Friendships are complex relationships, and they take energy, time and investment.
Have you ever wondered why as we approach our midlife, certain friendships can begin to break down and even fall by the way side?
I was asked to contribute my thoughts about this subject that were published in the Weekend Telegraph (Saturday 14th Jan 2023) if you would like to read the full article.
Here are some more of my thoughts…
There’s a saying that has always stuck in my mind… “Friends are for a Reason, Season or Lifetime” and this makes a lot of sense because it’s so true.
Not all of our friendships will stand the test of time, and that is perfectly okay.
There are two category of friend in the modern world; formal and informal.
The formal friend is the friendship that has grown through a mutual affection creating a strong bond and connection.
Friendships, like any relationship, begin because of 3 factors:
I like you, I trust you, I want to hang out with you.
Good friendships are maintained as long as at least 2 of these components remain valid.
All good friendships are mutually dynamic in their nature.
This means that they require shared energy, investment and mutual effort for them to flourish.
We, as human beings make friends because we generally share something in common (reason) – this could be an interest, passion or life path.
We make friends because we are social creatures that enjoy companionship, and as we go through phases in our lives, our friendships will reflect this as well (season).
However, as things change in our lives, our friendships and capacity for making friends will also change – and this is totally natural.
Our personal, professional and social world will inevitably shift as we go through life and, just as we do as people – our friendships must adjust and evolve (lifetime).
When we are in our teens, we generally make friends very easily, because of school, clubs, activities, sports, communities.
Our parents also have us, as the children, in common, and may also make friends with each other.
When we arrive in our twenties, our lives move into workplaces or further study, and we may move location, so some of those childhood friendships will naturally drop away and some will continue.
The digital age has certainly made it easier to maintain past friendships, but also on the flip side – it’s also made it easier to make new friendships, that can override existing friendships.
Our lives are a constant process of shedding the past and stepping into the future.
Our friendships also reflect this.
Moving into our thirties is generally when we begin settling down, so this can start happening from around 25 years old and onwards.
This is when it becomes apparent who our circle of friends for life might be.
We will subconsciously and consciously make more effort with these people and even if we don’t see each other for a while, when we do, it naturally slips into a familiar and comfortable vibe, a bit like those super comfy well worn slippers!
When we enter into our forties, there is a shift that happens. It’s a psychodynamic shift – and this is where the saying ‘life begins at 40’ comes to mind.
We subconsciously enter into a period of self enquiry.
We may be at the stage where our kids have become semi-independent, we may be at the point in our career’s where we are at the top of our game, we also may be experiencing issues with our parent’s beginning to need our support more.
Family life can from now on get a little bit more intense as our priorities in life begin to shift.
This is where our friendships are again going through another phase.
We as forty-somethings are not at all the same people as we were in our teens or twenties.
If our friendships began at that stage of our lives they will only move with us through life if we have nurtured them.
If we reduce this concept down – the only reason we will nurture a friendship throughout the busy-ness of our life is because it matters to both of us, equally and the fundamental factors of ‘I like you, I trust you and I want to hang out with you’ is still solid.
Our interests will change, our passions may not be the same, and we may have completely different pathways.
However, the bond that will connect a forever friend is essentially plutonic love and a shared emotional history.
The forever friendship is tied by this.
Think of it like a mini marriage, or deep relationship that you will have with a significant other, usually, in our culture, we have one partner at a time that we love deeply.
It’s not usual to love many people by choice deeply in that way.
Of course, we share deep connections with our family members – our bond with family is not a choice, so the family relationship has a little bit more glue attached to it.
A forever friend is simply a bond that we have chosen to keep stuck to us, despite life changes, interests moving on and personalities adjusting, and it’s very rare to have more than a handful of this type of friendship as we move into our fifties and onwards.
The natural endings will simply fade away. The enforced endings can be disruptive and cause heartache and trauma. When the ending is an enforced separation, this is essentially like grieving a death, but no one has died. We will inevitably face a grieving process when our good friendships end.
We face grieve when we say goodbye to someone or something we have once loved, invested in and cared about. This is why losing some friends can be utterly heartbreaking.
It’s a bit like going through a divorce and facing a death at the same time.
In other words, we have changed, and the friendship isn’t strong enough to withstand the changes.
It’s important to remember this is perfectly okay, and totally natural.
There is nothing wrong with either of you, it’s just a process of friendship evolution.
There may be resentments, disagreements, values compromised, ‘comparitis’ which leads to jealousy and envy.
Losing a good friend can be compared to bone damage, small fractures that are not easily repaired then turn into bigger splinters, and finally a splitting and break occurs.
It can only be fixed with deep healing and restorative work and mindfulness. If we have lost the willingness to repair, strengthen and rebuild – the friendship will not heal.
There isn’t a specific time period, it could happen suddenly, or it can be a long, drawn out process.
The signs are subtle at first; things begin to feel ‘off’.
The length of time between contact increases, the excuses of not being able to meet up start happening, there is a general frostiness and communication break down that occurs.
There may be other factors involved as well as mutual friends who take sides, or we begin to hear rumours and gossip, this is the beginning of the friendship fall out.
Trust is broken and communication has broken down, and in most cases, this has now gone beyond repair.
Dipti Tait is a Hypnotherapist and Relationship Therapist