Sunday, September 6, 2009

Do friendships have an expiration date?

When I was in high school I came across a poem. It went a little something like this:

There are friends who pass like ships in the night
Who meet for a moment then sail out of sight
With never a backward glance of regret
Friends we know briefly then quickly forget
There are other friends who sail together
Through quiet waters and stormy weather
Helping each other through joy and through strife
And they are the kind who give meaning to life

This poem has always lingered in my memory, and the other night while flipping through some old photo’s it really got me thinking. What about those in between friends? Sure, I’ve had a few ships in the night in my time, and I also have a few sailing buddies, but what about those who are there for several years, and then gone? From several albums, there were more a dozen people who I once spent a large portion of my time with, some who I had very close friendships with, and most who spanned a large part of my teenage years and early 20’s. It really had me wondering, is it that I have an expiration date? Do people tire of me? Am I a bad friend?

I could think of a few explanations though. Let’s start with J, a close friend who I spent a lot of time with, our friendship actually date’s back to early childhood. She was a bridesmaid at our wedding, which is a pretty good indication of the amount of time we spent together. J and I had a falling out while I was having an affair. She was constantly trying to contact me to see if I was ok and find out what was going on and I couldn’t handle that level of... supervision. J was a very moral person, religious as well, and I think that when she realised what was going on, combined with my pulling back when she was reaching out to me, she gave up on me. I still see J once or twice a year; we don’t really have anything to say to each other. There is awkwardness between us now. I do miss her, and I wonder if it’s too late to apologise, but I just don’t have the energy to keep trying anymore.

Then there is L. L and I had some great times together. We lived close to each other; we both enjoyed a laugh and a cigarette with a cheap drink. L was always by my side, so much so that sometimes it was difficult to get away without her, and if I did I was abused for being a bad friend. But I enjoyed her company anyway, because we always had fun, no matter what. One day we had a falling out due to a miscommunication. I was working a night shift, she needed to talk, and by the time I woke up the following day I’d forgotten all about it, I was exhausted and off to work again. This did affect our closeness, but we always remained friends. Later, L was one of the few people I confided in about my affair. Telling L was actually quite a wakeup call for me. Voicing it made me realise what I was really doing. Now, L and I rarely speak and see each other maybe once a year. Our last few interactions have made me feel that ending the friendship is the right thing to do. Our lives have taken such different paths and we don’t really have anything in common anymore.

I have to ask though, what is better, a friendship with an expiration date or one that lingers for an eternity? What is the point? H and I have been friends since kindergarten. We didn’t go to the same schools, we didn’t have the same friends, but we always had time for each other. Again, we had a blast together, and most of my favourite childhood and teenage memories involve H. H and I can still talk on the phone for hours, we can still catch up like no time has passed, and we do still have things in common. We can just never make time for each other. We can go for 6 months without speaking. Sometimes I feel that H makes no effort to sustain the friendship. When she had her first child, I visited her regularly, I helped with christening preparations, but I didn’t receive an invite for the first birthday... When I had my first child, the baby was 2 months old before H finally came over to visit and it was only because I had a go at her for not coming sooner. She didn’t come to the christening, and hasn’t seen him since I last visited her place nearly 12 months ago. I wonder why we are still friends. Is it simply because of the longevity of the friendship, neither of us is brave enough to give it up altogether? In our 20 years of friendship we’ve never really had a real fight, we’ve always been able to talk and laugh, on the surface it appears to be golden! But then I call her and ask when we can catch up and H says, “I’ll give you a call and organise something.” And it never happens, but we have a great chat on the phone anyway.

Most importantly, there are my necessities, four special friends who I always make time for. We are a team and the effort is mutual on all parts. We talk, we laugh, and most importantly, we love. We have different personalities, different careers, different likes and dislikes and yet we have so much in common. We schedule time in our busy lives to be together and we all look forward to it so much. I wonder if this is too good to be true, will it be short-lived like many other friendships? I truly hope not.

I suppose life wouldn’t be too interesting if we all had the same friends from birth til death. Naturally different paths are taken and people grow apart. And realistically, you can’t avoid meeting new people at all, how boring would that be? I just get tired of starting a story with “This girl I used to be friends with...”

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