Was the title alarming? Are my friends going to be angrily texting me in 3, 2, 1…? Maybe “breakup with” is the wrong term. Maybe it’s more a question of how do we assess friendships in the same way we do romantic relationships?
Like most people, I assess (prospective) partners in a number of ways – our alignment of values and goals, their suitability to my lifestyle and mine to theirs, their respect for my boundaries, the balance in the relationship and whether at the end of the day they add to my life, or take from it.
Why then are the same critiques not always afforded to friendships? Especially given their importance and prevalence in our life, especially when the same cannot always be said for romantic relationships.
There was a time in my life when I had rarely, if ever, assessed my friendships. They just were. From a long time ago. From recently. With a vague sense of who I went out with, who I was totally myself with, who I would trust with secrets, or matters of the heart, or financial advice. But rarely with a real sense of “were they what I needed”. And circumstance can play a huge part in any relationship forming – being work colleagues, your partners being friends, being immigrants from the same place. So often they sprung up randomly, which in itself is beautiful.
But as we change as humans, we need our environments and our relationships (both romantic and platonic) to change with us if we’re to feel aligned in the evolving versions of ourselves. And forcing any of those things to remain the same, as we fundamentally change, is a recipe for disaster. We can begin to feel inauthentic in those relationships, there can be resentment, there can be jealousy, the change can be triggering for one or both parties, and most of all it doesn’t encourage further growth.
In my many seasons of personal change, I initially never thought much about anything else except the immediate change that was happening – a job, or a house, or a relationship. I never really looked at it as a holistic life change and redesigned my life around it also. I write in Lou Who? about the time I realised I needed to move out of downtown Vancouver because it no longer served my life and it took me SO LONG to realise that, like an idiot! Purely because I really wasn’t checking in with myself on every aspect of my life. There were areas of focus for sure – a lot that maybe shouldn’t have been priorities, like men and my body (and men with my body) – but I never really looked at it as a whole picture. Which maybe explains a lot of the disconnect I felt in my life for so long.
I once made a new friend while discussing transitions we were both making in other friendships. It was literally the first conversation she and I ever had. And in that discussion we both agreed, friends (as with men) aren’t always in your life forever, they can be in your life for a season or a reason. I’ve had many friends who were in my life for different seasons and were key to that part of my life. And I’ve had others who were there for a reason, like to help keep my sanity in a job, or to encourage me to get out my own way and start writing.
At some point though, either the season passes or the reason is complete and then… what? The key is to be able to distinguish it from “I think maybe we kinda fell out” or “I think she/he’s mad at me” because those allude to blame or a guilty party. When in reality, if you’re able to identify it as growth, it isn’t anyone’s fault. It just is.
So just as we hear about romantic relationships breaking down because “we grew apart”, it is so damn ok for friendships to go through the same transition. And no, we don’t have to like it, and yes, it’s probably going to feel like a breakup (because it is) and it’s possibly going to feel a little icky and a little passive aggressive – especially if you’re female. But acknowledging the change, and allowing it to have its space will be the legacy you give that friendship.
To be clear, recognising there’s a disconnect with a friend in values or goals or lifestyle doesn’t mean one is right and the other is wrong. Like in romantic relationships, sometimes people are just different, no worse, no better.
The kindest thing you can do, the most genuine way to honour a friendship is to allow the growth to happen and not try to fit a now round peg into its original square box. They do say “if you love them, set them free”… wow, I just threw up in my mouth a little… but it is actually true. To be able to appreciate the friendship for all that it was, all that it taught you, all that it got you through and to STILL be able to love it when it no longer exists in the way it once did? That is honouring a friendship.
So there’s no shame in wanting to ensure the people you’re surrounding yourself with are the right people, for this time in your life. And, by the way, I’m not suggesting an entire re-build of the friendship team every 6-12 months. There will be those who endure, those friendships who do absolutely belong in every season and for every reason throughout. But as you get older you realise how much quality over quantity matters, and how important it is to get comfortable saying goodbye. Even to friends.
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