Like an old friend who visits every so often, we’ve again said goodbye to the quiet season. Stress-free left turns and easy access to our favorite haunts are, at least for a while, things of the past. In the time that I’ve had the pleasure of living here, I already think of the seasons as old friends. Some are just lazy and easy-going, while some require a little more work to tolerate. Unlike the seasons, however, some friends stay in our lives forever, and some simply fade away.
Clients sometimes ask me if we’re obligated to hold on to all the friends we make over the years. My first response, of course, is to ask if those friends improved their lives somehow. Like any relationship, friendship is give-and-take. If you use that as a basic condition for determining if somebody is (or is not) your friend, then the choice is easy.
What’s the healthy way to look at friendship? Most of us will agree that our time is valuable, and time with friends is time spent. Even the phrase “to spend time” implies that the time we have is limited, and like our hard-earned money, should be spent wisely.
The time you spend with a 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. Mental health professionals insist that all good relationships (romantic or otherwise) must be mutual, i.e., for the benefit of both parties.
It’s not selfish to want to spend your time with people who make you feel good — especially if you make them feel the same way. Do you want someone to spend time with you out of habit, guilt, pity, or only because you provide something he wants? Of course not! You want your friendship to be authentic and mutually beneficial.
Friends come and go. It’s a fact of life. You can fake it and pretend that you’re still interested in somebody who no longer brings anything to the proverbial table, or you can be honest and move on. A few years ago, an associate 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 decision to end a friendship. You’re not denying the pleasant aspects of the past by accepting the hard truth of the present. At one time, things were better. But, like the seasons, people change; nothing stays the same, and good things often pass. It’s a rare friendship that can last a lifetime. It’s precisely that scarcity that makes long-time friendships so precious.
Another myth is the 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, at least you said something. You cared enough to do what you could.
At the core of this is your mind and character. The notion that you should ignore 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 will eventually backfire in resentment, hurt or anger.
Seasons come and go. So do friends. 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.
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