- People tend to speak simplistically about friendships.
- Friendship requires that both people continually invest effort in the relationship.
- There's no perfect model for a good friendship. It's ok for a friendship to change or end.
Our messaging around friendship is one-dimensional. We often speak of friendships in platitudes like “best friends forever” and ignore the complexity of these important relationships. Out of this simplicy, myths have emerged. Here are eight myths about friendship that need to be debunked:
- Friendships should be forever: Some friendships last a lifetime. But more often than not, friendships shift over the course of a lifetime. Individuals change, their locations change, and what they look for in a friend changes. We need to normalize the notion that friendships regularly end and fizzle and that is OK.
- True friendship means nothing will come between us: Nope. Conflict is healthy and normal in friendship, just as it is in any relationship. Friendship is the interaction between complex human beings with complex, changing needs. When we connect, we sometimes conflict. That is ok. It does not mean the friendship isn’t a true friendship or that the friendship is not strong. In fact, friendships often gain strength if both members of the relationship can work through struggles openly and honestly.
- Once a friendship fades, it will never come back: While some friendships do fizzle permanently, others come back stronger after a period apart or a particularly difficult stretch. Childhood friends may find that they drifted in college and found more common ground in adulthood. A friend going through a difficult personal period may pull back and re-emerge later. A big event or the confluence of a life phase (say, having children at the same time) can draw people back together who previously drifted apart. There is no single roadmap for friendship and closeness.
- The end of a friendship is not as bad as the end of a romantic relationship: While friendships do not get the airtime that romances get, friend breakups can be incredibly difficult and heart-breaking. Those whose friendship ends should allow themselves to mourn the same way a person would after an important romantic attachment ends.
- Friends will just know what I need and if they don’t, they’re a bad friend: Friends, like family or romantic partners, cannot be expected to mind-read. When one member of a friendship is feeling hurt or needs to set a boundary or wants to discuss something important, they need to say so. Even a friend who has known you for 20 years cannot be expected to know your needs without your guidance. Friends should orient themselves around this truth and practice opening up about their needs.
- Friendship means pledging eternal loyalty: Friendships can guide us through our most traumatic life periods. Friends are there when school is hard, when work is unfulfilling, and when family members feel unreasonable. This deep support can give rise to a deep sense of loyalty toward the friendship. But help from a friend does not warrant eternal loyalty if the friendship begins to sour. Friends earn each other’s loyalty through continual input into the relationship and working together to grow the friendship. While a good friend in one moment deserves gratitude and perhaps the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to rectify issues, eternal loyalty is simply unreasonable.
- If a friendship ends, I have failed: By all means, mourn a lost friendship. But some friendships are right to end and in that case, choosing to end that friendship is a sign of maturity. When friendships stop feeling mutual, start feeling one-sided, lose common ground, or bump into different needs and world views, ending a friendship may be the healthiest decision.
- There is an ideal type of friendship: Friendships come in many different forms. Some begin in childhood and continue through life. Others last for a summer at summer camp. Some friendships are extremely close while others exist largely in shared social circles. We may find that we gravitate towards certain people for certain types of friendship and like a variety of types. Others prefer only closer knit or more casual connections. There is no perfect model for maintaining friendships as long as it works for you.
What is the real problem with these myths? They are blanket statements. No relationship will ever adhere perfectly to them. Those in the friendship will have to examine their beliefs about friendship, challenge myths and stereotypes, and build the kinds of relationships that work best for them.
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