On Keeping and Dissolving Friends

This past week, I had the good fortune of seeing too good friends of mine.  I won’t give their names, but I’ll say where they’re from: Seattle and LA.  I first visited Seattle in a coffee shop.  She was friendly and approachable.  I missed her a lot; we haven’t talked to each other for five years.  I wish I could say that we picked up where we left off, but after five years, things change and move on. I’ve been friends with her since high school and some of my favorite experiences have been with her.  I could always philosophize with her and she would teach me about relationships in general and some new avenues about emotions.

That’s one thing I miss about keeping up with old friends, the moment where you “pick up where you left off” sometimes doesn’t work.  There was a sense of awkwardness between my friend and I, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.  If there any awkward silences, we simply laughed them off and moved on to the next topic.  Eventually, we had “caught up” more or less and I would like to keep the friendship.  Of course, distance makes things harder, but after seeing each other, there’s a hope (at least on my side) that I would like to stay in touch with her.  In terms of personality, goals, ambitions, and memories, she hasn’t changed.  She was the same Seattle as ever.  I miss her already.

A few days later, I met LA at a diner in Salt Lake.  She was a friend I made while I was in college and I was also very close to her.  I also haven’t talked to her for about five or six years.  The experience with LA, however, was different.  LA seemed like a new person.  I remember when she introduced me to new forms of music, new things to do in the Ogden/Salt Lake area, and we could talk about anything.  However, when I met LA, I felt like I was talking to a new person.  During this conversation, she asked me, “Shaun, why did we lose touch through all this time?”  I just shrugged my shoulders and we kept talking.

Her sense of style has changed, her music is totally different, and what she considers fun, I consider lame.  For example, she said that I should go clubbing with her that night.  I hate going to clubs, and she did also when I met her.  But now, she is way into the club scene along with other activities that I really don’t care for.  By talking to her, she seemed not as deep or thoughtful as she was.  To be honest, she seemed superficial and not really reflective.  For example, I asked her of her opinion of a certain topic, and her reply was: “who cares?”  It seemed shallow to me that this thoughtful person would give that reply.  She only cared about superficial things.  She was never like this.  She cared about the situation of the world, but now she doesn’t.  Who was this person and what have you done with LA?  There was a sense of awkwardness, but went against the grain with who I was.  With Seattle, it was only awkward when there were silences.  With LA, it felt awkward throughout the whole conversation.  I actually wanted to leave.  Thankfully, the meeting ended.  The goodbye was even more awkward.  She did the double-kiss thing which threw me off guard.  With Seattle, we simply gave each other a hug goodbye.  As I drove home from away from LA,  I felt like I had dinner with a stranger instead of an old friend.  We said that we should keep in touch, but I seriously doubt we will.  I don’t know if she meant it (you know how people are, they always say to stay in touch, but that phrase “stay in touch” is just a nice way of ending a conversation).  I remember all those good times that we had together, but I also remember how she had changed when she went to college.  I’m sure she could sense the awkwardness between us.  This friendship, I’m sad to say, will probably be dissolved.

So what’s going on here?

After this, I wanted to know why my friends and I lost touch.  Obviously, it was because I moved to Texas for two years and we couldn’t hang out.  With Seattle, the visit was friendly and I felt like we could keep the friendship alive.

But with LA, this wasn’t the usual type of “losing touch”.  I made friends with this person and we did pretty much everything together: we worked together, we always hung out, we watched movies, I even went to one of her dances.  But when she entered college, she changed big time.  Her personality shifted to someone that I really didn’t care for and she turned into someone that I wouldn’t want to be friends with.  So in this instance, we didn’t “grow apart,” but I felt like I lost one of my good best friends and this new person took her place.

I wanted to know the aspects of this relationship and it made me do some research on friendship.  After a little investigating, I noticed that the philosophers talk about gaining friends and keeping them.  No one that I know of talks about getting rid of friends.  And I don’t mean getting rid of them in the sense of “growing apart,” I mean getting rid of them by actively dissolving the friendship.

At any rate, I’m now writing a paper about friendship and I had some questions and see what anyone thinks about friendship.

  1. At what point should the friendship dissolve?  What are the reasons for it?  Couldn’t one stay with that friend but superficially?  If so, is it worth it?  If not, why not?
  2. We only have one word for “love” in English.  The Greeks had many words and they would say that my love for my friends is philia.  It’s a sort of love that you have for your fellow friends.  In fact, the world “Philadelphia” is called “the city of brotherly love.”  I never really understood philia or this “friendly-love.”  I can understand romantic love (or what the Greeks calls eros), but what is friendly love?  Is it like romantic love but not as intense?  Is it a totally different kind of love altogether, much like familial love is different from romantic love?  What are the features of philia?  It can’t be just “caring” because romantic and familial love have those features also.
  3. So far, some books that deal with friendship from a philosophical point of view have been Aristotle, Montaigne, and Cicero.  Can you think of anyone else?

Usually, however, most friends just simply “grow apart.”  I understand that friends sometimes grow apart as they grow up.  I think out of all the friends in high school, I only keep in touch with about 4 or 5% of them.  In college, it’s much lower.  I even remember that when I moved to Texas, I lost touch with my Utah friends.  But now that I’m back in Utah, I’ve pretty much lost a lot of contact with my Texas friends.  It’s an unfortunate thing, but it happens.  I’m sure that when I go to grad school again, I’ll lose touch with my Utah friends again.  Perhaps I’m overanalyzing things, or maybe I’m nostalgic.  Either way, I miss my friends and I will miss them when I leave.

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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7 Responses to On Keeping and Dissolving Friends

  1. mena says:

    I better not be either of your examples we both know I am awesome… but I totally understand what you are talking about. In fact in the past months, I have actively began dissolving many friendships. Mainly because I have new standards for what friends should be. I think a lot of people are scared of being alone, and they prefer to put up with people that do not fulfill them even if they expect more from them. I don’t have many friends, but I think it’s better to have a select few and know they are authentic to themselves and to me. Over time, my closest friends have become strangers. What do you do with strangers? Well, I just say hi politely and move on but not really care about them anymore. It is O.K. to choose not to care about someone. I fact it is healthier than trying to hold on to a friendship that no longer is… just like with relationships, there has to be a spark and a bilateral commitment.
    On a different note, distance can only be as powerful as you allow it to be, so even if I’m in Mexico a million miles away, I am still your true friend and I miss you.

  2. aubreycierra says:

    I’m sorry you had to feel so detached from you friend but its important to come to terms with the fact that people are not always the same person you knew. as for your questions that were posed I offer this:
    1. There are times were dissolving a friendship is a good and sometimes necessary thing. A time frame would be ludicrous to create, however I think that much like all interactions, if things become too one sided then its time for change. There are also situations were people have changed so much that they are in opposition to your belief system and while its good to know a lot of people with different view points and life styles its also good to know when that could be detrimental to you. As for superficial friends, they are not worth it. An acquaintance for instance is ok(saying hi without a personal investment into their life) but when you feel awkward around a ‘friend’ then why waist both of your time and try to pretend. However, it’s good to remember that while people change there is still a possibility that you can accept the person your friend has become. It’s not fair to expect them to not change so that you have something that you know and can relate with. Especially, when it wouldn’t be something that you would want others to impose on you. People change and while it is difficult to see the good qualities in people that we perceive to have drastically changed, they are there, usually… ^.^

    2. “Friendly love” is not as deep as a romantic love but still implies a strong personal connections with people. There are friends that I would die for and ‘love’ as a friend but nothing romantic would ever come of it. So, I think each implementation has a different set of standards and that there should be a different term for it other then one overarching term deemed ‘love’ and that we are to interpret the meaning of it based on the situation.

    3. I don’t but if I find anyone else I will let you know.

  3. Mike says:

    CS Lewis talks a lot about friendship (and the relevant greek terms for love) in The Four Loves. That’s still my favorite book of his. It has a strong Christian tinge but I don’t think it detracts much from what he sees in human nature.

    I think being a good friend requires having few friends. So dissolving or just letting some friendships fall away is required for depth of friendship. Also I think friendship (philia) is best when oriented around shared interests. I find the friendships I have that fall away are those where I just hung out with that person, where the shared interest was something trivial. My philosophical friendships usually persist indefinitely and some of my closest friendships are with people who don’t live near.

  4. thekillerj says:

    I don’t have much to add to this, except I can completely relate to what you’re saying. It sucks when friends fall away, but it’s happened many times to me already. Boo.

  5. shaunmiller says:

    Good advice from all of you!

    Mena: No, neither friend is you although it was a coincidence that we contacted each other the same week. We need to see each other in person because you are awesome. I do miss you a lot and I like your advice about authentic friendships. It’s like the friends that try to change your identity isn’t worth having. At least, an identity that you don’t want to go toward. Obviously, people can change you, but that change is either permissible because you can relate this changing self, or else you realize that your previous self wasn’t your “true” self. It brings up more questions, but I think I know what you mean.

    Aubrey: I feel like LA is now an acquaintance rather than a friend, but how do I make her realize that? In a way, breaking up a friendship is harder than breaking up a loving relationship. At least with a loving relationship, you can “downgrade” to friendship (or not be friends at all). With friendship though, it seems harder to “downgrade” a friend to acquaintance. As much as I hate it, it seems easier (both pragmatically and maybe theoretically) to dissolve the friendship completely with LA. Staying as an acquaintance with her would be awkward. So yes, people do change, but her changes seem to conflict with what I want in a friend.
    With your definition of friendly love, it seems that you’re saying that it’s similar to romantic love but just not as intense. Is that a correct interpretation?

    Mike: Thanks for Lewis. It’s on my list to read now. I also agree with you that it’s best to have few friends, otherwise, you’re spreading yourself thin by having lots of friends. I’ve also noticed that when love gets more involved, the less people are in it. For example: agape –> philia –> eros. As it moves higher, less people are involved.

    KillerJ: Yes, friends fall away all the time. I guess that’s part of life.

    I have also added Emerson, Thoreau, Nietzsche, the Stoics, Epicurus, and Bacon on my list of books to read about friendship. Maybe they have something. In the meantime, I’m still concentrating on my Socratic Method paper, but as soon as that’s done, I’ll be researching this friend stuff as soon as I can.

  6. aubreycierra says:

    In a sense yes, however in romantic love there are different needs to be meet from that type of relationships. In a friendly relationship there is another set of needs such as being able to tell them things or crashing on couches. While with a romantic love its more intimate then that its talking about things that most people shouldn’t know. Its a different kind of support and relationship. I hope that makes sense ^.^

  7. Pingback: Particular Interests of Mine | Shaun Miller's Ideas

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