• Keeping Friends

Fluid Friendships: Is it Just Me?

Published: February 17, 2011 | Last Updated: April 18, 2024 By | 19 Replies Continue Reading
A woman is discouraged that she has had fluid friendships while other people seem to sustain these relationships over time.

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I am in my late 50s and feel discouraged to discover that all of my friendships seem so fluid. I’ve had very good friends during all the phases of my life — high school, college, work —but after a while as circumstances change (such as leaving school, moving away, job changes, marriage, etc.) friends that I have wanted to keep and to stay “in touch” with have drifted away.

On my end I have tried to phone, send e-mails, and suggest get-togethers, but each and every time the relationship fades and then disappears. I am wondering if this is a usual pattern with most folks, or am I the exception? I’ve done lots of soul-searching to see if I am the problem, however I don’t believe this is true.

I’ve always been a good friend—considerate and caring. I look around and see others who have tons of issues/problems and they often do not treat friends well, and yet they are still close friends in spite of it and have been for years. I just want to know how many women out there have “staying power” with their friends, or do friendships come and go as has been my experience. Is it me?

Signed,
Virginia

ANSWER

Dear Virginia,

Yes, Virginia, friendships are dynamic and change over time.

You aren’t alone in experiencing fluid friendships! Your question was one of the reasons I decided to write my book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. I was interested in seeing how my friendship history compared to those of other women and how friendships differ for different people.

After conducting interviews and reviewing relevant research, I found that contrary to the myth, the large majority of friendships—even very good ones—fall apart over time. People change and their lives diverge in different directions.

Many women are reluctant to talk about these breakups because they worry that their families, the men in their lives, and their other friends will judge them harshly for having lost a friend.

I applaud you for speaking up and asking the question.

While some people have friendships that run very long and deep, they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

When friends drift away, it leaves a terrible void that results in soul searching and questioning. However, it may be that your friends’ lives have changed more than yours.

Even friendships that fade away remain important to us. They help define the person we are today. The friends who helped get you through the first years as a mom or the first years in a new job were important then and their influence still remains.

Close friends understand us, make us laugh, and sustain us through the bleakest of times. The fact that circumstances and/or people change doesn’t minimize the many blessings those relationships provide.

You mention friendships of long-standing duration amongst people who seem not to care about each other. These friendships may be qualitatively differently than they appear from the outside or that you would want for yourself.

Meaningful friendships need to be nurtured, both old ones and new ones. If you’re feeling a friendship deficit right now, it means that it’s time to think about making new friends.

Hope this helps.

Best,
Irene


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  1. A Matter of Heart | | May 1, 2013
  1. Pearl says:

    I have run into this concept of “fluid friendships” over and over again in my life. I am in my late 30s, and find making friends more difficult than dating or finding my husband.

    I think part of it might be that some people just don’t give friendship priority in their lives. They put their families and children first, and friendships fall by the wayside. I’ve visited some other forums that mention friendships, and sometimes people will write about how they want to spend time with their friends, and the woman’s husband gets jealous of the time she spends away from the family. People write back and say, basically, ‘Your best friend should be your husband. He has a right to be jealous. You should be confiding in him…you are a family unit now. Friends need to be less of a priority now that you have a family” and so on.

    I don’t know if it’s any easier for single women to maintain these sorts of friendships. In my case, it wasn’t. I was single for years and years and had no friends.

    I’m also naturally reserved and introverted, so I don’t appear “fun” to people. Maybe some people think it’s snobbery and so don’t approach me. So, that could be a part of it, too.

  2. OwlJulie says:

    I have never heard of this concept, that most friendships last a short time. All I have seen is people who maintain college friendships and pick up other friends along the way from their jobs and places they’ve moved to. If someone could prove to me that indeed, friendships are short lived, it would take a great burden off my shoulders to know that. Because then I wouldnt feel like such a failure in friendships.

    • Irene says:

      Here’s one study that might help you feel better:
      https://www.thefriendshipblog.com/seven-year-expiration-date-friendships/

      Best, Irene

      • Sylvie says:

        I’m originally from Europe and it seems that keeping friendships is more of an American problem. I have not been able to keep one friend here for longer than 5 years while I have been able to keep my European friends for over 25 years, even while living on a different continent. One thing that is different here is that with my European friends we schedule our next phone call when finishing the one we’re on. In the US, no one ever suggests the next get together when they are with you. It’s always a loose, talk to you next time, and who knows if that ever happens. Sometimes I wonder if we’re commitment phobic here.

  3. Beatrix says:

    “Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.” ― Rumi
    I’ve certainly found this to be true in my life!

  4. Irene says:

    I received your email too and hope to be able to respond.

    Best,

    Irene

  5. ruth says:

    I am sorry, that comment was supposed to be an email to Irene, not a comment on this topic, as it is totally unrelated. I am sorry

  6. ruth says:

    Hi Irene, i have been following your blog for quite some time now and i have an autographed copy of your book from Borders. Thank you for all the inspiration that you give to us all out here, for us to know that it is ok to feel devasted and heart broken and that a friend can break your heart just as badly as a lover and that there aren’t any sexual desire there, but plain friendship. I am from the Caribbean and before your book, it felt socially and morally wrong to be heart broken by a friend. The world and society out here is so messed up. A friend of mine once disappointed me and broke my heart really badly. I took more than a year to get over that heartbreak and deal with it on my own, for fear of being told that i am in love with her and i am a lesbian. Your book helped me a lot to deal with that issue and it was published just at that exact point in time in my life. To be honest, i am not sure that i am over that heartbreak and it is unfair to her. She tries a lot with me but the past is something that you cannot change, and there is this huge fear that it will happen again. It is only a matter of time before i am once again disappointed in that way. I am trying to be honest and to deal with it, but it keeps recurring.
    I have a new problem however, and i would greatly appreciate your input on this. I cannot talk to anyone home here about this, because it involves the same friend who broke my heart a year ago, Judy.
    There is a guy i was in deep like with, almost in love. I thought he felt the same way about me until one day he came to meet me and saw Judy. He took an instant liking to her and they hit it off. They are both very happy in a relationship and wanted my consent. I did not say no to either of them because i did not want to be the one standing in the way. I knew then that i was no longer what he wanted and if he did end up with me, it’s because he was settling for me but he wanted her. I did them both a favor and stepped out of the picture and put all my feelings for him at bay. I am dealing with it as best as i can but i cannot shake the feeling that I am not good enough. That i was never good enough, and that Judy will always be better than I am. Judy will always be first option for everyone else. I am around them and i see how happy they are and i am happy that they are happy, but i have this unworthy feeling and i don’t know what to do. My entire self esteem dropped. I am not sure if being around them is healthy for me at all. I find myself being extremely depressed for no reasons at times. I have no zeal to go out there and do anything really. I have never been in this depressed state before. One minute i am good and happy but underneath it all i am sad and depressed. No one knows and no one will know, because no one takes the time to look at me or to see anything with me. All Judy sees is that she is happy and they’re happy and it’s all good. I am thinking about disappearing, and the sad part about that is that they will not know i am gone, until one day something happens and they look for me and cannot find me.
    What is your input on this? What do you think about this situation? I am sure that i am not the first person this has happened to but i honestly do not know how to deal with this. Please help me. Please provide some sort of inspiration. I am reaching out to you because i do not know who else to reach out to and not sound pathetic. I am hurting and i need to be able to deal with it.
    Thank you for listening to me
    Ruth

  7. Irene says:

    Love the idea of "legacy" friends – perfect fodder for an upcoming post. Anyone want to chime in with some thoughts about their legacy friends?

    What does it take to qualify—-or get disqualified?

     

    Best,

    Irene

  8. motherwarrior says:

    I find fluid friendships useful. There are friends with whom I don’t communicate for years. But if the relationship was solid, we can pick up as if we saw each other recently. If it’s not we pick up as if we knew each other back in the day and this is a temporary encounter we will have again from time to time. And then there are “legacy” friends. You don’t feel that close anymore, but you’ve been through so much there’s no “breaking up.” It’s sort of like extended family you keep up with, but don’t see that much.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I agree. I think I, personally, am far more comfortable with one-on-one friendships. I do like moving within a group though when it feels right. Thanks, Irene.

  10. Irene says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write that post and share your story. I definitely agree that personality endures and it is highly unlikely that your self-centered friend would suddenly become a different person.

    Regarding your comments about groups, it stands to reason that it would be easier to find individuals with whom you share mutual respect and trust rather than with a group.

    Best,

    Irene

     

  11. Anonymous says:

    ‘Lunch Friend?’ comment meant for “When a friendly lunch turns sour” but I suppose it works for this one as well. 🙂

  12. Anonymous says:

    I reconnected with a long lost BFF from high school & early college through facebook a few years back. We immediately picked up where we left off. However, a few months into the rekindled friendship and all those little things that used to annoy me about her (even though I loved her) were rearing their ugly heads again. She started to ignore my texts, emails, phone calls and the only way she would respond to my communication was through facebook! To which she would say, “OMG! I’m so glad you wrote. I miss you bunches!!.” So, I started thinking if she ‘missed’ me so much, why not return my texts, calls, etc…. why must we communicate ONLY thru facebook? Over the past few years, the only times she wanted to get together was when it was HER idea. I was glad to schedule around her schedule but it quickly became all about her. And when we would conversate during these get-togethers, it was ALWAYS about stuff that happened 15+ years ago, or about the people from 15+years ago. I also started getting the feeling that she didn’t like that I didn’t have children. (My husband and I have unexplained infertility.) She would just make little comments about me not being a mom. Anyways, during one of these get-togethers that she organized I took my husband with me too, since the rest of the hubbys would be there. So my husband finally got to meet my former school chum. Afterwards, he blurted out (because he said he HAD to tell me what he thought) “She’s not your friend. She looks down on you and the rest of y’alls friends. It was all I could do not to say something to her.” My husband has never tried to come between me and any friend I have so when he said that I knew in my heart he was right because that’s how I would feel during these interactions. My husband just verified my feelings about her. But I wanted to double-check with one of our mutual friends that I am a lot closer with. My dear friend, told me that my husband was right about my long lost BFF. That she has always acted like she was better than everyone and that her (mutal friend’s) husband didn’t care for the long lost friend either, for the exact same reason. All I’m saying is that if a friend is in your past, there is a reason and that it is fun to reconnect but don’t think that that person has become better with age, sometimes they only get worse and more clever at making you feel inadequate.

    I’d also like to make a point, that I also see a lot of women calling each other “friends” and hanging out and then I also see all those women gossip about their “friends” as if they are concerned for their well-being but are really only spreading slander. And I see it in EVERY woman-friend group I’ve ever been apart of or that I’ve encountered. I hate to say it’s the ‘nature of the beast’ because I’d love to hold out hope that women are loving, sweet, forgiving, maternal beings and that we are pleasant to be around but we’ve all got flaws and somehow they get magnified within a group of women. Even when a woman stays neutral when there is conflict within the group, she still has to get dragged down by both sides telling her whats wrong with the other. Argh!!! It’s just tough sometimes trusting other women as you get older and wiser. Just gotta remember to keep the walls down if you want to let someone in. I’ve been praying for God to send people into my life that are good for me to be friends with, and of course, the best way to make a friend is to be a friend, even though thats a total cliche, it’s still true.

  13. Sunny says:

    I can relate to what Virginia & Liz have said. You are not alone. You both sound like you have practiced the rule I learned and tried to live by: “”in order to have a friend, you must be a friend.” But I’ve found out time and time again that reaching out, sending emails, cards, phone calls, being thoughtful, listening, etc., isn’t enough.
    I, too, know women who are inconsiderate toward their friends, who have lots of problems & issues, but nevertheless they seem to have friends who are there for them. What IS their secret? Is it that they are just more interesting and more fun? Is it that simple? I have wracked my brain for an answer.

    I’m not convinced about Irene’s theory that those types of women have friendships we might not want. From what I’ve observed, the difficult women who manage to have friends around them seem in fact to have a good time.

  14. Liz says:

    I have had most of my friendships drift away & it is hard to keep trying to make new ones. It has always been this way for me! For the past year or so I have just sort of given up (for now) and am lucky to have a couple of old college buddies to talk to. It is nice to read that I’m not alone in this. But I do know of people that have many wonderful friendships & they travel together – wonder what the difference is between us?
    I’d like to know their “secret”!

  15. Laura says:

    Friendships are like a human life: they are born, they grow up, and then eventually they die, just like us.

    It may be a depressing though at first, but maybe that impermanence is what makes them so precious.

    Every good person deserves to be around good people; it’s just that it might be different people at different times. You can’t control the response of other people, but you can reach out and have a network of friends as the years go by that are there in the stage of life that you find yourself in. Who knows: the different new friends might be just what you need emotionally at each stage of life.

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