Investing in Friendship: Navigating Change

{This is the third of a three-part series on friendship. Miss the earlier posts? Find them here and here.}

Friendship - Navigating Change: Three palms with #grace written on them

Let’s face it, sometimes friendships can be frustrating, disappointing, and downright hurtful. In other words, HUMAN. In the survey comments and in private conversations, you told me this is an area of struggle and uncertainty. These situations are too complex for any one-size-fits-all solution, but let me offer some perspective that may make navigating change a little easier.

When to let go

Marie Kondo made a small fortune for her advice on “tidying up.” According to Marie, the magic of a tidy home begins with eliminating clutter, and her detailed system walks you through a successful purge. From top to bottom, Marie advises, reconsider every item taking up space in your home and ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?” If the answer is yes, keep it. If no, put it in the discard pile.

Marie’s system holds merit for old sweaters and books, but what about for friendship? When a friendship no longer sparks joy, is it time to call it quits? Maybe….but not always. It depends on why the joy is missing.

slow drift

Are you the same person you were 10 years ago? Or 20? We all change with time, and sometimes friends change in ways that pull them in different directions. No one is to blame; life simply took you to different places. These situations lend themselves quite naturally to a Marie Kondo approach. A friendship that once fit like a glove no longer does. Some friends are only meant for a season, and that’s okay.

Uneven Investment

Maybe all your friendships have been unicorns and butterflies, but most of us have been through complicated seasons with friends. Sometimes you walk with a friend who is struggling, and you carry 90% of the burden of the friendship for a L-O-N-G time. Could you feel justified in deciding it’s just not worth it? Sure. But what would you want from a friendship if the roles were reversed? Sometimes sticking with your commitment to a friend through a season that definitely does NOT spark joy yields a sweet reward in the end.

And sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the difficult season never ends, and you must finally conclude that this person you care about lacks the capacity to be a true friend. When you’ve poured into a friendship that leaves you perpetually depleted, it may be time to walk away.

broken trust

Sometimes a friend seriously breaches your trust. Like, lies to you. Or speaks ill of you behind your back. Ouch! Could you feel justified by relegating that friendship to the “discard” pile? Sure. And if you have a friend surplus, you might not even miss it.

In my case, my friendship portfolio is not so flush that I can afford to discard everyone who’s ever offended me. Instead, some of my most joyous friendships are with people who broke my trust at one time. The repaired cracks make these friendships even more precious, because they represent the work of grace and forgiveness. I don’t even know how many times I’ve been the one who caused an offense, and I’m forever a debtor to grace.

deep hurt; divergent values

Sometimes friendships fracture beyond repair. The fracture reveals a fundamental difference in values or demonstrates that the friendship was not what you thought it was. The decision to end the friendship may be unambiguous, but the loss prompts a “dark night of the soul” period of introspection. Let grief do its work. Health and wholeness can be yours on the other side.

Breaking up is hard to do

Sing it with me now:

Do do do
Down dooby doo down down
Comma, comma, down dooby doo down down
Comma, comma, down dooby doo down down
Breaking up is hard to do

Neil Sedaka

That song topped the charts the year I was born, so apologies to you young things who don’t recognize it! Neil Sedaka had it right: breaking up is hard to do. I don’t hold myself out as a sterling example here — this is hard for me, too.

The best way to leave a friendship depends a whole lot on the circumstances, but the golden rule provides an excellent starting point. Even if you don’t see a future for the friendship, parting respectfully should be the goal.

Do you need to be upfront about your desire to stop investing in the friendship? Maybe. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Would a conversation make it easier to accept, or would it just make matters worse? “Ghosting” — the sudden breaking of all contact — never feels good, but when friends have gradually drifted apart, a gradual lessening of contact may be the kindest option. What about in the case of a fractured friendship? This one is delicate. A conversation may help clear up any misunderstandings or it may just give bad feelings a fresh stir. Maybe initial distance, followed by a conversation once feelings have cooled? It’s a judgment call.

The biggest consideration here is the posture of your own heart. Your judgment will be skewed if you haven’t worked through the rationale and feelings that led you to your decision to stop investing in the friendship. In cases of deep hurt, this takes time. I say from experience that getting to a place of forgiveness is liberating, and so worth the effort.

Back to our Marie Kondo illustration, I’m struck by the way Marie closes the chapter on a sweater she once loved. She holds it up, remembers the joy she felt wearing it, then THANKS IT as she gently places it in the Goodwill pile. Our friendships deserve far more consideration than our old sweaters. Do not discard them lightly and without a sense of gratitude and appreciation for all they once meant to you.

Try, try again

If you’ve ever been hurt by a friendship that ended, I can only encourage you to let that experience make you a deeper and truer friend in the future. It’s hard to keep an open heart, but you are exactly the kindred spirit someone needs. Life is a river, they say. You’ll always be navigating change. With heavy doses of grace, forgiveness and gratitude, our investments in friendships will have a soul-satisfying return on investment.

Thanks for exploring this topic with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

ComeOnAileen

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2 Comments

  1. Aileen,
    Your words are full of wisdom, encouragement, and insight! I’ve been navigating a long time friendship through some very bumpy territory. This blog post, along with prayer, helps guide my thinking specifically in the area of friendship. I truly appreciate the thoughts regarding “keep” and “discard” piles. While giving thought to the keeping process,
    this helped illuminate areas I had not previously considered. Outside perspective truly helps me see beyond what is directly in front of my heart (emotion) that sometimes cloud my vision.
    Thank you for all the truth this holds. Valuable, life-giving truth!
    Kim

    1. Kim, what encouraging words! I was a bit hesitant approaching this topic, because I’m still figuring it out myself. We all need a little “iron sharpening iron” and you certainly do that for me. I’m thankful for your friendship!

      Aileen

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