The friendships we forge across our lifetimes are hugely important to our wellbeing. They are sources of comfort, joy, and love in a world that can often seem harsh and unwelcoming. They shape us as individuals and form a large part of our memories. They provide stability against the backdrop of an ever changing reality.
Yep, friends are pretty damn awesome.
Friendships do, however, evolve just like everything else, and there are some essential things about them that you really ought to know.
Are you ready for the truth?
1. It’s NOT A Numbers Game
You wouldn’t know it by looking at your average Facebook profile, but friendship is very much a situation where quality matters a whole lot more than quantity. You can have hundreds of so-called friends who you know vaguely online or meet up with once in a blue moon, but still feel as lonely as hell.
Nurture a couple of deep, genuine friendships, on the other hand, and you can be utterly content and fulfilled with what you have. This is because a real friendship gives you something back, whereas superficial connections take your time and offer little in return.
So quit worrying if your circle is small – if the bonds are strong, that’s all that matters. And if you have no real friends in your life right now, start by trying to form just one, then a second, and eventually a few more. But, whatever you do, aim for quality.
2. Churn Is Natural (And Should Not Be Resisted)
Your friends of today may not be your friends of tomorrow. In fact, as you go through life, the vast majority of the people you once called friends will drift away, only to be seen in your social media feeds.
That feels pretty shitty doesn’t it? To think that those people who matter so much to you now might one day be nothing more than a “like” on a photo or a yearly birthday wish.
But you needn’t worry too much, because as old friends leave through one door, new friends are bound to enter through another. It’s a natural cycle which should be viewed as neither good nor bad, simply as life.
Now this is not to say that you can’t maintain some close friendships indefinitely, but these will very much be in the minority.
3. Opportunity Knocks
One of the key things that will determine whether a friendship lasts is simply the frequency with which you see each other and the quality of those interactions. That’s why opportunity is one of the most influential factors in the survival of the friendship bond.
If you often meet up with someone, the chances are that this bond will remain strong over the years, but as you see and engage with someone less and less, the more likely that the connection will wither and die.
Which is why…
4. Life Stages Matter
If you think about all of the friends you have made over the years, how many of them came about because of shared circumstances? You go to school and make friends with kids in your class because you share a common reference point and, importantly, a lot of time together.
Similarly, you choose a specific university and take a particular subject – these, too, will influence who you meet and who you end up befriending. Then you enter the workplace and spend hour upon hour, day after day in the company of your colleagues. Inevitably new friendships will form. Next, you might have children of your own and get to know other mums and dads through the shared connection that is parenthood.
Every new stage of life that you enter offers new opportunities to spend time with new people and form bonds around common ground.
5. You’re Not Limited To One Circle
It’s nonsense to talk about your circle of friends as if they are one entity, one group, one collection of individuals. That’s not how it is at all. Really, you’ll have multiple circles, many of which may never intersect or exist in the same room as one another.
You may have a group of friends who you can just spend hours lounging around with, chatting shit about life and universe until the sun rises the next day. Then there’s your film geek bunch, your Saturday sports fan collective, and your going out for a dance peeps.
While you see them regularly, these groups can all remain healthy and strong. Stop meeting up with them, though, and you may experience the churn we spoke about above.
6. Friendship Is A 2-Party Choice
The first five points all lead to this stark conclusion: friendship is a choice, but one that can’t be made separately to the other person. If you both put in the time and effort to see each other regularly, regardless of which stage of life you’re each at, then a friendship should remain strong.
And the more time you put aside for a friendship, the stronger it will remain. So if you only get to see someone 3 or 4 times a year, you can expect some of the familiarity and closeness to fade slightly compared to if you see them every month.
The longer you have been close friends, the longer you can probably go between catching up with each other. It’s a bit like having a joint bank account where the longer you have been friends, the higher the balance. But with each day that passes, you lose a dollar, and if the balance reaches zero, the account gets closed and the friendship ends. Yet every time you meet up, your balance gets a bit of a boost again.
But you both have to be committed because…
7. One-Sided Friendships Don’t Work
If you are the one making all the effort to see a friend; if you are always the first person to initiate text or phone conversations; if you sometimes wonder why you even bother, chances are you friendship is a sham.
Friends is plural, not singular. If the relationship is totally one-sided in terms of what each of you gives and takes, then it’s clear that you value the connection way more than they do.
You have two choices in this situation: your first port of call should be to talk to them to find out if they are going through some sort of shit that is getting in the way of them being a good friend. It doesn’t matter how well you think you know someone, sometimes you just can’t tell what’s going on in their lives (or in their heads) until you ask them straight.
If they are having a rough time of it, cut them some slack and keep making the effort to see them – eventually whatever they are going through will pass and you’ll be glad to have maintained the bond.
If, on the other hand, it just seems like they are too lazy or they care too little about your friendship, do yourself a favor and cull them from your life. It may sound harsh, but friends like this are not worth your time.
8. The End Can Hit You Hard
Sometimes your friendships will run their course and fade gently into the memory of yesterday. Other times they will explode into a ball of flames as a rift tears you apart beyond all healing.
In the case of the latter, the abruptness – and in all likelihood the unexpectedness – of the breakdown in your relationship will deal you a crushing blow similar to a bereavement. It can yank out your heart and leave you feeling numb, angry, and bitter.
In these cases, you need to let yourself grieve like you would the death of a loved one, because though they may not be dead in the literal sense, they are dead to you.
9. Your Relationships Change Things
I hate to break it to you, but the moment you become part of a committed relationship, your friendships will change. You’re not Superman or Wonder Woman; you have limited reserves of time and energy and you’ve suddenly got a new and important reason to use them up.
If you’re lucky, you might just have to drop the number of times you see certain friends, but the further a relationship develops, the higher the chance that you’ll be saying bye bye to some within your circles (or entire circles altogether).
But look on the bright side: you’ve got a new friend now and hopefully one you can grow closer to than any friend that’s come before. That’s worth celebrating.
10. Virtual Friendships Are Real Friendships
The modern world has given us many things, but instant communication across the entire planet is one of the most life-altering. No longer are you restricted by the supply of potential friends in your local vicinity; the world is your oyster.
Friendships form around mutual interests and the internet has opened up new communities of people who get together and interact in a virtual world. Whether it’s forums, chat groups, online games, or Skype masterminds, there are tribes of people who share all sorts of passions.
And don’t let anyone tell you that these people can’t be your friends because you’ve never met them face-to-face; they absolutely can be. The definition of friendship has evolved to fit the modern age and virtual connections are just as real and meaningful as any other.
11. Expect The Unexpected
Despite all the talk so far about friendships forming around mutual interests or life events, don’t presume to think that you can’t make friends with people who don’t fit a certain mold.
Be open to the possibility of meeting someone quite unexpected and hitting it off with them straight away. Perhaps you do have more in common than appearances suggest, so whether it’s a difference in age, gender, background, ethnicity, or something else entirely, consider them first as a human being and give things the chance to develop if there is something there.
In fact, seek out opportunities to meet and engage with people who you wouldn’t normally encounter; it will make you realize just how much in common we all have. You’ll grow into a more rounded and mature individual as a result.
12. Be Your Own Friend First
The most important friend you will ever make is yourself. There is no other person in this world who you will spend more time with, so just as you would put the effort into a friendship with another person, put that same effort into the relationship you have with yourself.
Learn to love yourself with compassion and empathy, treat yourself as you would expect to be treated by a friend, speak kindly to yourself when you face tough times, and forgive yourself when you do something you later regret. When you can be friends with yourself, you will find that every one of your relationships – friendships included – will benefit.
Steve Waller took a passion for personal development and turned it into his career by creating A Conscious Rethink: a website dedicated to publishing the very best articles on topics such as psychology, philosophy, self-help, relationships, and more. He has also grown his Facebook page to hundreds of thousands of fans where he shares inspirational messages throughout each day.