The beauty and the peril of friendship is that it’s a relationship that is totally voluntary. No strings attached. Unlike those relationships that bind us by blood, duty, obligation, and love, we choose our friends. The only bonds in friendship are mutual attraction and a shared desire to be in the relationship.
Friendships come in infinite varieties: yoga friends, misery loves company friends, Facebook friends, fair-weather friends, bosom buddies, work related friends, party friends, work out friends, and many more. There is no one size fits all friendship. We attract friends into our lives for all kinds of reasons and sometimes only for a season. But whether they last a season or a lifetime, our friendships help us grow.
Juanita and Sarah had been best friends for more than 25 years. They met in middle school and attended high school together. Even though they attended different colleges they stayed in touch, visiting each other as often as possible. Once they graduated they went their separate ways each living in different cities. They corresponded, talked on the phone, and saw each other whenever they could. Because they were emotionally close, geographical distance never threatened their relationship.
Juanita said Sarah was the closest thing to a sister she had ever known. They were inseparable. They stood up in each other’s weddings, hosted baby showers for each other, mourned the loss of loved ones together, and supported each other through serious illnesses and even through a divorce…without a doubt they were best friends forever.
When Sarah told Juanita in a late night phone conversation, “You haven’t been calling me as much as you used to, I guess I can’t count on you anymore.” Juanita thought she was kidding. True, since she had remarried and taken on the responsibilities of a blended family, she had not been as available to Sarah. But what about all the times she had gone out of her way to be there for her; like when Sarah got fired from her job, or when she was diagnosed with lupus, or when her father died? It slowly began to dawn on Juanita that the friendship had become lopsided. When Sarah was in need Juanita had always been there to help. Now that she was not as available, Sarah put the relationship on the line.
Their relationship had always seemed balanced because Sarah was needy and Juanita needed to be needed. Juanita was a giver and Sarah was a receiver. We tend to think that if a giver ends up with a receiver there is balance in the relationship – but this is an illusion. Two people out of balance do not create a balanced relationship. Eventually the one who needs to be needed asks for support, or the one who likes to be given to has something she wants to offer. When that happens it throws things off. If you’re not mindful, the shift in dynamics can threaten the friendship.
Instead of relying on our friendships for balance we need to balance the ability to give and receive within our own personalities.
There is a certain energy that attracts friends to each other. Opposites do attract. Like magnets we tend to attract those who possess traits and qualities we would like to possess, or traits and qualities we are unaware we already possess. Needy people tend to attract people who love to give but who have a hard time receiving. Those who love to give tend to attract those who love to receive but have a hard time offering their gifts and talents to others.
To grow, each friend needs to become more like the other. Over time, if the friendship is working its magic, and you are making the effort, you will start to change. But here’s the peril. When you change even if it’s for the better, and your friend doesn’t make the adjustment, the balance shifts and you’re out of sync with each other.
So how do we restore balance when this happens? First of all try not to put your relationship on the line. It can be a deal breaker. In a dynamic relationship nothing stays the same. In order to sustain a friendship there has to be mutual interest and attraction as well as a willingness on both parts to maintain the connection.
When the dynamics of friendship change we have to make certain adjustments. Instead of trying to relate in the same ways you always have, if you’re like Sarah you may have to give more and ask for less. If you’re like Juanita you may have to give less and ask for more.
Can your friendship survive the change in circumstances that life inevitably introduces or that personal growth brings? Do friendships last a lifetime? What is true friendship anyway? Why is it so difficult to let go once we realize we’ve outgrown a friend? Is it really okay to end a friendship that’s gone bad or one that has stagnated?
I would love to hear what you know about the answers to some of these questions and to hear how your friendships they have helped you grow.