Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Why the Best Friendships Feel Eternal

Recent research shows the bonds that can keep friendships eternal.

Key points

  • Friendships develop through a variety of routes, many of them based on shared interests and activities.
  • The special friendship marked by timeless moments has the potential to be deepest and most fulfilling.
  • By keeping your friendship active in your memory, you can sustain this special relationship indefinitely.

When you think about the person in your life you consider your best friend, what qualities stand out the most? Do you share similar personalities, tastes in music and movies, and general world views? Friendships in adulthood have the unique quality of being completely voluntary, not dictated by family ties or work. The bonds that keep the relationship going, therefore, reflect nothing other than your affection for this person.

As much as you may feel emotionally close to your friend, however, the opportunities to get together may be more limited than you prefer. You may live on opposite sides of the country and hardly see each other due to the distance, or within blocks of each other but have no free time to indulge your friendship. When you are together, though, something strange happens and time seems to stand still. It’s as if you saw your friend only yesterday, even though it was months or years ago.

Time and Friendships

According to University of Helsinki’s Aino Luotenen (2023), what distinguishes friendships from other close relationships are the dimensions of reciprocity and equality. The expectation is that you each give and take to a comparable degree, at least on an average basis. Sometimes you help your friend, and when you’re strapped, your friend helps you. Because you and your friend are peers, there isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a power differential that connects you with your friend, as would be the case with an older relative or supervisor at work.

These dimensions are well-established in the literature on friendships, and certainly fit with most people’s commonsense views about such relationships vs. those dictated by family or work. What may not be so widely recognized is the other dimension, that of time. As Luotenen argues, “imagining and anticipating future trajectories shape our understandings of the present.” “Temporality,” he goes on to explain, “is of major importance in how people make sense of lived friendships” (p. 21).

Friendships have temporality in the sense that, along with their voluntary nature, they exist only as long as the people in the relationship feel satisfied and want it to continue. To do so, both partners each contribute the “practice” of intimacy that advances and maintains a high degree of closeness. They do so over the course of time, as their knowledge about each other deepens and broadens.

Shaking Up the Time Continuum

This view of friendships as evolving over time relies on what is considered a linear view of time as occurring straight from the past, through the present, and into the future. In contrast, a cyclical view of time relies on the rhythms of life, marked by such events as yearly gatherings and anniversaries. A cyclical view of time also incorporates the idea of memory, which allows you to travel backward in time, unencumbered by the calendar. In the process, you can also overcome the limitations of physical space. Friends can relive important moments together no matter how far apart they are.

This background sets the stage for a larger set of questions that the Helsinki researcher explored in interviews of a sample of 16 married couples ages 26 to 41 years old. Participants reported on their activities (such as getting together for parties or lending tools) as well as on the “practices of intimacy,” or ways of building closer emotional bonds.

There were three themes relevant to temporality that emerged from the interviews, summarized here:

  1. Here and now: spontaneous everyday practices, such as becoming friends with neighbors, helping each other with childcare, and sharing meals.
  2. Friendship in cyclical time: patterns defined by events that occurred on a regular basis such as birthdays and holidays.
  3. Friendship based on the past: in a series of “timeless moments,” friendships are based on childhood experiences or significant life transitions.

You can undoubtedly relate to the first two categories of friendships if you think about the friends in your life you’ve come to know as an adult. These are the people you enjoy through common exposure to shared places and events. With those in group one, you might bump into them at the grocery store and decide to share a meal instead of cooking in your separate homes.

Those in group number two may be people you enjoy spending occasions with and even look forward to seeing when the date draws closer. Again, these can be people you’ve come to know well over time, but after the event, you more or less forget about them other than perhaps sharing social media for a few days later,.

It is the “timeless moment” group that, according to Luotenen, carries with it unique opportunities for intimacy. As he observed, “When interviewees made sense of friendships through a shared past, the importance of material and spatial dimensions seemed to fade” (p. 30).

Benefiting from Your Own Timeless Moments

To delve more into the captivating idea of the timeless moment, ask yourself whether you’ve ever had this feeling, based on a quote from one of the participants:

“We never phone each other or anything like that. Every time we see each other, I have this strange sensation that we were never apart even for a day. That’s how close she has always been to me” (p. 30).

This sensation is, as Luotenen suggests, a “trick of time,” whereby linear time is out of sync with inner experience. “Joy and fulfillment” occur as “past and future are entangled in the way that friendships are lived in the present” (p. 30). In this time warp, the calendar disappears and all that exists is the shared intimacy with your friend.

Reliving such moments through recollection further strengthens their meaning, as they become “cherished privately” (p. 32). Unlike friendships in which you compare notes on a daily basis, these deeper relationships can be cultivated merely by keeping your friend active in your memory. As you do so, your connection also deepens your own sense of identity. You feel more like your self, the self that was partly defined by this transformative bond.

What is particularly inspiring about the timeless moment type of friendship is that you don’t have to worry or feel guilty about not staying in touch. It won’t matter how many holiday cards or emails you write, because when you finally do come together, all of those practical forms of communication become irrelevant.

To sum up, your deepest friendships have become part of who you are, molding your personal history. When you are able to enter that timeless moment, both your relationship and your own identity will be stronger.

Facebook image: Dasha Petrenko/Shutterstock


Luotonen, A. (2023). Temporalities of friendship: Adults’ friends in everyday family life and beyond. Sociology, 57(1), 20-35.

More from Susan Krauss Whitbourne PhD, ABPP
More from Psychology Today