Your time is valuable–spend it wisely

Like an old friend who visits every so often, it’s time to say goodbye to summer. For our seasonal visitors, parting will be sad. The bright, salty days on the beach and the freedom from daily routine will certainly be missed.

For those of us left behind, parting with the season is bittersweet. Let’s face it: Despite all the congestion, lines, crowds and traffic, there’s something to be said for the obvious delight our visitors get from their short stays in our town. The smiling, umbrella-toting families skittering across Beach Highway, or the sight of kids digging into a large order of fries, helps remind us of our own happy memories back when many of us were just visitors ourselves.

Even in the relatively short time that I have had the pleasure of living here, I already think of the seasons as old friends. Some require a little more work to tolerate, and some are just lazy and easy-going. Unlike the seasons, however, some friends stay in our lives forever, and some simply fade away, never to return.

Clients sometimes ask me if we are obligated to hold on to all the friendships we make over the years. My first response, of course, is to ask if the friendships improved their lives somehow. Like any relationship, friendship is give-and-take. If you use that as a basic condition, or test, for determining if somebody is—or is not—your friend, then the choice is easy.What’s the healthy way to look at friendship? I’ll bet that most people never even consider this important question. Most of us spend a considerable amount of time with our friends, and we all agree that time is valuable. Even the phrase ‘to spend time’ implies that the time we have is, in fact, limited, and (like our hard-earned money), should be ‘spent’ wisely. The time you ‘spend’ with your friend must add value to your life. Does she make you laugh? Is he generous? Does she return favors and compliments? Do you enjoy doing things for him? Do you feel secure and comfortable with her? If you think this sounds ‘selfish,’ think again.

Psychologists have stressed for years that all good relationships (romantic or friendship) must be mutual—meaning, for the benefit of both parties. It’s not ‘selfish,’ in a bad sense, to only want to spend your time with people who make you feel good—especially if you do the same for them in return. Think about it: Do you want someone to spend time with you out of habit, guilt, pity or only because you provide something he wants or needs? Of course not! You want your friendship to be authentic and, in the truest sense of the word, mutual.

Consequently, friends come and go. It’s just a fact of life. You can pretend that you’re still interested in spending time with somebody who no longer ‘brings anything to the table’ for you, or you can be honest and move on. A few years ago, I was talking with an associate about this issue. She told me, ‘I really want to end my friendship with Paul. He’s rude, he’s inconsiderate and I’ve really just had it.’ I asked her what made her hesitate to end the friendship. Her answer was revealing: ‘I’ve been friends with him for twenty years. I can’t just throw that away, can I?’ She failed to see her mistaken assumption. You’re not ‘throwing’ anything away when you make the difficult decision to end a friendship. You’re not rejecting or denying the pleasant aspects of the past by accepting the hard truth of the present. At one time, you had a better friendship. But, like the seasons, people change, nothing stays the same, and good things often pass. It’s a rare and unusual friendship that can last a lifetime. It’s precisely that scarcity that makes true, long-time friendships so precious.

Another myth about friendship is the widely held, yet mistaken assumption that a ‘true’ friend never sees flaws in his friend. It’s a contradiction! If someone is your friend, then she’s important to you. If she’s important to you, you want to do what you can to stop her from making a mistake or doing something that could harm her. You can’t control her or do her thinking for her, but you can certainly care enough to comment. If she won’t listen, or feels there’s nothing she can do about it, at least you commented. Like a true friend, you cared enough to do what you could.

 At the core of this is your own mind and character. The notion that you should see no flaws in your friends implies that you should ignore reality; that you should pretend—not only to your friend but to yourself as well. This makes no sense at all, and will eventually backfire in resentment, hurt or anger.Seasons come and go. Friends often do, but, as with the seasons, there’s no need to feel depressed about it. New seasons, and new friends, both with their unique pleasures, are always just around the corner.