I turn 30 this year, and I’m rethinking much of my life thus far. I’m not on some existential journey where I am discovering everything I’ve believed has been wrong, but more so realizing how much changes, and realizing it’s not a result of my decisions or indecisions. It’s just made to change.
Evolution is not a dirty word.
Life, love and God teach me more every day about how this life has very little to do with what you can gather and everything to do with what you can let go of.
The Internet, texting and social media have changed friendship for everyone. We know what is going on in the lives of friends we’d most likely have lost contact with.
Time is teaching me about the evolution of what friendship looks like to me.
I was mowing my lawn a few weeks ago. I don’t have much lawn to mow; the whole yard takes me about 20 minutes total, front and back. It was a hot day so I was grateful for the small yard. I grew up in a small house with a much larger yard, and no trees at all. We looked like we were living on a midwestern plain, but we were just in the middle of Florida. Mowing that lawn took me about two hours at least with a broken push mower.
As I mowed my small yard, I thought, “When I was younger I had more free time and more energy to mow a big yard. I’m glad I have a small yard to maintain now.” The bigger the yard, the more time you have to spend on its maintenance. The same is true of friendships.
Adult life hits you hard when you’ve just spent two decades being surrounded by your best friends all day, every day in school and activities. As you get older, your friendships can become harder to maintain because you are not spending 40 hours a week with them and grabbing dinner isn’t a spur of the moment decision anymore.
When you’re 20, it’s: “Hey want to grab a bite?” “Yeah, I’ll be over in five.”
When you’re 30, it’s: “Hey want to get dinner?” “Yeah, I’m free on Thursday in three weeks.”
It’s really no one’s fault for being too busy for friendships, it’s just life. When you’re younger, you can easily maintain a huge landscape of friends, but as you get older, your landscape becomes much smaller.
We all want deep friendships and community, and we need it. But I’m realizing it just starts to look different as your life and friendships evolve.
I think there are circles of friendships, and in my head it looks like a target.
The outer ring of friends are Facebook friends, people you say hello to at church or work, and who may show up to your Christmas party. You don’t ever text each other and you may not even have their number in your phones.
The next ring comprises the friends you do group stuff with. You may see them every week or may go on occasional trips with them, too. You like them well enough, but if you two got to an event before everyone else, it’s really awkward, maybe painful, small talk for a few minutes. You’re probably not going to help them move. These are usually friends of friends.
The next ring in would be the friends you can get lunch with by yourself and feel fine. You may go shopping together or do double dates. It’s fun and easy. You’ve had meaningful conversations and would say you genuinely really care about each other.
The second to last ring is the ring of close friends. These are the friends who wouldn’t miss your wedding and who you have a bond with. These friends would willingly go out of their way for you and you would for them. When life gets tough, they will be there. The love and respect for each other is mutual and deep.
The last ring is the smallest. These are the friends who would give you a kidney. You know them and they know you, possibly better than they know their spouses in some ways. You tell each other about way too many details of your life, but it’s totally normal. It usually takes years, maybe decades, to get to this level of friendship. It is a ring only for a small, select few. A soul-tied connection. The center ring has to be earned. All the other rings may overlap in some ways, but the center ring does not.
Here’s my problem.
I accepted a few years back that I am an initiator. I am usually the first one who says, “Hey let’s hang out.” I try and bring people together. I like having parties at my place. In DC, I was always the guy buying the Nats tickets and getting a crew together for Tuesday night baseball. My wife used to get mad at me when we were dating, and I’d invite people to the outings she just wanted to be for the two of us. It just comes naturally to me.
In years past, I would sometimes get offended that I always had to be the guy setting stuff up, but now I’ve learned to embrace it and know it’s my role. It’s a role many people are not able to take on. But as the saying goes, my greatest strength is perhaps my strongest weakness.
My problem is I have tried to shove everyone I’m friends with into the center two rings.
I am open to friendships and love meeting new people; it’s just not possible to maintain a big landscape anymore. And it’s not healthy. I’ve been hurt when I shouldn’t have been hurt because I assumed friendships were in a different ring than they were.
The rings evolve. People come and go and move and their families grow. It would be a waste of time and spirit to spend it getting offended that so-and-so never hangs out anymore. Cut people some slack; life is busy. Let it go.
Let them go.
Life evolves more than we want it to sometimes. Some of the people I know who are most frustrated with life seem to be the people who are trying to hold onto a moment in time. (Cue Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days.) They don’t want their circle of friends to change. They don’t want to change towns. They want everything to be like it was in the glory days, and it just doesn’t stay. It’s not meant to stay.
Some friends will move mountains for you. Some friends will eventually put mountains between you.
It’s not a sign of their bad character, it’s a sign of evolution.
The truth is, some people are more important to you than you are to them. But reversely, you are more important to some people than they are to you. Those two center rings of friendship don’t have a lot of wiggle room in them.
Some people will take advantage of you. Some people won’t return the love you show them, and it hurts. Still, I think I’d rather be taken advantage than be a hermit. I’d rather be inclusive and invitational and love as best I can even if it’s not given back.
But there is definitely wisdom I need to use. Like I said, I’m learning to let life evolve and let things go. I’m learning to choose who I invest in more wisely.
As we continue to age, our friendships may become fewer and fewer, but I hope those fewer friendships grow to be more and more meaningful.