Have you ever stopped to consider why some friendships transcend space and time and can last a lifetime, yet others seem to have an expiry date and fizzle out?
Friendship is an incredibly rich experience that connects us with the world around us. The connection that friendship fosters, allows us to grow and evolve as we travel through all stages of our lives. Our friends influence us, and we influence them - hopefully in positive, fruitful and meaningful ways.
From the second that we step foot onto the playground on our first day of school, we learn the importance of establishing friendships. Our friendships often hold more significance in our lives, sometimes, on occasions, more than our own biological families.
We absorb everything from our friends - our language, our mannerisms, ideas, values, and principles, as well as the odd questionable fashion decision. As we grow much of our personality builds from the characteristics and qualities of our friendships.
In terms of cognitive and social development, it is considered that much of our personality throughout all stages of our life is mirrored, and absorbed from our compadres. “Smarter friends make us smarter; more social friends make us more outgoing; healthy friends make us more health conscious. Who they are [our friends] becomes part of us” (Fishman, 2015).
Friendship offers frequent boosts of happiness and joy, as well enhancing your sense of purpose and belonging. Positive friendships reduce stress and anxiety and improve your feelings of strength and self-esteem. When times are tough, they help cope with trauma and loss, while decreasing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
How we establish a friendship is often as unique as the person we connect with. As eloquently stated by C.S Lewis, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!” What is equally unique is the nature in which relationships evolve or dissolve over time.
So, if we’re able to experience such a significant connection with a friend in the beginning, then why do some relationships continue to enrich our lives, while others slowly fizzle out?
Unlike our relationships with parents or siblings, our friendships are especially unique because they are completely voluntary in nature. Nothing binds us within a friendship and we make an active, conscious choice to establish them.
However, as we are drawn to a friendship because of the lack of formal structure that we experience in family or romantic relationships, the ‘voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life's whims in a way other relationships aren't’ (Beck, 2015).
Like any other relationship, friendships need active, conscious effort to keep them flourishing. “Whether people hold onto their old friends or grow apart seems to come down to dedication and communication” (Beck, 2015). When mutual reciprocation of needs and expectations are offered in a friendship, it is very possible for it to thrive, even when time and distance is present.
Research has found that people need to feel like they are getting as much out of the friendship as they are putting in, and that that equity can predict a friendship’s continued success. This means that if the right conditions are fostered, ‘long distance’ or ‘time challenged’ relationships can pick up where they left off with incredible fluidity.
These are the moments when, after years of not seeing each other in person, your able to enjoy a four-hour marathon meal, with accompanying conversation (as well as decent wine) and feel like only an hour and a half has past.
Yet, life dramatically shapes and tests our friendships. From our adolescent years where friendships are the core of our universe, across the lifespan to our retirement years, our ability to establish and preserve friends changes dramatically. The number of friends that we have starts to decline around the age of twenty-five.
There are a plethora of reasons why friendships fizzle out, some key reasons include various life events that distract us as well as failing to nurture our relationships. Other influences include changes in personal values or worldviews over time that challenge the compatibility and subsequent reciprocation between friends.
So, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on the friendships that you have in your life. Some friendships might be chugging along happily on their path, others might need some tender love and attention, others might need to start a new chapter. Determine what’s required to foster their continued success? What’s necessary for them to survive life’s varied chapters, or even transcend space and time itself?
Fishman, T. (2015). Don't underestimate the power of friendship. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/06/07/friendship-science-human-needs-column/26633027/
Beck, J. (2015). How Friendships Change in Adulthood. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/10/how-friendships-change-over-time-in-adulthood/411466/
Bhattacharya, K., Ghosh, A., Minivans, D., Dunbar, R. I. M., & Kaski, K. (2016). Sex differences in social focus across the life cycle in humans. Royal Society Open Science, 3(4), 160097. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160097