WHY SOME FRIENDSHIPS DON’T LAST – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Why do some people become ‘old friends’ and others drop by the wayside? Why do some people stick with you over decades while others drift away? I’ve been thinking about this as I ponder the long list of people who have dropped out of my life after often long runs as top-tier friends.

I believe that most people start out as situational friends. You meet and become friends because you’re sharing an activity or a stage of life. Examples are people you work with and parents whose kids go to school with and/or are friends with your kids. Also, people you meet through hobbies, like at a golf or tennis club, a knitting circle, a book club, etc.What makes some of those friendships ‘take’ and become permanent? I have no idea. Many friendships seem to end when the shared activity stops – you change jobs, your kids graduate or find new friends, you leave the club, whatever. I’ve had so many friends like this it blows my mind. I’ve often wondered why we lost touch. Why was it that that particular person or couple slipped away? We were so close!

But some friends do stay with you and ripen into wonderful ‘old friends’. I’ve never been able to tell which friendships will last and which won’t. In the mid-late 1980’s I was redecorating my house from top to bottom. I spent two years working closely with my decorator and we became friends. At around the same time, my daughter became friends with a girl in her kindergarten class and I became friends with her Mom (and Dad as well – we also socialized as couples). Those friendships lasted all the way through high school – 12 years.

Who am I still close with 30 years later? The decorator. The Mom still lives five minutes away from me and we haven’t even talked in years and years. The decorator moved out-of-state over 10 years ago but we’re still the dearest of friends.

For many years, Tom and I had a group of friends who shared a dock with us at the marina where our boat lives. We were crazy close. We traveled together with our boats, partied all summer and had get-togethers during the winter. Gradually, boats left the marina, people moved away and most of them disappeared from our lives. Only one friend remains out of at least six-eight couples. I was heartbroken that the ‘gang’ dispersed into the ether.

I think that friendships like these end primarily because of some combination of laziness and busyness. When you no longer share that situational ‘bond’, you’re no longer thrown together a lot. So you have to make more of an effort to see each other. Obviously, if you haven’t developed a strong emotional connection that transcends your ‘situation’, that isn’t going to happen.

Also, people are very busy. Between work, family and other friends, time is always at a premium. If you’re not at the top of someone’s ‘priority list’ you lose out. The common ‘bond’ was often what got you to the top of the list before. Now, unless you have that deep personal bond or you forge a new bond that shoots you to the front of the line – you’re toast. You just don’t fit into the new reality of your former friends’ lives.

I have to admit. I’m hypersensitive. I take it at least a little bit personally whenever someone drops out of my life. But I don’t lose sleep over it anymore. I’ve learned that making and keeping friends has as much to do with timing as anything else. Just like with romantic relationships. Some things are just not meant to be.

Fortunately for me, many wonderful friendships have blossomed and lasted and enrich my life today. Many of these friends now live all over the country as well as in the UK and Europe. But distance has not lessened our connection. Some things ARE meant to be.

21 thoughts on “WHY SOME FRIENDSHIPS DON’T LAST – BY ELLIN CURLEY”

  1. I think we make an extra effort to stay close to people with whom we laugh and hold shared interests, those who share long memories with us and those who make us feel good about ourselves. As we get older, others drop away and new friends fill in our lives. It becomes ever more important to be with those we can support and who support us.

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    1. My problem is that my truly supportive friends are spread all over the globe. I only have a one in my town and a few over an hour away in NYC. The rest are plane rides away. The phone and email keeps us connected though so I shouldn’t complain too much.

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      1. Really resonates here, Ellin.

        I really agonized over the breakup of our summer, Martha’s Vineyard gang. So many great memories. I thought we’d bonded work and off hours friendships. But, I think, almost everything was tied to work. After I and others left the TV station, our lives drifted down different roads in retirement. The Vineyard was no longer economically viable. I missed no longer seeing those old friends. Felt left out of events.

        Marriage also separated some long time friendships. I was a long time bon vivant Bachelor, invited to many parties. As a married guy, I was “excommunicated” from some social events. It took me awhile to wrap my ahead around the changes. Bothered me a lot until I sorted things out. As a married guy, I was different from the bachelor. Okay. Duh!

        Deep into retirement, the friendship list is very short. Marilyn is my best friend. We share with each other things we used to share with friends and associates. Truth be told: The Marilyn-Garry story is built on a friendship that began over half a century ago and has only grown better with time and appreciation of each other. We know each other’s strengths and flaws. No need for lies. Yes, we have frequent arguments but rarely go to bed angry with each other. “I’m sorry, I was wrong” is easier for me to say now than when I was younger, the bon vivant bachelor who could do no wrong.

        I have e-mail friendships, old and new. Some are really blossoming.

        Our in-person, face to face friendships are a precious few. Tom and Ellin, Cherrie and Ron are our “go to” old friends. Marilyn and I always feel better after spending time with these friends. We have similar spouse and family stories to share. They make us LAUGH, feel GOOD about life.

        We are supposed to visit Tom and Ellin shortly and I’m looking forward to it.

        My two younger Brothers now live in Northfield, Minnesota so we communicate by email and sometimes by phone. I’m not sure how that will settle with time but we’ll see.

        Will our circle go unbroken?By and by Lord, we’ll see.

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  2. I’ve been thinking about this lately. There are women in my town I like a lot. When we do things together (have adventures) we all have a great time, but I’ve realized lately that, for me, those adventures are a lot more important than they are to my friends. Their lives revolve around husbands, town activities they’re involved in, grandchildren. They have no great motivation to go out and explore. I should have understood this in the beginning when we started going to local places they’d never visited. I had just moved here. They’d lived here ten years or more. Having realized this, I’ve backed off.

    I also think most friendships are situational — and some are actually transactional, depending on mutual benefit.

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    1. I’m in a similaar situation to yours Martha. I don’t have grandchildren as the focus of my life but many of my friends do. So time with family is the main priority for these friends. Doing things with me is not as important to them as it is to me. That creates an imbalance in a friendship. Nothing you can do about it but acknowledge the situation and accept it.

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        1. I’m more isolated than I should be because I’m also not a joiner. No synagogue or social group. I’ve met people through book clubs, but I rarely like the books that are chosen to be read. SO I end up leaving to go read books I like on my own.

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  3. Interesting that on occasion, we have friends who have become parted by distance and we can pick up the phone and chat as though it were a few hours ago instead of weeks months, even on occasion, years. In other instances, I guess it is the situational thing. I don’t expect situational friendships to last since they are just that. Born of necessity or instant and momentary bonding. Loved this write up for sure.

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    1. Every once and again, one of those situational friends becomes the other kind. We had a few int this town. Sadly for us, they were much older than us and passed on or moved away. We haven’t replaced them and I don’t think we’ve felt motivated to try. I miss my friend Marilyn the most. We were the (only) two Marilyns in Uxbridge – Marilyn A (me) and Marilyn B (her). We would get together for coffee and had to be pushed out the door by lunchtime. Oh how I miss her!

      These few folks — three men and a woman — were the real deal. It is so hard to find compatriots in a small town in which so many people have never gone anywhere or seen any place outside the Valley.

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      1. I know what you mean. The real deal doesn’t happen often. I thought these 2 peeps were serious about being friendly. Turns out they only wanted “in” because I was in the know about all things pertinent (at the time) and they wanted to pick my brain about it and what to do. When we moved here they came to see me, once, but it was to report back on the situation here, the size of house, location, etc etc. I don’t need and have never had those type of friends before. Usually they are honest loyal true. It was a surprise.

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      2. It’s always hard to replace old and good friends. I’m finding that I’m gravitating more to the people who are really good people, even if they don’t have that much in common with us on many levels. I’ve lost so many local people, I hang on to the few that I have.

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    2. It’s very gratifying to know that old friendships survive time and distance. I picked up a friendship after over ten years and we’re back to where we were before. Other long distance friendships have survived intact up to 40 years. Phone calls and emails have to bridge the distance and infrequent in person visits. But these relationships are so much more meaningful than the situational, casual friends who fill our weekends most of the time. But I try to appreciate everyone for what they can give and not expect anything more. That’s the key.

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  4. Martha said it. Transactional. Relationships based on what is happening right now and might soon happen. But real relationships have some kind of inner core of shared understanding and beliefs and are not based on what we do as much as how we feel and the degree to which we understand each other.

    I have a very few really long-standing friendships and while we have gone through a wide and changing variety of life situations, that core keeps us friends. We don’t have to be involved in this or that activity, though we might be. We understand. We care. It’s not transaction and it’s not because we work in the same business or we both own boats or show dogs or are writing books. There’s something deeper.

    Without that “something deeper,” it isn’t a real friendship. Or at least I don’t think it is. It can be a lot of fun, as long as it lasts, but it’s a different animal. I tend to assume something is not a real friendship until I feel that “click” that says “yes, now, we are there.” They don’t come quickly or easily and they are not easily — or sometimes ever — replaced.

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    1. I’m usually pretty good at figuring out who is ‘situational’ and who is a real keeper. But I have been fooled. I have tried to cultivate ‘situational’ friends for years in the hopes of turning them into life long friends. I usually don’t succeed and I’m really disappointed. But I have succeeded on occasion and that is very gratifying.

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      1. I’ve periodically discovered that a lot of people simply aren’t interested in real friendship. It’s hard to know if they ever were, but they certainly are not in the “now.” I find that I have also become very cautious. You get rapped on the knuckles often enough, you are careful about where you put those hands.

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  5. That’s something to think about Ellin. I’m sure we all have friends we’ve lost touch with. Family really is our major concern now, so we’ve lost touch with many old friends.
    Leslie

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    1. My family is so small that I have to rely on friends as part of my social circle and support group. I wish I could depend on family alone and not have to worry about cultivating and keeping friends. But that is not my life situation and I have to deal with what I have.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Duke has just physically inserted himself into a not large enough space between Marilyn and me.

    Duke needs some friends. Geez!

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