Friends as defined by culture
What does culture tell us about friends? We should have a handful of friends from childhood that we grow old with and share all our struggles and successes as adults.
We should make lifelong friends at every single phase of life – at every step in our schooling, at every job, at every place of worship we attend, at every street crossing! We should stay in touch with those friends for eternity, till death do us part. Meaning that they should all be at our funeral, elbowing each other for a chance to speak at the podium about the impact we had on their lives.
And most importantly, we are supposed to have a whole lot of friends. This was the case before Facebook and Instagram. But now, with the inception of social media, where once we were expected by culture to have enough friends to fill a banquet hall at our perfectly planned fairytale wedding, we now must have thousands of friends. Or millions, if you are a Kardashian. And we should all want to be a Kardashian.
The reality is that friendships are just as varied and complex as any other relationship. Sure, there are people who maintain friendships from their childhood. And that’s fantastic! But really, most people don’t.
Sometimes phases of life pass and although we enjoy them while they are happening, we move on. We must move on in order to grow. Culture makes us believe that we should leave every phase with a handful of best friends who follow us into our next phase. When this doesn’t happen, we feel guilty and unlikable, which leads to shame, which turns into a Shame Cycle that we take into our next relationships.
How realistic is it to make a handful of friends at every chapter of your life and then carry them into the next chapter at the same level as you’d maintained before? Sometimes people serve a permanent purpose in our lives, and sometimes they serve a temporary one.
Just because you’ve moved on to a new phase does not mean you are no longer friends with those who are in a different place. We all have those friends we only speak to once every few years but when we get together it’s just like old times.
Most people enter old age with only a few close friends. If these happen to be people you grew up with, that’s cool. That is a rare gift to be treasured. But is the person who enters a nursing home with her best friend from grade school a better human being than the one who enters the nursing home and becomes best friends with her bridge partner in the room next door? Certainly not.
We all have our own story, and every story has its own unique set of characters and events.
Can friendships be made and maintained on social media? Yes. I know of people who are housebound by illness for whom social media has become a lifeline, a window to the world.
I’m also not talking about online dating. I know several people who are happily married to people they met online. This page is about friendship, not romance.
For the general population, social media should be a fun way to catch up with old friends, get to know the quirky sense of humor of that seemingly uptight coworker, and watch our friends and families’ kids grow up from afar.
This does not equal meaningful lifelong friendship. These are not the people who are going to rush to your side if there is a crisis, who are going to put up with you at your worst, or laugh with you until tears roll down your face over some silly joke only the two of you really understand.
Even if you comment on every single photo posted by every single person, that doesn’t actually make these people your friends. It just means you have way too much time on your hands, and are perhaps a bit needy for validation.
Actual friendship must be maintained the good old fashioned way. With actual contact. In-person if possible. If not, then at least by phone. Or I’m a big fan of the old-fashioned, handwritten letter or card. Or an email where you can expand on your thoughts. Even a text. Something personal that says you’re thinking of this person beyond a thumbs up to his latest Facebook post.
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It is useful in so many ways, but it is also so addicting and so dangerous. It can be life sucking and distract from the beautiful, glorious world around us. Please, for the love of all things good in this world, for the love of yourself, your life partner, your real in the flesh friends, your children, for God and the bountiful universe if you’re into that, put your phone down and get out into the world and live your life.
And for the record, I need to reread this section sometimes, too. The temptation is real, people. I get it.
The continuum of friendship
I believe most things exist on a continuum. There is a continuum for mental health, sexuality, politics, spirituality, intelligence, etc. And everyone falls somewhere on a bell curve on this continuum, with zero being one extreme, and 10 being the other, and most of us falling somewhere around average, or five.
Friendship is no exception. Imagine a continuum where zero is no social connection and 10 is your most treasured friendships. Complete strangers are zero. Your lifelong friends are 10.
Most people that you know fall somewhere on that continuum on one side or the other of five, with five being people you hold in warm regard, perhaps even socialize with and lean heavily on during difficult times, but with whom your connection fades as you move on to another phase of life.
If every stranger is a friend waiting to be met, as the saying goes, then everyone you meet has the potential to move up on the continuum at any given time. But what about down? Is that possible?
With redefined love, it is. When you redefine love, you love everyone, regardless of whether you know them or how much contact you maintain at any given time. Just because you and a friend have moved on to another phase of life doesn’t mean you love them any less. It simply means you recognize that there is only so much of you to go around.
Once you have redefined love you can distinguish between your capacity for love, which is infinite, and your physical space in the world, which is limited.
Just because you move on to a new phase of life doesn’t mean the people from the previous phase cease to be important to you. Far from it! But it does mean that you need to allow yourself to fully experience this new phase without guilt or shame holding you back.
With redefined love, your connections to others are constantly growing and changing. People come into our lives for a little while and they are so vitally important for our growth, and you to theirs.
As your life and the other person’s shifts – as it inevitably will – you may move in different directions. It doesn’t mean you love them any less. It simply means your lives have diverted onto different paths. Perhaps you’ll cross paths again someday, perhaps not. Or perhaps you’ll maintain contact, but less frequently or in a different form, such as a monthly phone call or lunch date.
It’s nice to keep in touch with old friends. Just make sure the relationship is one that is nurturing to each individual’s growth. If you find yourself simply going through the motions, perhaps it’s time to stretch outside of your comfort zone and meet new people. If your current friendships are meant to last, they will.
This fluidity only works if we remain accountable. We have a responsibility to those we love, and in redefined love we love everyone, whether they are a part of our circle of friends or not. Our responsibility is to know ourselves well enough to set firm boundaries for a healthy life, and to respect others’ boundaries as well.
We must give ourselves permission to let go of relationships that are not serving a healthy purpose in our lives so that we are sure to have enough room to make new connections as well as maintain those friendships meant to last a lifetime.
Friends as family
Redefining love allows you to choose your own family, so the line between family and friends is blurred. Your family grows as you develop new connections with people at each phase of life.
Each of us, if we are lucky, encounters a rare few who come into our lives as family, and they remain there for the duration. With redefined love, this only works if both you and the other person respects and maintains healthy boundaries and accountability over the long term.
In my experience, the closer I get to mastering redefined love, the more deep and meaningful connections I am able to make with others.
Copyright © Redefining Love 2018.
The author of Redefining Love is not a licensed mental healthcare professional. The information included on this site is for general informational purposes only. For mental health questions or concerns, please reach out to a licensed mental healthcare professional.