Friendships Change: Growing More Comfortable with Endings
It hasn't happened suddenly, but from where I stand now I am noticing how many of my friendships have changed or dissolved in the last year or two. To be more precise, it's actually the structure of those friendships that has changed because it's not that we aren't friends anymore, as much as it's about that fact that we aren't practicing our friendship in the same way anymore. The container has changed. What wove us together has unraveled. The routine has shifted. Schedules have changed. Life got full of other things. Needs have fluctuated. Our time together looks very different and feels very different.
This isn't a post about friendship break-ups as much as it is about being aware and honoring that friendships change and shift over time. I feel that it's important to put into words because so often women feel guilty, take it personally, or panic if a friendship drifts a bit.
Friendships Change. Frequently.
But the truth is that our friendships have to change; and by definition, when you have a change, it means there is an ending to one thing and the beginning of something new. And sometimes there is a gap between that ending and that new beginning which can feel like a friendship fatality; and sometimes the new beginning doesn't feel as satisfying right away so there's an element of loss and grief that accompanies the change.
Since my book came out a year and half ago, and was written nearly three years ago, it's amazing to me how much my friendships have changed since then. I want to own that publicly because I think it's normal and needs to be part of our conversation. It's important, I think, for a "friendship expert" to voice how much friendships can drift and change and fluctuate even when everyone is doing everything "right."
- Back then I had Tuesday Night Girls Night which for two years was five of us getting together every week. A little more than a year ago, two of the women no longer felt they could commit to the weekly commitment, (and I do want to say that how they handled that was amazing-- voicing their love for us, expressing
honestly their need for evening time for other priorities, and their willingness to still get together even if less frequently) so our remaining group of three went through a process of "do we want to invite new women to join us?" or do we keep soldiering on just the three of us? We opted for the latter due to wanting to keep the intimacy that we had established, but an unforeseen consequence of that choice was that our gatherings were canceled more frequently than not due to the fact that when two people were traveling on the same week we only had one person left instead of three. The ideal was still weekly, but the reality is that the three of us get together once a month. It took a while for us to admit that and come to peace with it. Ironically, it's more difficult to schedule something irregularly than it is to plan on something regularly, and we definitely aren't as aware of what's going on in each others lives in the same way, but travel has increased in all our lives and once a month is what we can pull off right now. Still love all four of those women, but our time together has changed, our lives feel like they've sped up, and I miss the idea of a weekly get-together, even if I can't really commit to it.
- Back then I also hosted "chosen family" dinners on Friday night whenever I was in town. There were about 7-8 of us who got together pretty frequently, but needs change, and that ritual slowly dissolved. (In part, due to some intentional conversations about the desires from some for more alone time with us rather than group time, and in part due to life just getting busy and us not hosting as regularly.) We still see all those people, but at different times and in different ways.
- And interestingly, along these lines, my monthly business women's group that we've had going for three years looks like it might be transitioning, possibly, into a quarterly group. We have that conversation in two weeks as we all talk about what we each need and want going forward into 2015. With some people having moved away, some people's commitments changing, and some people not showing up as frequently-- the questions needs to be asked: 1) what do we each need? 2) And what is the best way to get those needs met?
During the same time, several other groups have begun and other friendships have created rituals of their own, but in this post I really just want to honor that meaningful friendships have ended in some ways. Sometimes it's been precipitated by something obvious: someone moving, or a job that requires more travel, or a life that just gets too full. Sometimes it's just someone asking an intentional and thoughtful question like, "Is this still working for everyone? Meeting everyone's needs in the best way?" And sometimes the reality of the ending only becomes clear later... after things have already started dissolving a bit, the recognition dawning slowly that somewhere along the line this form for time together isn't working anymore.
I get weary of feeling like "starting over" and sometimes I wish I could just freeze time and keep us all in the same place forever... I'm tempted to grasp, cling, or beg. Letting relationships change isn't easy. I hate people moving away. I want to hang on to what is meaningful. But life changes and so do people... so endings or perceived endings are part of the process.
Changing the Structure; Not the Love
There isn't a one of these situations where I don't still consider these people to be friends of mine. There was no blow-up, no harm done, no fight, no break-up... just a container that wasn't working for everyone in the same way anymore. I still love them all.
In a super thought-provoking interview with Esther Perel at Slate.com on why spouses cheat, she makes a powerful statement about marriage that I think is applicable to friendships, too.
Most people today, for the sheer length we live together, have two or three marriages in their adult life, and some of us do it with the same person. For me, this is my fourth marriage with my husband and we have completely reorganized the structure of the relationship, the flavor, the complementarity.
Isn't that profound? In marriages-- who were are together (the roles we take on, the rituals we co-create, the way we interact) looks different at various stages of our lives. To have to figure out who we are together at different stages in our marriages (i.e. with kids, when he/she becomes the bread-winner, when a new role outside the marriage takes one person in a new direction) becomes easier if we have the expectation ahead of time that we will continually need to be recognizing that some of our marriage structures will end, and new ways of being together will need to be formed. For most of us it happens without conscious awareness... but how much more powerful to not take it personally when it happens, to see it coming, and to decide together to figure out what works best for each person now as opposed to trying to keep things the same.
The same is true of friendship. When only 1 in 12 friendships will be with people that we will stay in touch with over the course of our lives, and most of us seeing that about half of the people we are close to today are different from those we were close with 7 years ago-- there is much that is ending.
But the reality that my stories reveal today is that even with the women we still call friends through various stages of life, how we are together (i.e. how much time we spend together, the frequency of our get-togethers, what we do when we're together) does shift. It has to.
Today I just want honor the reality that not only does every friendship not last, but even the ones that do often have to re-invent themselves, many times over. And reinvention comes with some things ending as other things begin. We will ebb and flow. We will change what we share and how we share. Our time together will look different.
My love for them doesn't change; but the container of how we practice our friendship right now may have to look different.
I can't stop change. I can only be responsible for how I am going to respond to it.
I, for one, want to keep myself as emotionally healthy as possible so:
- I am prone to take less things personally and more courageous to show up knowing what I need;
- I can make sure that I am fostering enough friendships in my life so that when some become less frequent or intimate, that others are available for deepening;
- And so I can do my very best to show up in every friendship with eyes to see whether there's a structure that needs to be reorganized. No need to hang on to something that isn't working for someone within that relationship. I'd much prefer that we become practiced at journeying through life in different ways, at different times.
For everyone grieving a friendship changing, or clinging with hopes of keeping it from shifting.... I pray for peace for all of us, that we can feel our love even if it comes in different forms.
p.s. Here's a prayer I wrote about learning to let go of friendships that may be meaningful to some of you... Open Hands.