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Aside from family, friends are the most important relationships that we have. I am not talking about “Facebook friends” or some other euphemism, because in the majority of cases, we don’t know those people – we connected through some event or share an emotional experience. The way that I see it, that is more along the lines of acquaintances, and although they are important in their own right, they don’t have the emotional heft that real friendship offers. That’s why I am grateful for a true friend and the value that they add to my life. Perhaps that’s why I can probably list my close friends on a single hand. The more that I think on this, the more I believe that friendship has two crucial dimensions.
The first of these is shared values. I suppose that this is one of my main criteria for making friends out of acquaintances. Just as my own personality stems from my beliefs, deep friendships come from having beliefs in common with others. Now, I do enjoy being around people that have different beliefs from my own, but they aren’t deep relationships, nor will they last over the long term. Some are relationships at work, or with those that I have a hobby in common, like writing, or self-development, but there is little “there” there beyond that common interest. It seems to me that a foundational characteristic for a lasting friendship is a core common value, but the kicker is this – not all values are equal and values can and do change over time. A value or a belief that we have when we are a teenager may fall to the wayside in our late twenties or thirties.
Because of this slow changing of one’s values and beliefs, it can cause strife within a pair or a even a group of friends. There is always a push/pull relationship within a group. People are rarely static creatures, although sometimes these changes are cosmetic and don’t affect the dynamic of a given group, there will be other changes that are structural in nature and can tear at the fabric of a friendship or a group of friends. When this second type of change occurs, then those involved have to have an intimate conversation within themselves and possibly in the group – they have to decide whether they can accept the change. It is when the friends cannot deal with the change, or at least choose not to, that the friends distance themselves or break apart. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the conversation about their values till they are at the breaking point. It’s usually too late by then.
A second dimension is the action in which the friends engage. Of course, the type of friendship may also dictate the boundaries of the gatherings as well. When friendships are forged, there are often certain activities that are tied to the group as well. For example, a band of surfers in Hawaii may have a weekly ritual of having dinner and watching a movie together in one of the friend’s homes. If one or more of the friends gets bored or skips out on the after-party, that will most likely put a strain on the surfing relationship as well. The different parts become aspects of the whole – that is to say, that although there are two distinct activities, both are considered important parts of what the group does to maintain the friendship.
Often one of the values that makes friendship work is trust and when we trust someone, we feel comfortable with them. That’s because an important aspect of friendship is being comfortable with that person or that group. We tend to open up more when we feel comfortable and share the more personal details of our lives. The openness that we feel leads to emotional connection as the feelings are reciprocated and intensified. The downside of this is that when the group no longer works for us – it no longer fills a need or perhaps the needs have changed – and so we pull away. This removal can feel like a betrayal, a rejection of the emotional bonding that had taken place earlier. Also, perhaps the rest of the group feels that the person pulled away because the others were no longer needed or wanted. It can be tough when someone has to move on. It feels personal.
Understanding this, I am grateful for the relationships that I do have. It means that my friends and I set standards for what it means to be friends and we keep to them. I can count on them and they can count on me in times of trouble. When the roots of friendship are based on values that don’t change – values of the heart – then the circumstances of the day do not matter. The friendship is much deeper. I am also grateful for the knowledge that sometimes friends drift apart because we change over time. Everyone does. It’s not a personal rejection and I value the time and the closeness that we shared. Becoming angry and bitter at someone because they didn’t stay exactly the same or act in a way that I wanted them to is the true betrayal.