'We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.'
W. Somerset Maugham
I am rather fond of these words. We all evolve over time and we will not be the same today as we were yesterday. And yet, if you can accept and continue to love a changed person, that person has a hell of a friend in you.
Friendship is a strange thing. What is in a person which makes us like her or him? Is it how she has that connection with you or is it how she looks ? Why do we break into a smile when we spot that person on the road ? On the other hand, why do you avert your eyes and pretend to not to see another?
The title question was addressed in an article in The Sunday Times - Singapore's national newspaper. Why do some of our relationships with our friends fade away while others stand the test of time? If these so called friends were not close friends from the beginning but more of the casual kind whom we see and chat for a short few mins while waiting to pick up our kids from school, I won't be surprised for their fading. What I am addressing here is our dearest friends who had at certain points in our lives we couldn't have imagined life without them. What happens along the way for their demise from our lives?
1) Changing cirumstances can tear friendships apart.
An individual changes everyday. Apart from the physical changes, our personality, our character undergoes major changes too. Changing circumstances in people's lives may also force a friendship to slide. Life, career, spouses, children and other demands become stumbling blocks in a friendship. Priorities will change and duty does beckon.
A personal example - I met A in 2007 when my girls were studying in Bethesda Kindergarten in Pasir Ris. She had girls who were in the same nursery class as my younger daughter Riya. At that time, we all were quite inseperable. She had just moved to Singapore from America in desperate need of a local friend while I was happy having found playdates for my girls. By nature, A is a bubbly witty person and we got along rather well. I moved away from Pasir Ris in 2008 which slowly formed the fault lines in our friendship. We kept in touch still even though the distance proved difficult for us to meet often. In 2013 she faced a major disappointment in her marital life and I had to move to America in 2014. All these changes in our lives proved too much for our already fragile friendship. Struggling to glue back the cracks, I tried to keep in touch with A via emails from America, but I believe she replied only once, citing being busy with her kids etc. I took note of her change in her circumstances at home and her nature. I realised that what we had in the early years was not going to happen again. Ruefully, we had outgrown each other.
2) On the other hand, certain situations can also bring friends closer.
Certain situations especially those that require support and reassurance can make friends discover hidden closeness towards a person. In July 2013, my girls and I were involved in a car accident. It was a scary period for my family facing the fact that we were so close to a serious injury. And another heart breaking incident that followed suit brought me to my knees. It affected me so much that I forgot birthdays of my close friends. It affected me so much that I would go to sleep with tear stained pillows. I felt like I had lost my mind. To say tt absolutely devastated my soul will be an undertatement.
Through this horrible ordeal, I am very grateful to my close friends Angie and Jenny who were there as pillars of strength. They listened patiently through my incessant woes and crying. They are both older than me - thus they gave the perspective of a more matured person and made me see the truth. It took me some time to see what they have been telling me. I will be forever indebted to them for their constant assurance and for simply being there. We are all still very close and because we have recently started a book club together, I am sure our friendships will only grow stronger from here.
3) Marriage changes a friendship especially if it involves the opposite sex.
It is possible for married couples to have healthy opposite-sex friendship but certain factors must be considered :
If you feel emotionally or physically attracted to that friend or
If your spouse is not aware of that friend or
If you would behave differently around your friend if your spouse was present
All these point to a threat to the marriage and hence it will be best to significantly limit or even end that close friendship. What you had with your opposite sex friend before the marriage will not be considered friendly anymore. it will be frought with doubts and fears from your spouse. Friendships with the opposite sex must be handled with care.
4) Sometimes, you outgrow a friend or that friend out grows you.
As we meander through life's different phases, we meet different people along the way. While we were teenagers, we would have had a big group of friends and even some rather close ones whom we call 'BFFs' nowadays. Then, as you enter adulthood and into the work life, your colleagues whom you see everyday become your close friends, having long forgotten your teenage BFFs. Marriage and children also bring along their own set of friends - friends of your spouse or your children's friends' parents inevitably become your friends . As we evolve, our character changes and our choice of friends change too. Some just don't fit into your life anymore because you or they would have changed.
5) A move can also weaken a friendship
Weaker friendships will not survive when a party involved moves to another country. The distance apart can have a detrimental effect on the friendship and no amount of Facetime or Skype can bridge that distance. The 'really close' friends will manage to keep in touch but the others will fall out because of the lack of human contact.
6) Age can make us hanker for true friendships too
If you notice, as we age, we tend to breathe new life into old friendships. We owe it our social media today which has been of great assistance with regards to rebuilding lost friendships. The urge to reconnect surfaces in our middle age when we are no longer chained to our family and work demands. Many of us long for experiences which make us happy. This of course includes spending time with people who were once important in our lives. We start looking for something meaningful including shared memories. We need to reconnect and discover each other again.
7) Parties involved must make a mutual effort to keep the friendship alive.
It can't be forced nor one-sided. This is my 14 year old daughter Ranya's take on this point. I retorted by asking about her friendship with G, her once close friend. 'What if you both had drifted apart because of different interests?', I asked. She replied, rather nonchalantly, if we both (ie Ranya & G) had made the effort we would been close friends still, regardless of different school or different interests. Sadly, they didn't.
I guess what she is trying to say is that the effort to keep the friendship alive has to come from both sides - if only one party is always sending out messages to chat or to meet up and the other party just doesn't prioritise her as much without a valid reason, then that acquaintance is headed downhill. A valid point Ranya.
I have always believed that true friendships will stand the test of time through changing circumstances or personality. People who stay in your life are meant to be there for a reason. Don't feel guilty if some friendships slide. Its alright to move on - life is short. Like I said - friendship is a strange thing but we will be nowhere without our friends.
And sometimes, though an episode may have haunted and changed us, it can also bond us. Folk duo Simon & Garfunkel 's lyrics of the 1960s hit 'Old Friends' sums it all -
'Old Friends, memory brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears.'
There are two ways to be unhappy - to either not getting what you want or either getting it. How can getting something you desire make you unhappy? Think about it - how many times have you felt the anticipation and excitement of an impending trip? Then as the holiday progresses, don't you dread the ending of it? True, you will have a myriad of memories all captured in smartphones and other smart gadgets, but nothing comes close to actually being there in the moment. Thus, you got the holiday but you end of being sad at the end of it. Or let's say you succeeded in getting someone's attention - you are faced with the expectations in the relationship (because of a mental build up), then as time goes by, your fascination and your love for the person increases and you feel afraid of investing too much (in case you seem clingy) or worse losing the person. So you see, you got your heart's desire but are you happy? Gosh! Life is not supposed to be this complicated!
We always feel that the solution to wanting something is getting it, then you think you would feel contented. But it rarely works that way. Either whatever you were hankering for fails to live up to your expectations or it does amazingly well and you get so afraid of losing it. Know what could be worse than this? The realisation that what you were craving for wasn't the actual thing or person but the novelty of it! Something to think about, huh?
Don't freak out - there is a scientific explanation for this. (Phew!) The brain's reward mechanisms are designed to give us bursts of dopamine (dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers) when we pursue something, not when we get it. We are chemically rewarded for being in a state of unfulfillment. Interesting and if you look at this fresh info from a consumerism angle, don't you think profits don't come from constantly trying to satisfy customers but more from making sure that they never stop seeking? Constantly providing people with new styles, new recipes, new books, new ideas ...
A different school of thought woud place emphasis on what the Universe is trying to do. Sometimes failure can be Universe's way of helping you on your way. Probably by not giving us what we want, it is actually nudging us in the so called right direction. Or a religious person would conclude that our Higher Power is giving you a chance to surrender to him to achieve a deeper personal spiritual connection.
So what am I trying to say here?
That is if sometimes somethings don't go our way, it helps to believe that it is a false promise of fulfillment. In fact, we would be a lot more happier and fulfilled if we understand our wants rather than desperately trying to relieve them. Question - what if even after understanding our wants, we still feel unhappy that we didn't get them?
My home is
usually in a mess and has dust settled on almost everything. But I believe laughter and love will win the day. In 20 years, my girls won't remember how messy the house was but will remember the time we spent together and the love they felt...