Friendship is Never Finished

by Dan Walsh

I’ve lost a few friendships lately. Not through any egregious errors, as far as I can tell, but from negligence. Negligence, that in some instances resulted in irreparable harm. I was hurt in the beginning, then angry. I tried to allow enough time for the emotions to subside so that I might at least profit from a bad situation with newfound wisdom. It’s been about a year now, and I think I’ve found my answers.

I’ve tossed it around from my perspective and from theirs, and while I’m still hurt, and at times still angry, I think I’ve finally found the lesson I was seeking.

Where to start?

I think the first lesson is that friendships die. Especially, it seems, when we approach our 30′s. I had a vast friend network after I graduated college. This number has dwindled over the past 5 years as people moved away, got married, or otherwise drifted on the current of life. It’s unfortunate. I enjoyed my time with these people, but this loss is inevitable. College is the perfect place to make large numbers of friends if for no other reasons than proximity, repetition, and shared suffering. I am told that these are all potent ingredients in the friendship potion, but they begin to lose their effectiveness after graduation.

The steady migration off of and away from campus effectively destroys the proximity effect, one of the most important factors of friendship. Moving across the city may as well be across the country, when we’re used to our friends living across the hall.

Moving further apart leads to less repetition and fewer chance encounters with folks if for no other reason than the odds of bumping into them are decreased. No longer seeing them in class further exacerbates the problem.

No more classes also  means no more shared suffering, and no more de facto common interests. Dramatic late night cram sessions with classmates don’t exist anymore. Neither do hungover breakfasts spent commiserating over a demanding professor. These instances suck, but there’s no denying their power to pull people together.

The college friend exodus could fill an entire book, but the short of it is that this should be expected, though I was never prepared for it. No one ever tells you this will happend. I’ve only just realized this to be true, which is too bad, as I’ve spent the last 5 years thinking that I was somehow failing socially, and worse, failing my friends. This first lesson covers the vast bulk of the friendships I’ve lost over the years.

The next lesson that follows most logically is that friendships require open communication. This sounds obvious, but is unfortunately all too rare. I have been guilty of not communicating well enough in the past. Sometimes I failed to get my point across. More often than not I avoided discussing a situation all together because it was awkward or potentially painful. The results tend to be the same:

It is possible to truly be friends with someone and still lack open communication. Many friendships are like this, but these friendships will fail.

Not discussing an issue will drive a wedge between even the closest friends. They may be good friends, but without openness they will eventually become “not good ENOUGH friends.”

Honesty is a proxy for respect, and not having respect for a friend precludes us of truly sharing in that person’s life, joys and sorrows all. I can think of no surer sign of a fair weather friendship than poor communication.

The last lesson, and most powerful is that a friendship is only as strong as the effort required to maintain it.  This doesnt mean that a friendship should be a pain in the ass, but like offerings to the gods of old, the greater the sacrifice, the more bountiful the harvest. Following through on a difficult favor has the simultaneous effect of making friends like each other more. The hotter the flame, the more tempered and durable the metal of friendship. Struggle for each other. There is no set point at which we can call ourselves someone’s friend and then relax on our duties because we’ve “made it”.

Friendship is always work. Friendship is never finished.