Something that’s always puzzled me about the nature of adult friendships is how fragile they can be.

One month, you’re texting regularly, having great heart-to-hearts and even getting together for coffee or a movie.  The next month, it seems like the person has become totally indifferent to your existence.  Or worse: Resentful of it.

Or maybe they just ghosted in your life and you don’t know what way they feel about you.

Does anyone else feel emotional whiplash whenever that happens?

I feel like it’s happened a number of times in my life – most recently, this week.

And each time it does happen, I’ve tried to analyze what exactly happened and if there was anything I could have done to prevent it.

Sometimes, it’s a strong difference of opinion on politics or religion that inflicts the first blow to a friendship.  And then the relationship starts decaying from there, infected by a growing lack of respect or misplaced indignation about the state of politics or religion.

Sometimes it’s a new boyfriend that begins to pull at the strings of the friendship. In a lesser of two evils, the boyfriend starts sucking up time normally reserved for nurturing friendships. Fortunately in that case, after awhile, things tend to balance out.  In the greater of two evils, one friend doesn’t like the other friend’s new boyfriend and that becomes an increasingly larger wedge as the romantic relationship blossoms and the friendship withers in its shadow.

Sometimes envy and jealously start  to crack the foundation of a friendship. I think this is especially true for friendships among women.  She’s got a better job than me. She’s getting married first. She’s having her first baby.  She’s just won an award.  And while you want to be happy for your friend, you’re silently wishing it was you who was enjoying all the success while she was relegated to cheering for you on the sidelines.

And then there’s just life happening that pulls a friendship apart.  Maybe you moved to another state for a job.  Or she just got married. Maybe you just went back to school for a post-graduate degree.  Or she is dealing with a major medical issue that overtakes her life. Big life changes like that not only mean that you might not have time for each other anymore but also that you might not relate with each other as well as you once did.

In fact, I’ve experienced all of these types of friendship deaths.  And each one has been painful and has threatened to make me cynical about even bothering to pursue friendships in the first place.

I believe friendships are vital for healthy, well-rounded people.  And I do believe they serve a purpose that might not be filled by family and romantic partners alone.

Friendships can be your sounding board or an excuse to be silly. They can be the ones to offer you a balanced perspective on a difficult situation with a partner or family member.  Friends can be a partner-in-crime to explore new venues or new hobbies. They can represent an exchange of ideas and advice between two people who are at the same life stage. Same-sex friendships can show you what kind of man or woman you aspire to be and can help you get there.

And yet, even research shows that for all the benefits they serve, they can be remarkably wimpy when it comes to overcoming threats to the relationship.  And often, they don’t even put up a fight to stop it.

For instance, one article I read said that while many romantic relationships might end with a dramatic event (such as someone cheating on the other person or a major fight), many friendships often end by fading into obscurity because of negligence.

In my life, family and romantic relationships have been more like the mainstays: The rice and beans that give you nourishment and that you come to rely on whole-heartedly.

And friendships are more like the salt and pepper: They give flavor to your life but A) You could live without them, B) They’re not needed at every meal and  C) They’re a bit interchangeable with other condiments.

I hate the idea of that but I doubt I’m the only person who sees it this way.

Trust me, I dreamt of a life like the one lived on the shows Friends or How I Met Your Mother. In that world, I would  have this cohesive group of friends to rely on and with whom I’m consistently spending time. These friends would have a deep understanding of my past history and the context of my life and they’d be deeply embedded in my daily activities.

What I have instead is a bunch of fragmented islands of friendships – some of which are almost exclusively enjoyed by phone, even if they life 15 minutes from me.  Yes, they are people whom I know I can call if I’m in a pinch but whom I, frankly, don’t think of first when I’m in said pinch.  And while sometimes, a friend will pop into my head and I’ll get really excited to stop what I’m doing to call them and catch up – a lot of times, I call friends out of social obligation or boredom or just because that’s what I feel I *should* be doing.

That’s how the majority of my friendships are, at least nowadays. In my early to mid-20s, it was more likely that I would have friendships that were much closer, where we saw each other almost every day and where that was the first person I thought of when I wanted to do something fun.  I was so attached to one of my old best friends that my boyfriend at the time referred to her as “my underwaear” – I didn’t go anywhere without her.

But nowadays, I feel like I am less reliant on friendships and more cynical about them lasting for very long.

Sure, there are the occasional exceptions of friends who have stuck around for more than 15 years in my life and whom I consider part of my family. And there are those who I genuinely crave to connect with and see if we have not seen each other for a while.

But on the whole, I feel like my friendships are ones of convenience, largely dictated by where I’m working, where I’m living, where I’m worshipping and what my hobbies are.  As soon as those conditions change, so, too, do my friendships.

What have been your experiences with friendships as an adult? And how have your expectations of friendships changed over time? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Be well.


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