Can They Last?

By Dr. Peter M. Kalellis

Friendships like relationships are important and can enrich our lives as they unfold harmoniously. They could become troublesome and cause emotional setbacks when disagreements or conflicts develop between two friends. A surface friendship is a friendly interaction that does not go beyond a no-commitment dialogue: “Hi there, how are you? I haven’t seen you for a while. Were you on vacation?”

A circumstantial friendship is one when either of the two individuals needs the other. But as soon as there is a shift in life, be it positive or negative, this friendship fades. It can be hard to detect a circumstantial friend at the start because both perceptions have so much in common. We all know the saying, “People come into our life for a reason.” When we come across circumstantial friends, we learn to appreciate and perhaps even seek a lifetime friendship.

Young adulthood seems to be the ideal age for forming friendships. During young adulthood, bonds become very meaningful. In adolescence, there’s a lot more self-disclosure and support between friends. And although adolescents are naïve and are trying to discover who they are, they eventually learn what it means to be intimate. Their friendships help them do that and seek out friends who share their values on the essential things.

As people enter middle age, they tend to have more demands on their time, many of them more pressing than friendship. After all, it’s easier to put off catching up with a friend than it is to skip your child’s play or a necessary business trip. Time is invested, mainly, into jobs and families. The most substantial drop-off in friends in the life course occurs when people get married. But even those who stay single are likely to see their friendships affected by the big question, “to marry or not to marry?” and other choices.

Tired of making small talk and want to bring up more personal topics and build more meaningful relationships? Taking conversations beyond the surface level isn’t always easy. It’s comfortable at the surface and often moving deeper entails a bit of risk. But the most rewarding relationships and conversations tend to happen when you move beyond the surface. How do you make your conversations deeper? You’ll usually have to lead first, emotionally. Let’s say you want to establish more trust with someone. You want them to feel comfortable confiding in you and sharing their secrets with you as well. Naturally, you can’t ask them to share their secrets with you if that trust isn’t there yet.

So how do you get someone to open up? You do it by opening up first. Take the first step in moving the relationship to the next level by sharing your secret and granting your trust, first. When others feel you trust them and have opened up to them with a deeper part of yourself, they’ll feel comfortable doing the same. This principle applies to just about any aspect of taking conversations deeper. It refers to trust, vulnerability, realness, respect and so on. Give first, before asking the other person to do the same.

To some degree, every person strives to have a lifetime friend. “If you have a real friend he could be a lifetime friend, and you would be a lucky person. You only need a one-lifetime friend; one person that will be there for you no matter what,” I was told fifty years ago by my psychology professor Dr. Murphy. Since then, I have treasured and honored his wisdom.

Lifetime friendships withstand distance, time and conflict. Lifetime friends can communicate no matter what the issue is and get through it. We don’t have to speak to them every day. If we happen to be in a critical situation and we call someone believing that he or she will come to us running, without question, that is a lifetime friend.

Over many years James has been my friend. Believing that real friendships are a give and take, we both nurtured our friendship by being physically and emotionally available to each other. There was a time that I needed to be driven to the hospital at 5 AM; James picked me up at 4 AM. Another time, when he needed help with some serious family issues, I made myself available to help him resolve the conflict.

Both lifetime and circumstantial friendships can teach us valuable lessons. We learn how to be a friend through both experiences. As we avoid judgment and criticism, we pull back and observe how circumstances evolve and try not to internalize the outcome. At best we can respond positively and be relieved. The result is not fatal. With a dose of patience, things usually work out.