Do Friendships Have Expiration Dates?

I was on the train on my way home this afternoon when I got a message from a friend asking me how I was doing. I replied and told her to thank you for being a friend all these years.

She then confessed her frustration over a common friend whom she treated as a best friend for a long time, but now it seems their friendship is drifting away.

As I read her message, I couldn’t help but go back in time to a typical sunny afternoon walking from school with Rodel, Dante, and John Elmer. Holy Cross of Mintal is just a fifteen-minute walk home, but our journey seemed to last longer than that. We share our laughter on that dusty street, like slapstick comedians performing on the street. In some instances, I didn’t realize I was already in front of our backyard, and our amusement had to be cut short, only to resume the following day.

Life was tough then, but with friends around us, life was more bearable. How fortunate are we to share lasting friendships that endure life’s up-and-down rollercoaster ride?

In the early years of social media, people tend to connect with as many people as possible, hoping that a wider circle of friends on Facebook will make a difference. It did not take too long for us to realize that Facebook friends actually meant Facebook connections. Some of those contacts are functional—only meant to communicate through Messenger for a group.

But just like anything else in life, changes happen. We move on from our grade school pals, pursue different degrees, get married, and settle far away. Losing someone you thought would always be a part of you is deeply upsetting, whether it is that gradual drifting apart from a childhood friend or that abrupt ending brought on by disagreements. Friendship breakups are unlike the endings of a romantic relationship. They can happen without formal closure and occur over the course of our lives. Why put closure on a friendship when you don’t even know whether it has ended or not?

And unlike romantic partners, whom we hope will be the ones meant for us, friends are often assumed to be the de facto companions for life, no matter how many they are.

Let’s be real. Friendships are sometimes not meant to be. And if they are, friendships require constant effort to make them work.

As I tried to console that friend who confided in me, I also found it hard to accept that if I faced the same situation. The trust of making unfulfilled promises and co-constructing dreams that fall apart before they can materialize would make me feel betrayed.

Losing a friend feels like losing a part of you. A friend who sits silently but listens attentively is all I need if I want to share my frustrations, because I need empathy much more than advice.

However, friendships can also end due to dozens of reasons: 55 to be precise, categorized as selfishness, lack of frequent interaction, romantic involvement, and perceptions of family members and other friends.

Why are friendships important?

For obvious reasons, we humans are hard-wired for social relationships. UCLA professor Matthew Lieberman in his book, “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” the need for social interaction is as basic as our need for food, water, and shelter. To many people, this fulfills a key emotional desire to feel a sense of belongingness and purpose.

Friendships enrich our lives in so many ways that their presence brings numerous emotional and physical health benefits.

The right mix of friends around us helps mitigate the effects of loneliness, boost our self-confidence, and reduce stress, just like what Rodel, Dante, and John Elmer brought during those walks.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, surrounding ourselves with toxic friends — those who perpetually complain about their neighbor, roommate, or colleague with no resolution in mind — can be detrimental to your well-being, according to a 2011 study. So maybe, we can downgrade this social relationship from friends to mere acquaintances.

If you are at age 25, you must have achieved the apex in the number of social connections. But at this age, you might also be so focused on romantic relationships or career priorities that shortly afterward, your social circles rapidly shrink and friends take a backseat. This might be the time when our longstanding childhood friends start to drift from our communication lines.

Based on your current circle of friends, your reputation might be on the line, as the Russian proverb appears to allude to: Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are.

When do we question the validity of friendships?

Trust issues

When we can trust a person for small things, we can also trust them for bigger things. Previous betrayals or breaches of trust might cause people to mistrust the integrity of their connections, making them wonder if they can trust their friends.

For instance, feeling let down by a friend who shared confidential information may make you question the integrity of other friendships. Sometimes, we trust friends more than our family, but when such trust issues happen, we realize the family should have been our first priority.

Expectation mismatch

If one person expects a high level of support and communication from a friendship while the other values independence and a lack of openness, it can raise questions about the friendship’s depth and authenticity.

These disparities in expectations can lead people to question if their friendships are actually fulfilling. One can wonder if that so-called friendship is a ruse for a malicious, paristic relationship.

Absence of reciprocity

According to the Golden Rule, you should treat people as you would like to be treated. This also applies to friendships.

So, if one person routinely devotes more time, effort, or emotional support to a friendship than they receive in return, they may wonder if the friendship is truly mutual. For example, constantly being the one to make plans or provide support without receiving matching gestures can generate skepticism.

While some of us enjoy playing the role of a loving, supportive friend, there is only so much we can do to keep such a delicate friendship going before we become emotionally fatigued and unable to be our usual caring and helpful selves.

Self-evaluation

While visiting regional NSW towns, I had lots of time to reflect and self-examine. I encountered pleasant strangers on the trip, including fellow passengers, innkeepers, and bus drivers, a welcome change in outlook from a wider perspective. That’s because the inner circle is sometimes fractured.

During phases of self-discovery, people may wonder if their present friendships are in line with their changing priorities, interests, and aspirations, prompting them to reconsider the legitimacy of these relationships.

How do we maintain healthy friendships?

Some of us might stick to the principle that it’s better to maintain our friendships than seek new ones. Regardless of our choice, I think it depends on how we actually approach friendships.

Are they chosen because we get something from them? Or is it bringing out the genuine care a platonic relationship can offer without condition? I am blessed with good friends, but I’d like to stick around those who are difficult, believing that my patience can make a difference. But once respect goes out the window, the reprisal of indifference will reign.

Keeping lines of communication open

Regardless of differences or opposing viewpoints, friendships must endure as long as communication is open. Unless the other side is unable to revive a deteriorating relationship, it is still worth fighting for. This method allows us to learn more about our friends and better appreciate their opinions. We do not tolerate their misdeeds, but rather accept them for who they are.

That friend who called me while on the train was 18 hours behind in Arizona, but friendships transcend timezones. With new communication technologies in place, there is no reason not to keep the lines open.

Be brutally honest with each other

I’d rather have a friend who will call my mistakes out than a friend who constantly praises me even if I notice there’s something wrong. The truth sometimes hurts, but it also points us in the right direction. A friend who will make constructive criticism about my style of writing or drum fills will be appreciated.

I’d rather have a friend who calls me out in private if I make a mistake than someone who ignores my mistakes and stays on my good side.

Communicate your expectations

Lack of time is often cited as a relationship killer. We can claim we are constantly busy and we need to communicate that to a friend.

“I am busy for the rest of the week.”
“I can’t take your call.”
“Just message me your concern, and I’ll get back to you after my shift.”

Instead of offering vague, blanket statements about how busy we are, such explicit statements convey the level of engagement you can commit, and a reasonable friend will always take it positively.

Maintaining honest friendships requires open discussion about needs and boundaries. To foster the relationship, actively listen, set clear limits, handle disagreements as soon as possible, use “I” statements, be flexible, and plan regular check-ins to ensure friendship is in good shape.

Small gestures can go a long way

You don’t have to invest a long time to make your presence felt. A simple “hello, how are you?” looks like a boilerplate message you can copy and send across all your friends in 43 seconds, but it’s the effort that counts. Or ask how their weekend went or how their vacation planning is going. They might be eager to share their story and become conversation starters.

Or maybe look up your Facebook account, and perhaps you have a friend who is celebrating his or her birthday today. Make this special day even more special by reconnecting with this person if you’ve not been in touch. Your birthday greeting would bring a smile to someone’s face.

So, do friendships have expiration dates?

So going back to the question, do friendships have finite lifetimes? Maybe not. What I know is that friendships are meant to be nurtured for life, no matter what happens. As I told someone with whom I had an argument months ago, life is too short to bear grudges.

While friendships do not have an “expiration date,” they can organically evolve and fade. Consider childhood friends: common hobbies, such as playground activities, may not transition to adulthood, which includes employment and children.

This does not suggest that the friendship is harmful; it merely reflects a shift in life trajectories. “Resolution” is not required to fix things but rather to acknowledge and accept change. Open conversation and honest introspection can aid in navigating these transitions.

If effort, shared values, and genuine connection are maintained, the friendship may evolve. If not, cherishing shared experiences and letting go gracefully is beneficial. We have photos, Facebook memories, and greeting cards to remind us of the good old days. But remember that friendships, like seasons, go through phases, and appreciating their ebb and flow allows for true relationships that improve our lives as they go.

And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends
No, a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends
(Friends – Michael W. Smith)

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