Friendships: To Hold On or Let Go?

By Royce J. 

Tupac Shakur once bemoaned, “I’m tryin’ to find my friends, but they blowin’ in the wind.” Shakur was likely indicating that his friends were now ashes, cut down before their time amidst the terrors of a concrete jungle.  Similarly, many of us may have witnessed the death of a friendship—sometimes by natural causes, and other times as a result of a violent struggle. The struggle though lies in the ability for us to tell when our friendships have simply shed their leaves in winter dormancy, or when they have actually met their maker. 

Our free time usually ebbs and flows throughout life. The sprawling, undeveloped landscape of our early twenties becoming more and more crowded with the advent of careers, significant others and families as we grow into our thirties, forties and beyond.  The post-college drinking crew that was assembled saw its membership decline when Liam took a job out west and Ricky sobered up, then eventually disbanded when Dean landed a steady girlfriend with an even steadier disapproval for inebriated antics.

Its critical to know yourself and what you’re comfortable with in terms of friendship effort: How often are you willing to pick up the phone? How far will you travel? How many plans are you willing to make? How many cancelled plans are you willing to accept? How many disagreements are you willing to squash? How much are you willing to forgive?  How much about your personality are you willing to alter to fit-in? How many lifestyle changes are you willing to stick through?

Let’s examine some of the different friendships and potential impediments to their success:

So that friend disappeared, but at least you still have your “work family,” right? But once you put in your two-weeks, your friendships are also put on notice. The barbecues go up in smoke, the happy hours and baby showers run dry once you start getting your paycheck elsewhere.

These employment connections are often built on mutual commiseration; sharing the same space and time with people who understand and share your aggravations.  But once you’re taking orders from another general, the bonds become strained: “So how’s old Ms. Powell? Still flossing in the break room?  What about Marcy—still drinking like a fish?”  There’s only so long that people can run off of the fumes of a former workplace.  Here’s to the friends who survive the employment shift, and to those who realize when it’s time to call it quits.

Is there a saying that you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your friend’s significant others? If there isn’t there should be, because it takes an incredibly strong bond to avoid being uprooted when the winds of love start blowing. The seat at the poker table now sits empty while your buddy goes all-in with a new boy/girlfriend.  

Some of these friends need a gentle reminder that you still exist, while others seem to permanently vanish into the relationship ether no matter how many invites you extend.  And if you and that friend’s significant other don’t see eye to eye? Heaven help you, because that’s a losing battle every time.  Its probably easier to be disliked by your own spouse vs. your good friend’s.  Here’s to the friends who don’t break up, and to the one’s who realize they’ve been dumped.  Will they accept the prodigal dater back if and when his/her relationship ends?

Old Friends
These are the ones who remember you in your halcyon days—before the hair loss and blood- pressure medication, back when fun times meant arcades and bicycles and existed refreshingly absent of substance enhancement. Remember tearing around Uncle Danny’s backyard with the super soakers? Remember the forts? Remember sequestering ourselves in the basement with the boombox while creating interpretive dances to popular songs?  You can grow up, go off to college, feel directionless, do eleven years at a Tibetan monastery, come home and pick up right where you left off.

These friendships carry an intense flavor of nostalgia which inoculate them against most of the adult issues that typical friendships succumb to.  Most often, they are only victims of falling into the empty spaces that time creates when friends fall out of touch.

Conversely, old friendships can rot on the vine for years before dropping off.  The standards that we may hold a new friend to are often not enforced when dealing with old friends: “She hasn’t returned my last three calls, he made an off-color remark about my wife, she drank too much and cracked the screen on my laptop…..but hey….we’ve been friends forever!” 

This is a testament to the inherent value of our roots, and how reluctant we are to unearth them.  Here’s to the old friends who make the effort to stay in touch.

To Stay or Go
Letting-go becomes an intensely valuable lesson as we accept that the proverbial band may never get back together. Recognizing the death of a friendship takes a lot of self-knowledge and maturity. However, to keep it alive takes a blend of mutual effort, respect for each other’s lives and time, appreciation for differences, and forgiveness.

Time marches on, and the friends that are willing to march with us throughout life’s different avenues—dark and deserted or teaming with life are the ones who I express my eternal gratitude towards.  Pick up the phone and give one of them a call.

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