness–on the part of yourself and this friend, or this friend and others. This kind of thing belongs in elementary school. But we all know it doesn’t rest.
- This isn’t easy–because at times, you may have had poignant moments together or felt like it was a good relationship to invest in. I think you have to ask yourself if the good outweighs the bad when you look at the big picture of your friendship.
WHEN LIFE JUST HAPPENS
- If a friend moves out of state for a long period of time. I know many out-of-state friends that send a simple text once every few months, or a Facebook comment every now and then just to keep the lines open. I also have out-of-state friends that I make a conscious effort to check in with every now and then, even if they don’t. When people move away, it’s incredibly difficult to keep a friendship thriving unless you have tons of money to visit them often. If this is a friend you’ve invested in previously, keep investing. That’s at least how I see it.
- When people get married and have babies, friendships can get very transient. Single people as well as those who are married with or without babies all seem to get overtaken by a deep loneliness when these life changes take place. The convenient community of high school and college is impossible to replicate, so we work to find new friendships to invest in. We oftentimes feel like we have to start over and we seek out people in our same life stage–the same type of scenario we were part of in high school and college. As I said previously, it grows us to stay friends with and seek out people in different stages than our own. I can’t stress how important I’ve seen that be in my own life. However–in this situation, I completely understand the desire to invest more deeply in friends who are in the trenches with you and are going through exactly what you are. Personally, I have grace for those friends I’ve lost touch with when they had families. After a few years of trying to make what effort I could, sometimes it becomes clear that they’re just in a different place. And that’s ok. It has nothing to do with them or me–it’s just life happening. And sometimes–that’s all there is to it.
- Sometimes, friends stop reaching out and there’s no logical explanation for it. It has nothing to do with us, but the effort falls by the wayside. There’s nothing necessarily wrong about this, because I believe it’s a natural response to the pace we live our lives at in this age in history. But it doesn’t mean you can’t fight to keep those friendships alive. If this is happening with someone you’ve invested in previously and if they’ve invested in you–hang on and keep working at it. If eventually it just fizzles, you have to grieve the relationship’s end and trust that that friend’s place will be filled in your life again.
Now, I’m no expert. And these ideas come from seeing friends come and go throughout my own life. So they may not all be true for you. But we have all experienced transience in our friendships. We have to figure out if the transient person is us, is it them, and is it ok or with merit? Or do we need to make changes in how we approach friendships? We have to make the decision to invest where it’s healthy and important to, and to be careful not to treat each friendship as if it’s transient and going to end at some point because so many have in the past. Invest or let go. Work hard at maintaining the friendships that need care and keeping.
I believe friendship is a dance of investing in another person deeply, while making sure your heart is being cared for too. When we’re investing in a friendship that deserves to be invested in, we can lavish that person with support, love, care, laughter, and fun, without ever really expecting anything in return. But we get something in return every single time. Whether that be their reciprocation of your efforts, or the joy that comes from just being with one of your favorite people and enjoying each other’s presence. When true friendship works how God intended, it’s a beautiful and holy thing. And it’s so worth the effort.