There are people who seem to come and go in our life, but why? Here’s a look at the friends who stay and the friends who leave.
It’s been a little while, hasn’t it? I was at a Christmas party last night where I met some people through some mutual friends, and they were like, “oh hey you’re the Shoreline guy… you haven’t updated in a while”. Busted. Well hey, here we are right now. And having talked to quite a few people over the last little while, there has been another common topic request come up – how do you negotiate changing friendships?
Man, this is certainly I’m a topic I’m no stranger to. The key friendships in our lives significantly change several times throughout our 20s (which I’m in) and even beyond. Heck, even in primary school or high school you probably remember your core friendship group changing a few times. This can be for all sorts of reasons. The primary school high school trivial-type reasons were because your friend talked to the girl you like about you liking her but really embarrassed you cause you weren’t ready to say it yet. Or that you weren’t in the same classes any more. Or because someone spread a rumour about you and your friends became friends with those people instead of taking your side.
It’s funny because you’d think that those sort of challenges would be easier to negotiate when you and others got older. Into adult life, we were expecting it’d be the romantic relationships that trip us up the most, but in fact it’s equal and highly related counterpart is actually the friendships we keep and don’t keep.
So what gives? Why do some friendships last forever, and some end up in a fireball explosion? Or some just gradually fade to nothing? Here are some thoughts on the friends who stay and the friends who leave.
The value of friends
It was recently my birthday and it’s always a great chance for me to get together with the people I don’t see as often as I once did all as one big group. I went out to Southbank in Brisbane for a Saturday night with a whole bunch of different people ranging from friends I don’t see that often, to friends I see multiple times a week, and even some surprise appearances from people I hadn’t seen in ages which were really nice. Whether it be a birthday party or an engagement party, a wedding, a celebratory dinner or even just a spontaneous night out, it’s times like those where you really get to celebrate and celebrate with the people in your world. I always try to make sure I stay grateful for the people that are in my life, and I routinely feel blown away by how many amazing people I have the fortune of knowing.
Dunbar’s number refers to the results of a certain study by Dr Robin Dunbar of Oxford University, where he attempted to discover how big a person’s social circle really is, as well as how core relationships affect our health and livelihood. He found that the average person’s social circle is about 100-200 people, with your closest 15 (including family members) being the most responsible for contributing or being a detriment to your health and wellbeing. Very interesting. While there is much conjecture over what a “social circle” really is and whether or not you can maintain relationships with people numbering over these amounts, most people agree about the importance of the inner circle in your life. John Maxwell, one of my favourite authors, continually cites your experiences with your closest friends as the ones who will determine your success or failure in most areas of your life.
One of my friends, Sam, said earlier in the year with a whole bunch of us that he thinks that most of the problems in our lives would just be solved by having better friends.
I think it’s safe to say no matter who has done what study, friendships are massively important in our lives.
So when we’re talking about friendships here, we’re usually talking about those inner circle people. Best friends, BFFs, but you’ll also find people like mentors, spouses, parents and relatives in those groups.
And perhaps it’s this impact of the inner circle friends that is really of primary concern when we’re on the topic of the ones who stay and the ones who leave. Because I know I’ve had several people who’ve I’ve been acquainted with who have come and gone without too much thought from either of us, and that’s fine. But it’s the ones who you’ve been a lot closer with who leave an imprint on your life and heart when they’re there, and also when they’re not.
And for these, I am constantly confronted with two main factors that make or break the greatest of friendships.
Compatibility of seasons
Think of your school years. Or your uni years. Most people look back on those years and feel like it was so much easier to make friends back then. And there’s a lot of weight to those statements. But I think the main reason you’ll find is because of how compatible our life seasons were. You ended up sitting next to each other in class. You did the same major in uni. You went to the same social group or sporting club on Wednesday afternoons. You went on a school or church camp together. You were in the same grade. You got the same grades. On and on, there was so much commonality in our schedules, that even if you weren’t particularly close to someone, you still got to know them quite well by merit of the time and proximity you spent together.
Isn’t that why you see men and women who’ve gone to war together return from the battlefield as brothers in arms? Or sisters in arms? It’s the common experience and the similar life seasons that give us added opportunity to build relationship with each other.
But as you get older, life changes. For some people, they continue in the same seasons as you. You leave the same school and go to the same uni. You work in the same office. You are still in the same church groups or social clubs. You still have a monthly catch up you’ve all blocked out in your calendars.
And it’s usually when the compatibility changes that friendships are tested. You move city. You change jobs. You go to different churches. You get married. You have kids. You work night shifts. You meet new friends (hello). Your political views or views on faith start to differ.
And that’s usually the breaking point. For most of us, the loss of commonality results in the loss of the friendship, or it being downgraded significantly.
I think that’s where you get a few different types of friends. The friends who you were with because you shared common activity, or the friends who you are with because you value each other for who you are. Many people get hurt because one or both of them decide that this particular friendship is activity based and the other thought they were much closer than that. The ones who stick together are usually the ones who ensure there is still some sort of commonality in their lives, even if it is just that we’ve decided we’ll meet up often enough. That said, it’s still important that we have people who are regulars in our lives. We can only survive so long on minimal time with very dear friends – we do need a network of constant support and regular fellowship or our life doesn’t have the support it needs. Which is easier to push over – an umbrella, or a house? The house is much more likely to still be standing because there are multiple constant supports of different kinds, whereas the umbrella is only kinda relying on one type of support.
Isn’t this what happens in marriages too? Season change. Before and after kids. Midlife crisis and the mundane. Elongated illness or stress. Identity issues and family changes. What happens in marriage is usually just an extension of what happens in friendships.
Seasons are always going to change. How we handle that change and what we decide to do about it results in friends who stay and friends who leave. And we become those people to others, too.
Entropy and the investment we decide to make
I caught up with a really good friend of mine yesterday who’s just had a baby (who is adorrrrrrrrrrrable) and we were talking on this very topic of friends who stay and friends who leave. The people who come and the people who go. For us, and for quite a few of the other key friendships in my life, it’s been a real intentional decision where we’ve said to each other that this is a friendship we value, and we will do everything we can to build it and to keep it a priority in our lives. Here’s why:
Entropy. More specifically, the law of increasing entropy.
The law of increasing entropy in physics is the observation that things left to their own devices tend towards decay. Take your body, for instance. Left on its own, with no nourishment, it will die. Take trees or flowers – without the right conditions, they die out. How about something intangible like your bank account? If you leave it without much thought it usually tends towards decay, too.
Friendships are the same.
I think there’s a real fallacy that destroys the true value and worth of our friendships and it’s that good friendships just happen. You just click, and that’s all there is to it. You hit it off. Everything is great. And hey, there are heaps of people I have just clicked with. But of those I have clicked with, and of those I haven’t, it’s the friendships I have devoted intentional effort and value towards that have continued on, or died out.
And when you take an honest look at the friendships in our lives, the friends we’ve had “leave”… doesn’t that just mean that we stopped giving time to each other? We stopped returning their calls. We cared less and less about events in their lives. We watch them on Facebook or Instagram but don’t really interact with them (probably cause we’re using social media wrong). All of a sudden we turn around and we’re not the friends we used to be.
Casting Crowns wrote a song called Slow Fade. In it the songwriters highlight how things don’t just crumble in a day. It’s the little by little distances we put in between our relationships.
And hey, there are going to be lots of people this happens with. But we just need to be aware of our contribution to whether or not our friendships hold true, or they fade away.
Many people who divorce cite the experience of waking up one day and feeling like there is a stranger in bed with them. But it didn’t just happen. It happened because one or both of them stopped trying as much. The intentional actions turned into going through the motions. Many friendships know the same experience. And breaking up with a friend can hurt sometimes just as bad as breaking up with a lover (I think that’s because your spouse is also your greatest friend).
And yes, there will be many people who come and go throughout our lives. We just need to realize that it really is how we negotiate season changes and whether or not we stay intentional that actually has a lot more say in how our friendships go.
John and Helen Burns always say that the relationships in our lives will bring us the greatest joy and also the greatest pain. We all know which one we would like it to be, but I guess we don’t always think through our role in how our friendships fare.
At the end of the day, it really is just this – if you want friends, you have to be a friend.
And yes, we are going to see a whole bunch of people come and go throughout our lives. But if we stay grateful for those who do come and go, and we stay intentional with the ones we don’t want to leave, then we will go a long way to keeping our friendships healthy and rewarding.
How about you? What are your experiences like with friends who stay and friends who leave?