Friendships are complex and unique relationships because unlike family relationships, we choose to enter into them. And unlike other voluntary bonds, like romantic relationships and marriages, they lack formal structure and specific role titles. You would not go months or years without speaking to or seeing your significant other (in an ideal world), but you might go that long without contacting a friend and your role as a friend may vary depending on the characteristics of the other person.
Yet we all know how important our friends are to our happiness. And though friendships tend to change as we age, there is consistency in what we want from them. If you ask someone who is 15 years old and someone who is 100 talk about their close friends and their expectations of a close friend, you would see that they both describe the same values. These expectations remain the same, but the circumstances under which they are achieved change as well. For example, I believe that as you get older, you recognise the traits that you would like in a friend such a friend to being trustworthy and honesty, but these characteristics are seen as behaviours at a younger age.
The voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life’s journey in a way more formal relationships are not. In adulthood, as people grow up and go away, friendships are the relationships most likely to take a hit. Your family will always be there and you will prioritise your partner/spouse or loved one. But where once you could run over to your friend’s house at short notice and see if they could come out to play; now you have to ask that same friend if they have a few hours to spend in 3 weeks or so.
The beautiful thing about friendship is that friends are friends because they want to be, that they choose each other. Throughout life, from Primary School to the Nursing Home, friendship continues to exceed health benefits, both mental and physical. But as life accelerates, people’s priorities and responsibilities shift, and friendships are affected, for better, or often, sadly, for worse.
As we move through life, we make and keep friends in different ways. Some people do manage to stay friends for life, or for a large chunk of life. I think that whether people hold onto their old friends or grow apart seems to come down to dedication and communication.
Having recently moved away from where I have established strong relationships, I have seen shifts in the relationships as well as how dedication and communication play a huge role in the survival of the relationships.
I have therefore realised that friendships are always susceptible to circumstances. If you think of all the things we have to do—we have to work, we have to take care of our kids, or our parents—friends choose to do things for each other, so we can put them off. They fall through the cracks of life.
The things that make friendships fragile also make it flexible. After speaking to some people I found that they tended to think of their friendships as continuous, even if they went through long periods where they were out of touch. This is a fairly sunny view—you would not assume you were still on good terms with your parents if you hadn’t heard from them in months. But the default assumption with friends is that you’re still friends. And as I have seen the shifts in my own friendships, I have realised the importance of accepting and embracing these types of relationships.
Since moving away, I have become more willing to forgive long lapses in communication because I feel life’s pull too and know how easy it is to get distracted. As long as dedication, communication, reliability, respect and being trustworthy are a constant in the relationship then I am willing to accept the change in the dynamics. It’s sad, sure, that we stop relying on our friends as much when we grow up, but it allows for a different kind of relationship, based on a mutual understanding of each other’s human limitations. It’s not ideal, but it’s real.
Friendship is a relationship with no strings attached except the ones you choose to tie, one that’s just about being there, as best as you can, being loyal and having each other’s backs.