“Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.” – Khalil Gibran

I am thankful for friends, as we all should be. Friendship should never be taken for granted. As someone who was mercilessly bullied throughout my schooling, I know well the value of friendship. I was never one of the “popular kids.” I yearned for friendship but often did not have any. Thus now as an adult, I take my friendships seriously, even though some have fallen by the wayside. I like the above quote because friendship as “opportunity” is about using people and about self-interest – what can I get out of or extract from this person for my own benefit. “Sweet responsibility” gets at the notion that friendship is a communal pact and that through this mutual caring comes sweetness. Some friendships can be or feel very one-sided. These are not really friendships but blood leeching on the part of one self-involved person.

My mother and her mother before her always said you can count your true friends on one hand. I am not sure how I feel about this statement. On the one hand, the more optimistic person in me says that there is an abundance of friends in most people’s lives and that they want to do right by you. The other more pessimistic side sees the truth to this statement. How many people could you really call at 3:00 AM when you are in the midst of a nervous breakdown? Or better yet, how many friends could really help you or comfort you if you were in that predicament?

Keeping up friendships is hard work. It is hard to find the time to get together. It can be hard to find meaningful things to talk about. It can be hard to find mutually enjoyable things to do. It can be hard to provide acute support when you are in the midst of your own crisis. It can be hard to talk about the relationship when the writing is on the wall that there is a problem or even that the friendship is on the verge of dissolution. This is all the “responsibility” part of friendship. It can be easy to see people as “selfish” when they are not living up to your standards of friendship.

I love my friends and am incredibly thankful for them. What has been hard is when friendships fall apart. It’s particularly hard when you don’t know why they have dissolved. What has also been hard is when I feel like my friends do not give adequate time for our relationship to grow or even healthily exist. But I also know that the shoe is often on the other foot and I have let friends down and allowed friendships to wither on the vine. Friendship is a complex and messy business. There are no easy or pat answer to the intricacies and challenges of human relationships. And people have very different expectations about friendships: what is required, what is needed, what is desired. There are a myriad of reasons why friendships don’t make it, just like their romantic counterparts. The end of friendships is sad, but I increasingly see it as inevitable, as part of the ebb and flow of life.

There are certain people that come into our lives precisely when we need them. Some stay a long time and some a short one, but each connection is meaningful and hopefully serves a purpose for both parties. I do not regret any of the friendships I have made, even the ones that have ended or ended badly or without explanation. I know I have gained an inordinate amount, and hope that I have had something substantive to offer as well. Friendships are relationship laboratories. They are sites where we can try stuff out and test the limits. We can also blow stuff up as the case may be. It’s all in how we navigate the lab and use the tools and instruments at our disposal.

It is hard not to mourn for friendships lost. There are certain people I miss. If any of them are reading this, I hope they will reach out. On the other hand, it is okay to let go. No friendship is a waste, even if it was only fleeting. They all serve a purpose and they are all great teachers to us about what really matters. May your friendships be sweet responsibilities that nurture the self and enrich the other.