Not all friendships are equal. This isn’t something you’re born knowing. It’s why we get our feelings hurt throughout our lifetimes (even in adulthood as in youth) when friends don’t live up to our expectations. But often times what we ask of a friendship may be more than it can withstand. It all depends on the type of friendship it is. Ultimately we could save ourselves some hurt if we understand what category a particular friendship falls into.
I believe there are three kinds of friendships: the casual, the superficial, and the lasting.
The majority of friendships will fall into the casual or superficial categories. It would be a mistake to assume that a friendship that doesn’t fall into the lasting category is bad. I disagree. They all have value and serve a purpose. Let’s take a closer look at each.
The casual. These are easy to identify. When you first meet someone your relationship falls into this category by default. You just don’t have a strong connection yet. As you get to know each other some will evolve into a different type of friendship. Many will not.
These friendships require no real effort. You run into each other in various places (gym, church, child’s school, work, etc) and make conversation. You may very well genuinely enjoy each other. One or both of you just doesn’t have the time or inclination to further invest. This is often the case when you’re at a stage of life where you’re busy with career or young children. Later you may decide that it’s worth putting the effort into building a more substantial friendship.
The superficial. Let’s start with what these relationships aren’t. They are not fake. The term superficial can easily be misinterpreted. It does not mean that the two people involved are superficial people. Not at all. It does not mean that the affection both parties feel for each other isn’t authentic. It is authentic.
The relationship between the two really only touches on the superficial. These are real friendships but they lack depth. For both men and women conversations in superficial friendships may be limited to family, work load, gossip, and hobbies (sports, gym, etc). These are enjoyable relationships. There’s a lot of laughter. It’s fun. It’s light. They require more of an investment of time than those in the casual category but not too much. They’re convenient. The people involved are likely in the same place in life (both may have children the same age, they have mutual friends, or they work in the same office) which helps make it work.
Many of these superficial friendships will fall away after a few years (or move back into the casual category). If convenience is an important part of what makes these relationships a success then when they become inconvenient they usually falter. For example if one person experiences a life change that shakes up the status quo you may notice a friend in this space taking a step back. This could be the result of one starting a family while the other isn’t. One changing jobs. One moving. One getting married. One getting a divorce. One having an encounter with serious illness or death in the family. When the relationship becomes disrupted it cannot be sustained because there is no depth.
Superficial friendships are a necessity when you’re a stay at home mom like me. You need women who are in the throws of the diaper changing years too. They are your lifeline when you want parenting advice, a play date, or someone to share in grumbling about the limitless piles of laundry. They’re also a necessity in your career. Who wants to go to work day in and day out with people you don’t enjoy? These friends will understand the demands of your job. They’ll sympathize when you’re drowning in paperwork. They’ll laugh with you about a conversation you had with a demanding client. They’ll brainstorm with you when you’re presented with a challenge you need to tackle. When you’re in the trenches raising young children or dedicating yourself to succeeding in the office your time is limited. These friendships work perfectly while you’re balancing priorities and demands each day.
Some superficial friendships will evolve into lasting friendships. Really that’s the end game, right? Don’t we all want to create friendships that can endure through all phases of our lives?
The lasting. These are the ride-or-die-we’re-going-to-grow-old-together kind.
Lasting relationships require a significant emotional investment. They are made stronger through deep conversation. This friend will know your secrets and love you anyway. They know your feelings regarding everything of value to you. This could include faith, politics, and family. They know anything about you that matters and a good deal that doesn’t.
These friendships aren’t without conflict. You may have had some serious arguments over the life of the relationship. That’s what happens when you know the intimate details of someone, spend a significant amount of time together, and aren’t afraid to share your opinions. It’s also why you fight with your spouse or sibling.
I first met my best friend in high school. She was also my college roommate. I recall one evening in our freshmen year when we had a huge fight and I stormed out of the room. I believe I even slammed the door. I was tired of her watching the Atlanta Braves in our tiny dorm room. A very serious offense indeed. She forgave me. (I forgave her too. Clearly she was in the wrong. I don’t know why you’d think otherwise. I’m sure I was being entirely reasonable.) Not only did she forgive me, for this and every other argument we’ve ever had, but she didn’t hang it over my head. Thankfully with age comes wisdom and I can’t even recall the last argument we had. We may disagree on occasion (and that’s pretty rare) but I love to hear her opinion. I respect her. Often she will sway me to her way of thinking. We’re 20 years in and our relationship is as solid as they come.
These relationships can, if both parties are willing, survive anything. This friend is the one who will give you the hard truth when you need it, always want what’s best for you, celebrate with you, and cry with you. They are not jealous when something great happens to you. Not with any tiny fiber of their being. If you want to make a change in your life then they want it too (unless they don’t in which case they’re up front about why they don’t think that particular change is right for you). When you hit a patch of turbulence in your life they will jump into the cockpit with you and help you pilot your way out. And when all you need is a good cry they will cry with you.
A few years ago I went through a tough period and my girls from home piled into a car and drove 8 hours to spend a weekend with me. They didn’t ask for permission. They didn’t just send a card or a text. No, they put their lives on hold to help me pick up the pieces of myself.
Many friendships in this category start in childhood (elementary school, middle school, high school, or college). It’s in our youth that we’re most open about who we are and what we believe. We wear our hearts on our sleeves. Our daily lives are primarily devoted to ourselves. We have no careers, spouses, or children to divide our time between. We certainly have the time to invest in our friends. We want to spend every waking minute with them and we can actually do that!
You can of course still obtain a new lasting friendship in adulthood. It’s made significantly more challenging because of busy schedules and other priorities but it is by no means impossible.
These relationships require a lot of time in the beginning but as life sends you in divergent directions they can be sustained with less effort. You can live on opposite sides of the country and be in different stages of life. Because you invested in building a solid foundation early on it is not a requirement that your relationship be convenient or that you have everything in common. You can pick up exactly where you left off whenever you’re together.
My mother in-law has an amazing group of women who fall into this category. They have known each other for decades. While they do not all live in the same place they get together often for beach trips and shopping weekends. They speak weekly. They are completely involved in each others’ lives. They know everything. They provide support, encouragement, and a healthy dose of reality. When I see their relationships I am reminded each time how special it is. I know how appreciative she is for these ladies.
Our lives are winding twisting roads that put us in the paths of so many people. I consider it a great blessing when these intersections result in friendships of any kind. It’s not a requirement that someone be with us when we’re in our rocking chairs to have been significant to us at a specific point in life. I know relationships in the lasting category sound like the crown jewel of friendship (and they are). That shouldn’t negate the importance of those that didn’t quite go the distance. Those who play a part in our life stories, for no matter how long, will have left an indelible imprint on our lives.
Let’s appreciate them all. No matter what kind. Let’s be grateful for any time someone chooses to invest in us. Time is precious and any amount that’s shared is a gift. Let’s cherish and feed those relationships that nurture us. And of course let’s pay special care to those that will last through our denture-wearing years.