The Friendship Doctor

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Fluid friendships: Is it just me?

Yes, Virginia, friendships are dynamic and change over time.

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I am in my late 50s and feel discouraged to discover that all of my friendships seem so fluid. I've had very good friends during all the phases of my life -- high school, college, work ---but after awhile as circumstances change (such as leaving school, moving away, job changes, marriage, etc.) friends that I have wanted to keep and to stay "in touch" with have drifted away.

On my end I have tried to phone, send e-mails, and suggest get-togethers, but each and every time the relationship fades and then disappears. I am wondering if this is a usual pattern with most folks, or am I the exception? I've done lots of soul-searching to see if I am the problem, however I don't believe this is true.

I've always been a good friend---considerate and caring. I look around and see others who have tons of issues/problems and they often do not treat friends well, and yet they are still close friends in spite of it and have been for years. I just want to know how many women out there have "staying power" with their friends, or do friendships come and go as has been my experience. Is it me?

Signed,
Virginia

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ANSWER

Dear Virginia,

Yes, Virginia, friendships are dynamic and change over time. You aren't alone! Your question was one of the reasons I decided to write my book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. I was interested in seeing how my friendship history compared to those of other women and how friendships differ for different people.

After conducting interviews and reviewing relevant research, I found that contrary to the myth, the large majority of friendships---even very good ones---fall apart over time. People change and their lives diverge in different directions. Many women are reluctant to talk about these breakups because they worry that their families, the men in their lives, and their other friends will judge them harshly for having lost a friend. I applaud you for speaking up and asking the question. While some people have friendships that run very long and deep, they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

When friends drift away, it leaves a terrible void that results in soul searching and questioning. However, it may be that your friends' lives have changed more than yours.

Even friendships that fade away remain important to us. They help define the person we are today. The friends who helped get you through the first years as a mom or the first years in a new job were important then and their influence still remains. Close friends understand us, make us laugh, and sustain us through the bleakest of times. The fact that circumstances and/or people change doesn't minimize the many blessings those relationships provide.

You mention friendships of long-standing duration amongst people who seem not to care about each other. These friendships may be qualitatively differently than they appear from the outside or that you would want for yourself.

Meaningful friendships need to be nurtured, both old ones and new ones. If you're feeling a friendship deficit right now, it means that it's time to think about making new friends.

Hope this helps.

Best,
Irene

 

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Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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