A good friend reminded me last week that “friendships are for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” It’s such a useful way of thinking about these important relationships we have throughout our lives. The challenge is knowing which friendships fall into each area and investing our energy accordingly.
So as I reach the grand old age of 40, I have become acutely aware of the few friendships that last a lifetime and I’ve been wondering about those that don’t. Do I get to decide? Sometimes, but not always. So what makes a friendship last a season versus a lifetime?
I don’t know about you, but I thought that once you leave High School, all the friendship dramas are over. What utter nonsense! The task of maintaining friendships when you aren’t in the same city, country or place in your lives can be pretty daunting and potentially exhausting.
I read a post on Instagram last week from @moemotivate which said ‘Normalise friendships ending (without drama)’ and it resonated because I always feel like I’m causing a drama if I have an issue with a friend or am questioning a friendship. I have often felt that a friendship ending has somehow been avoidable or my fault: “If only I’d worked harder”; “If only I’d forgiven them”; “What did I do wrong?” When in truth, it is often not about me at all.
They don’t all go out with a bang though. Sometimes it’s a slow retreat, other times they simply stop. I had a friendship like that not many years ago. It stopped, abruptly but without a build up or any warning. I closed the door to my house one day and that was the end.
It was a friendship for a season (or maybe a reason) and that had finished. Our lives had moved in different directions and without either of us making a decision to end the friendship, it stopped. No big drama, no argument, no discussion. Just gone. I have no ill feelings towards her and if I was to see her tomorrow, I’d be happy to have a chat, but we won’t pick up where we left off. It would be small talk as if we are meeting across a ravine, with what was our friendship lying far below.
Perhaps that is the difference between friendships that last a lifetime and those that are only for a season. It’s the ability to pick up where you left off rather than the distance between you separating you somehow. The ability to return to your friendship. There needs to be value on both sides and love that provides a powerful foundation on which to base the relationship. A foundation that is not indestructible but pretty resistant to the inevitable impacts of time, disagreements, distance and changes to those returning to it.
I’m imagining a floating island in a lake which is anchored to the bottom. It moves around, but remains largely within the same vicinity, limited by the chain that anchors it down. It bobs around, moved by currents, passing visitors and the weather and over time may look more battered and shabby but regardless of appearance, it provides a safe place to return to.
And that’s what friendship is for me: a safe place to return to. Whether it’s a new friend who sees the person I am today, or the friend I went to school with who has accompanied me on my journey through life, motherhood and all the rest. The friend who was as much a part of my family when I was growing up and the friend who is part of my family of choice, the one my kids see as a substitute Mum and the one who is always on the end of the phone, no matter the hour.
At the point where the friendship doesn’t feel like a safe place any more, I’m out. It really is that simple. In some cases, the island sinks, unable to sustain the impact of time, distance or changes in season. In others, the anchor pulls free, leaving the island drifting away on the current, either because it wasn’t anchored well enough or because the chain was too short. In some cases, the other person simply stops returning to the island and that is sad but it’s impossible to have a friendship on your own.
I know I’m really running with this metaphor but it speaks to me. It helps me visualise the impact of the surroundings on our friendships and to know that it isn’t just me who can make or break a friendship. I’m not that powerful but I often feel that responsible.
So for all of those friends who may be with me for a reason, a season or a lifetime, I want to thank you. You enrich my life in an indescribable way and I wouldn’t be who I am without you. But to those friends who are only here for a season, those who have stopped returning to the island of our friendship, I give myself permission to let you go. I will spend my energy on others who provide me with that safe place to return to and who will meet me there.