The Life Cycle of a Friendship

True friends. They make us feel accepted and understood, we enjoy their sympathy and their understanding. With our closest friends, we can truly be ourselves. We have friends to share our experiences with, friends from whom we get attention, friends who confirm and appreciate us, make us feel safe, etc. A real friend will make a serious effort to put time and energy in maintaining the friendship. Friends take care of each other. They can also act as a mirror in which we are confronted with ourselves. This calls for openness from both sides, as well as mutual respect. Our personal, subjective definition of friendship ultimately depends on our personality, our background, and life experiences.

Friendships start at a very young age with a simple, main purpose: to have someone to play with. Once puberty is reached, acceptance by peers starts to play a major role. After the adolescent phase, it is most likely that relationships with our childhood friends will gradually change. The situations we’ve shared with them on a day to day basis (like school, entertainment, sports, etc.) change or disappear. Our lives might run at a different pace, with different schedules, different studies and work situations. At this point, love interests start to play a bigger role in our lives.
These changes can make quite an impact on our lives, and therefore on our friendships. Perhaps shared interests fade, or maybe we gradually feel the need to deepen our lives and some friends turn out to be more superficial. Or we obtain new insights along the way that put some of our old friendships in a different, less appealing light. Although some friendships do grow along with us, it is inevitable that every now and then friends (slowly) grow apart.

Ending a friendship is like grieving: letting go of something that was once important to us. Most of us are not used to voluntarily and consciously end a friendship, even when it’s clear we don’t have a lot in common anymore. We’d rather let the relationship slowly fade by not putting any time or energy into it. We find this less difficult and confrontational. A clear-cut conflict often makes it easier to end a friendship, but this doesn’t make the process less painful.

It is quite odd that, as we grow up, we get so little objective information on an important subject like friendship. Most of the time we have to make do with examples from our immediate surroundings. And those don’t always apply to our own personal experiences and situations. Furthermore, the focus is usually on how to make friends and less on the other aspects and phases of friendships.

There is so much to learn from (the progress of) our friendships. Just think about it: how do we make new friends, how do we deal with our friendships, how do we end a friendship? What is our personal definition of a friend? Do we have underlying motives in a friendship, or does it just “click”? Do all our friends share similar properties, and if so, what does this say about us? Do we always play certain roles within a friendship? And so on.

Our friendships can provide deeper insights about ourselves. That is if we’re open to it. One might consider this a tribute to a (former) friend.

Franklin Heilbron, blogger and spiritual life coach, lives and coaches in Amsterdam (The Netherlands). He loves life, loves people, hugely enjoys intelligent conversations, and can be deeply moved by beautiful sounds and images.

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