When friendships die

Stroll with Nicole

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Nicole Law advises weeding out relationships which have stopped growing.

As we grow older, people enter and leave our lives with little consequence. A new job promises a new set of colleagues with whom we interact for the working week. A new club or interest group pushes us out of our comfort zones into the awkwardness of ice-breaking. 

Then there are those rare serendipitous encounters in which we reconnect with old friends we have not spoken to for years. They might be on public transport, at a friend’s wedding or even at the shops. 

The beauty of these connections is that, though fleeting, the depth of the bond is evident. I relish the conversations in which two people can start again as if no time has passed between them. 

Sure, there are links related to the inevitable life choices we have made: where we went to university, our current profession, the shared prospect of moving out into a new home in the near future … Yet, there are also deeper connections which remain and create a safe space for us to share openly about personal difficulties,doubts and confessions of fragility. 

The pandemic has wrought both connection and disconnection … But what has it done to our capacity to enjoy profound friendships?

Sometimes I need to take a break from the world online and unplug from endless Zoom calls, be they for work or non-work purposes. The online sphere provides a structure, a platform for us to connect with our friends, but it is a poor substitute for real-life interaction. 

On a screen – even a high definition one! – I cannot see the creases around my friend’s eyes nor the nervous shifting from one foot to the other.

Disconnection pervades our relationships, even with the plethora of online platforms at our disposal. The trouble is, we start to close ourselves off to genuine connection. That must not be allowed to become a habit …

As an adult, inevitably we will start to lose touch with old friends, as they pursue other priorities in their lives. They may have moved to another country and started a new job. They may be focussed on finding a life partner and put other friendships on the backburner for a while. They may be concentrating on starting a new family and be struggling with the late nights caring for their new baby. A shift in our priorities is inevitable, it is part of the process of growing up. 

Yet, the loss of deep friendships in adult life is always particularly painful for some of us. I used to mourn the death of some of these friendships and reflected on the reasons for their end. 

Now, I am slowly learning that every friendship has its season and it requires the effort of all parties to sustain a connection in the face of conflicting schedules, new priorities and an evolving personal identity. 

I used to think that friendships were merely spontaneous, based on feelings. Now I realise they need a lot of hard work, self-giving, and the exercise of virtues like patience, perseverance and, perhaps above all, loyalty.

Along the way, I have had to have difficult conversations with some friends, upon the realisation that the friendship has reached its final throes. Seeking clarity is uncomfortable but necessary for us to obtain closure and to allow ourselves to process the emotions that threaten to flood us in a healthy and mature way. Friendship is like a beautiful fruit on a tree, if we do not water it regularly or shift its position in relation to the sun, the fruit itself will wither and die eventually. 

The death of close friendships in adulthood may be the necessary impetus for us to focus our attention and emotional energy on the connections that truly matter. 

These connections may not be numerous; we may have many ‘friends’ online, but few may really know the real us. I’m happy enough to cultivate stronger fruit trees in my garden and sometimes to remove the weeds from time to time. I recommend it … weeding can be a growth experience.

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One Reply to “When friendships die”

  1. Lisa says:

    Interesting. Usually I do not regard friendships that have become more distant as “dead”; I like to think it is rather a stage of “hibernation”….which may never know another spring, actually. I wonder what my other friends think of that.

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