January 27, 2012

Worth Working For: Friendship

A little less than a year ago I wrote about the loss of an important friendship in the post Until It is Gone. That story generated a lot of intensely personal comments. In many of us there is a place of real pain  from losing an important relationship with a friend whether we are living a satisfying retirement or are working. That deep hurt really doesn't  go away, especially  if the relationship ended for reasons that are left unclear or unresolved. There are feelings of rejection and betrayal that linger for years. There is the constant desire to know what went wrong.

That friendship I wrote about in that post did re-start a few months later and developed into an even stronger bond than before. My story had a happy ending. But, that isn't always the case. People come in and out of our lives. Some are just passing through while others linger long enough for us to begin to feel a connection. Then, there are those special times when two people find a bond that deepens to the point where it is an important part of their lives.

Almost 4 years ago blogger Lorraine Cohen wrote this:

"I believe people come into our lives to serve us to grow and evolve through the experiences we mutually create. We are all teachers for each other and student of life at the same time. Even in those times of conflict and discomfort, the invitation to discover the hidden blessings and gifts is always there if we are willing to look."

That is an excellent way to look at the place friends, of varying degrees of importance, have in our life. Any experience has teachable moments if we are open to receive them, and friendship maybe more than most. She continued to note that nothing stays the same forever. Change is the only constant in life. Holding onto others to keep us happy is a failing strategy, for both us and them. Losing a meaningful friendship puts us thorough a form of grieving that must be allowed to happen. Just like losing anyone, we might feel anger, depression, denial...all the normal emotions of grieving. But, there is finally acceptance and moving on.

I read somewhere that over a seven year period, roughly half of a person's friendships will change. At first that sounded like crazy talk. But, in reflecting back over my life certainly it is true over the past several years for me. Friendships have changed depth. Some have gone from being close to more of an acquaintance relationship. Others have deepened while a few have remained constant. Some of that was simply due to lack of contact. Schedules or places where we would normally interact changed so opportunities diminished. And, I believe it is quite true that if you don't feed a friendship with attention and time it will eventually wither away.

I have decided that some friendships that I had several years ago were really for one of two reasons: convenience or proximity. There was never a deepening or a sense that we really understood each other. It is just we kind of drifted into friendship that helped us in that stage of our life. But, when fractures appeared it didn't really affect either of us in a painful way to allow nature to take its course.

But, what if there is a friendship that is important to you, and you think for the other person as well? How do you heal the rift and move forward together? Obviously, both parties must still want the relationship to continue. One-sided friendships don't work. But, assuming you are both willing to work at a fix what to do?

Not being a relationship expert, I turned to what most folks do now: The Internet. On a web site Livestrong.com I found an excellent article on how to reconcile a broken friendship. While specifically written for women, the steps that author Anna-Sofie Hickson recommends are not gender-exclusive:
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  • Admit your part in the deterioration of the friendship. Apologize for failing to be there in times of need and accept your responsibility.
  • Fight for your friendship.
  • Make amends. Initiate the opportunity to heal the relationship. Put your pride aside.
  • Leave the past behind you.
  • Give the person time to re-evaluate the situation, if that's what is requested. Allow him or her space to work on your friendship.

Friendship is a blessing. Nurture it, protect it, and pray for it. Your satisfying retirement lifestyle will be so much sweeter.


 

18 comments:

  1. what a wonderful article! Friendships are blessings. Thank you for sharing. It brought back good memories of a dear friend that passed.

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    1. Thanks, Ann. I'm pleased the memories this triggered were good ones. A dear friend is priceless, and eternal.

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  2. Hi Bob,
    The seven year period that you mention also aligns with how long people typically stay in one job. That number has probably decreased somewhat in recent years. Since many of our relationships/friendships revolve around our work environment and most of us don't, as we promise, keep in touch with our workmates we loose friends on that interval.

    Again people tend to change their spiritual affiliations on about the same interval. I can personally attest to loosing friends that way.

    The final reason is just these economic times. We had some good friends who lost their job and both had to take two jobs to make the less money than the one they left. We used to see them on a regular basis but they simply just don't have the time now.

    But, finally you are right. Some friendships are lost simply due to lack of attention. We simply let them drift away. Since my wife and I are childless and are both retired we don't have too many friends in our area now for all of the above reasons.

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    1. As you are well aware, RJ, seven is a significant number in the Bible as well. Our culture considers it a lucky number, unless it is the "seven year itch" that spells trouble in a marriage. As you noted, job turnovers and spiritual shifts happen around that time, too.

      Idea: seven seems to be a key number in much of our lives. You should write about the spiritual impact of seven and its historical significance, and I'll research it's occurrence in society and culture. I never pass on an idea for an interesting post!

      Retirement puts an extra strain on friendships from the past but does offer the opportunity of new ones through new activities. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "A man's growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends."

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    2. Although researchers disagree- the odd saying was that every cell in your body (with the exception of the brain) changed out every seven years.
      As far as male educational 7's
      Reading is expected to be in place at seven
      Algebra is expected to be in place by 14
      College graduation is often 21
      Most common age to marry in "our world" is 28.
      Maybe the brain does a shift every seven years while the body regenerates .

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    3. This linkage to a 7 year cycle is fascinating. I had no idea so many of our life's most important occurrences happened with the seven year spacing. Of course, that is just an average, but still......

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  3. And then there's the 7-year itch ... but that's a different story. What I'm worried about regarding friendships and the retired, or the near-retired, is that people begin to move on. I have a great group of friends. We play golf together. We play cards together. We go to cultural events together and bring our wives along. However, now one guy has bought a place in Myrtle Beach and is away a lot. Another started spending winters in Florida as of last year. I'm afraid the group is beginning to disintegrate. What do you do when people start to retire and move on to their new, post-working lives?

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    1. That is a rather recent problem that we must face. Up until Del Webb built the first Sun City in Arizona in the 1960s most retirees simply stayed where they were. Moving upon retirement wasn't common.

      Now, moving after retirement to a different climate or to be near family is quite common among those who can afford to do so. The end result is exactly what you note: lots of people living without lifelong friends nearby. There is no simple answer. All one can do is engage in new activities that offer the opportunity to meet new folks and create a new circle of friends. Of course, you can't rebuild decades of a relationship, but sometimes fresh people are a needed spark.

      One of the concerns my wife and I have about moving to a retirement community is the fact that over time everyone you meet there dies. No matter how pleasant it is, the sad fact is everyone is on the same path with the same destination.

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  4. My husband and I were friends with a couple that drained me. I cooked for them on the road, took her to special occasions and tolerated a attitude toward family born of living with out ever having raised a family. I finally, on the advice of my doctor, called a halt to this distructive relationship. I could never explain to that couple why, so I just gently cut down on contact. I know they were hurt but it was self preservations. I suppose they would write something different.

    In my world my family and our health always come first. Friendship are a wonderful part of my life but if i have to make a choice, my family/health will always win.

    b

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    1. Yes, no argument from me: if there is choice, family or health wins every time. There are "friendships" that are one-way streets. I have had one in the last several years that fits that description. I just let it fade away. Since I initiated virtually all the contact, it was easy to let it simply stop.

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  5. Hi, Bob... Thank you. Your excellent post brings a number of points to mind. For one, I value friendships dearly, and I'm always saddened when a friendship ends -- especially when, as you point out, the reasons for ending are left unclear. Second, I want to hang onto my older friendships -- even those based on old-time common interests which have ceased to be common. A few of my old-time friends wouldn’t become new friends were I to meet them for the first time today. Our interests have simply diverged and all that we now share are memories. Third, during retirement, it has taken me a couple of years to develop friendships. Sure, I've found acquaintances quickly. But among my acquaintances, those which evolved into friendships have taken about two years to do so. Bill

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    1. I am going to have a chance to meet a fellow who worked at the same radio station I did in upstate New York 40 years ago. He and his wife are coming to the Phoenix area next month and asked to get together. It will be interesting to see what topics we find to cover after all this time.

      I only have a few deep relationships because of church connections. My other interactions, like prison ministry, have resulted in friendships but they are not the type where we share life and death type concerns. I think men have more trouble in this area than women for a variety of reasons that might make another post!

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    2. I think the deeper relationships also occurs in our south of the border friends. I spent quite a bit of time in Guadalajara during my working years and made a lot of good friends in the process. What i found was that they value friends and family on an order of magnitude greater then we old WASPs seem to. I envied them in that regard.

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    3. Based on my mission experience in Mexico and from stories others have told me, I agree. Friendship, along with extended family, seems a much more natural state in Latin America.

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    4. Steve in Los AngelesSun Jan 29, 05:06:00 PM MST

      Bob,

      In the blog from February 10, 2011 ("One Decade Later: Has Retirement Changed Me?"), you stated that you are "Much Better at Saying 'No.'". This is important to friendships and acquaintanceships, because other people have to realize that they do not "own" our time. One of my female friends asked me by email to attend a musical event where she would be singing. However, I would need to make my own ticket arrangements and pay $10 to see her sing in a choir. I informed her, also by email, "no thanks" and that Saturdays and especially Sundays are my days of rest. She did not say so directly, but I got the impression that she was trying to lay a guilt trip on me, because I said "no". Nonetheless, I stood on my ground. Now I have no problem saying "no" to other people when I find that saying "no" is necessary. There are a number of books, such as "When I Say No, I Feel Guilty", "How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty: And Say Yes to More Time, and What Matters Most to You", and "Too Nice for Your Own Good : How to Stop Making 9 Self-Sabotaging Mistakes". Now I easily can say "no" to other people. This is ESPECIALLY important for the rest of my life as I always will say "no" to other people in the event they ask me to give them money. I always keep in the back of my mind the fact that I had to work very hard for the money I saved to make investments that made my retirement at such a relatively young age possible. If other people want to think that I am frugal and tight with my money and time, they are welcome to think as they wish. If they have a problem with my being frugal and tight with my money and time, that is THEIR problem. It took me many years to become as assertive as I am now. I am grateful for the fact that I now am very assertive.

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    5. Being assertive is an important skill to learn. Too often we think of assertiveness and aggressiveness as the same thing, but they are worlds apart. As you have spelled out, being assertive is a self-protection skill. People will keep asking until you decide to put your needs first. You can kindly turn their request down, but turn it down you must.

      As Wikipedia defines it, assertiveness is a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof. Your "No" should be enough.

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  6. I found myself once again at the moment of truth--addressing holiday cards, having to decide whether I really need to send all those cards to folks who never stay in touch with me. Some of those are easy, but a couple of them are hard. Two friends in particular, with whom I've been friends for decades, and at different times counted among my very best friends. And yet now I seem to be the only one holding on. No big argument or singular event, just a drifting apart. This year, I finally let go and didn't send the cards. This last year of upheaval in my own family impressed upon me the quality of friendship with those who stepped forward to offer support and to celebrate with me. That made a big difference when I had to face reality and let some friendships go. Or rather, I had to face reality and realize they were gone long ago.

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    1. This is a familiar discussion in our household. We continues to send cards to people with whom we have had no content for years. Finally, those folks are now either getting an e-mail card or have dropped from the list. Your "I had to face reality and realize they were gone long ago" sums up the situation perfectly. A one-way "friendship" is nothing of the kind. It is just holding on to a myth or memory.

      Thanks, Galen.

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