I was on a walk with a friend one day. We take regular walks together. I asked him about people in his ‘past life’, whether he was still in touch with them. For the most part, he wasn’t. Well, he asked me the same and it turns out that I am still in touch with many people from high school, undergrad, etc. So, of course, I wanted to know why this was so with him. I inquired and he gave me an interesting answer.
He had been working on his personal development and had typically been exposed to ‘influencers’ who suggest that as you grow, you should get rid of friends who weigh you down and surround yourself with only a few people who can take you higher. Hmm. So the next question I jokingly asked was, “so one day you’ll say to me, ‘Akanna, I’m sorry I can’t go on walks with you anymore because I think I have outgrown our friendship’?” He laughed, then, replied with “who knows? It could happen.”
Anyway, I have my reservations about wantonly cutting people off from your life. I believe that you need people for almost everything, not the least being ‘getting ahead’. And the more people you happen to have in your life, the further ahead you tend to get.
However, the quality of the people matters, especially those closest to you. Those in your inner circle. Your friends. And so there’s no denying that there may come a time when you are no longer compatible, friendship no longer makes sense, and all that remains is to cut them off.
But how do you know when it’s time for this?
If I asked you what the time-duration for your marriage is expected to be, you would be right to respond with “forever”. If I asked you how long you are going to be a sibling to your brother, you would say “forever”. If I asked you how long your parents are to remain your parents, “forever” would be the right answer again. These are relationships we are not expected to break. We don’t just cut them off!
Even business relationships have defined timelines. If I asked you how long your relationship with your business partner is expected to last, you would correctly respond with “as long as the business contract lasts”. That could be 2 years, 5 years, 10 years or more. There is a clearly defined timeline and it is usually found in the contract. That’s what typically happens with relationships you weren’t born into. There are contracts wherein the expected duration of the relationships are defined. For marriage, it’s forever. For business, it’s as long as stipulated.
What about friendship? That’s a form of relationship too. And it’s also not one you’re born into. So what’s the stipulated duration of a friendship? If I asked you how long your friendship with someone is expected to last, how many years would you say?
Friendship is unique in the sense that it can cut across all the other family and business relationships, and deepen them too. A strong marriage is built-to-last on a deep foundation of friendship. Some siblings grow closer, developing a deep friendship with one another, while others simply do not.
It is always nice to see business partners become long time friends even though it is often disastrous to have long time friends decide to become business partners. The newly developed friendship deepens, sweetens and enriches the business deals on the one hand, while the new-found business comes in-between and destroys the friendship on the other hand. But that’s just by the way.
So, you can convert family members and business associates into friends. It is a step further into an even better relationship with these people. However, that friendship status can be dropped at any time and it’ll be hard to take a step back to being just business associates or just family members once again. The loss of the friendship element deeply fractures an existing relationship as much as becoming friendly deeply enriches one.
But when do people stop being friends?
When it is no longer convenient to hang out – like when a friend moves out of your neighbourhood – is one of the common reasons out there for ending friendships. Out of sight gradually becomes out of mind as the friendship comes to an end. It isn’t deliberate. It just happens. How about the deliberate ones? What should cause you to deliberately put an end to a friendship?
Common ground is what brings people together. You work in the same office so you are first co-workers and later develop a friendship. You support the same football team so you are first co-supporters and then become friends. You went to the same school and were first classmates before you became friends. The ‘common ground’ brought you together, but it wasn’t the common ground that made you friends. If not, you would have become good friends with every co-worker, every co-supporter and every classmate that you came across.
Common ground makes acquaintances of people. It is common values that then makes friends of those acquaintances. You later find out that you hold some similar things that are very important to both of you. Maybe you both value your faith or the idea of family or hard work or being healthy. You saw in each other something that would compel the other person to keep you on track in staying true to your values. You were both moving in the same direction.
When, all of a sudden, that person no longer values the same thing – maybe they now philander when they previously held you to the ‘one man one wife’ standard. Or they’re now confused about what they believe in. Or they’re gradually becoming slothful and constantly de-emphasizing the value of hard work – which you both previously held dear, that is when you should begin to worry.
Chances are that something could have gone terribly wrong in their lives and this is their way of reacting. That’s understandable and maybe you could be of help. However, once there’s a clear pattern that shows that this is who they are now and who they want to be. Once it is clear that they do not wish to do anything about it and the common values you once had aren’t common to you anymore, then it’s time to reconsider that friendship.
The mistake we always tend to make is to think that as long as we still have common ground, we should still remain friends. As long as we still work in the same place, go to the same school, support the same team, we should still try to keep the friendship alive, even though we don’t value the same thing(s) anymore. Sooner or later, we’ll compromise on our values just to maintain that friendship. It inevitably happens. Your ‘friend’ begins to weigh you down.
At this point, those personal development ‘influencers’ would tell you to cut them off! Those friends that weigh you down! And I would tell you that if I were to ask you how long your friendship with someone is expected to last, your response to me should be “for as long as we still have common values.” Other than that, just embrace the awkwardness of going back to being just acquaintances, with your common ground keeping you within each other’s vicinity.