Why some friendships fail, others thrive

This morning I awoke to read this interesting article online:


If you’re thinking, “this man gets his news from the CBC website, CBC radio and the New York Times”, you are right! Friendships are a most interesting topic of conversation. On one hand our culture privileges family and family relationships above all else. Watch the ads that vie for your attention, the tug they make on you is your affection for those who live under your roof; spouse, child, mother, father, sibling. Read obituaries, they explicitly name all of the above, no mention of friends at all. On the other hand I would argue that when we are at the last stages of our lives those relationships that have been the most formative, the most meaningful, had the most lasting effect, were friendships. Case in point, as a parent one of your biggest concerns is who your child is hanging around with, the influence of friends on your son or daughter can be profound.

And yet far more than our family relationships the people we name as our closest friends come and go. The transient nature of friendship is such that looking back we can see a litany of individuals who once were as close as parents and siblings and now are lost to us forever. At least that was the case until Facebook! When I ask people why they love Facebook the number one answer is to reconnect with old friends. But, I ask them, if there was a reason these old friends drifted away wouldn’t this same reason quickly re-emerge as we reconnect? Shouldn’t we assume that whatever those issues were have not gone away?

The researchers profiled in this CBC article name three reasons friendships typically fail. I think all of us, if we are honest with ourselves and look back and see the common threads of discontent, will be able to name what it is for us that is a deal-breaker in relationships. For me these threads have been 1) a lack of consideration for the other and 2) a kind of instinctual drama, where the friend uses the energy generated from being aggrieved to leverage a righteousness that can never be questioned. Logic, reason, facts, consistency and questions of hypocrisy are useless in the face of said drama, once one such friend is aggrieved there can be no conversation, only capitulation and surrender. The result is that the friend with this addiction to drama never has to address matters calmly, rationally, in a back and forth manner, their angry and aggrieved voice is the only one to be heard.

The other deal-breaker for me is a lack of consideration, where a person just never thinks of the other, only themselves. In a mutual relationship I believe you need a sense that the other is thinking of you as much as you are thinking of them as decisions and planning is taking place. Otherwise this relationship is less of a friendship and more of a service.

I believe the most enduring friendships, and I have many, are ones where you can identify how the mutual interests, mutual concerns, and mutual affection have had a lasting effect on your life, on their lives. In my life some of the most important lessons and experiences have come from old friends who are no longer part of my life. I celebrate those friendships even if I do not wish to reconnect. I do not think it is failure to look back and see old friends’ names I no longer have relationship with. Instead I feel reassured that as I grow and mature and change the vast number of people in our world hold the possibility for new and interesting relationships that speak as much to who I am becoming as to who I once was.

All the more reason to engage the world with wonder and possibility than with certainty and comfort.