You can’t be friends forever

Before I left university, one of my leaders at school asked me an excruciating question.

What friendships would I continue once I left town?

Naively, I replied, “All of them of course!” I wanted to continue to invest in every friend I had made in the past few years. How could I not?

In our discussion, she said something that struck me hard. She said, “Sometimes, friendship is not always meant to be forever. And that’s OK.”

Let me take you back in time to my high school graduation for a moment. I had four best friends, and we made promise upon promise to one another about keeping in contact. We pledged we would send each other care packages and visit each other at college. And we would make sure to all come home at least once a month and try to coordinate our visits with one another. We swore to each other we would Skype every week and text every day.

Though I’m still friends with one of these girls, I have barely spoken to or seen the others since graduation. I realize now that if we had kept all of our promises, I wouldn’t have had any room in my life for anyone new.

I used to think that if I wasn’t friends with someone forever he or she would think I was an awful, rude person who didn’t want him or her in my life anymore. But how impractical is it to think that you can properly invest into every friend you’ve ever had? Trying to manage too many friendships means you are only going to be able to give your full attention and time to some. Everyone else will simply get pieces of you. And who wants a friendship that consists of leftovers?

Sometimes, it’s OK — even necessary — to walk away from some friendships in order to make room for others in your life. Ask yourself which friends encourage you, which friends teach you, which friends pray for you. If you have a friendship that isn’t constructive, then perhaps it’s time to move on.

Now there is a flip side to this. I’m not advocating for you to become the what’s-in-it-for-me type of friend. If someone in your life doesn’t seem to bring much to the table, you should ask yourself: what are you are bringing to the table? Because really, at the heart of friendship is self-sacrifice.

Not only must you ask what both of you may be procuring from the friendship, you must draw the line between being an ally and an enabler. Because there is a difference.

An ally is someone whose purpose is to uplift and to encourage and to challenge; an enabler is one who allows a friend to stay comfortable, backing away from any kind of confrontation. In an age where complacency is the new normal, we have a profound tendency to settle for mediocre friendships.

There isn’t a manual on how to step away from a friendship, or on how step into a new one, but I think one of the first steps is deciding what you really expect and desire from a friend.

Are you simply hanging out with someone to relive the glory days? Does this friend use you? Does she challenge you? Do you motivate her to be better? Is there anything valuable happening as a result of your friendship?

There’s incredible beauty in all friendships: from BFFs-4-Ever to those specific to a time and place. Cherish the people in your life. Love the friends you have. But sometimes, recognize that it’s alright to let them go. It may be what’s best for everyone.

 Photo (Flickr CC) by Wendy Verwey Bekker.