Someone very dear to me recently ended our friendship because I disappointed him. I was very sorry for the damage I’d unintentionally caused a relationship that had been special and significant to me, but my honest revelation about the whys were lost on him. He was finished. And that hurt. But, surprisingly, it didn’t hurt as badly as I might have thought it would. Another friend asked “Aren’t you going to try talking with him? Surely this is just temporary…” No, in my heart I sense that it’s permanent – and I really am okay with that.
I can’t remember who told me this or where I read it, but I once encountered a concept that struck me, stayed with me, and has significantly impacted my thinking over the years: people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. That is to say, relationships come and sometimes go. They’re not all meant to stay with us forever…and that’s okay. It’s more than okay, really. It’s normal, healthy, and meaningful. It’s also very very practical.
I remember the words of a Girl Scout song I learned in elementary school: make new friends but keep the old; one is silver, the other is gold. At age 8, I surely didn’t have the insight to think through all the practical implications of this notion, but even then I remember running over and over those words in my head. Somehow they perplexed me – and I think my hanging on them may have come from feelings of fear and maybe even dread. How could I possibly hold onto all my friendships forEVER? Where and how on earth would I keep them all?
A man told me on a first date that he knew his last relationship was over when his partner said “This shouldn’t be so hard.” He went on to say Relationships are hard. All of them. Friendships, romantic endeavors, work arrangements; all of them require time, energy, and investment. Relationships take work, sometimes a lot of it. This idea resonated with me, and I was impressed by the emotional intelligence he exhibited in acknowledging it. I was surprised a few weeks later when he told me he was really looking for something “light and fun with low expectations.” But you said… Never mind.
Bob Marley said “If [it’s] easy, it won’t be amazing. If [it’s] amazing, it won’t be easy.” He said this about women in particular, in the context of romantic relationships, but I believe the sentiment resonates more generally. In my experience, we get from relationships in direct proportion to our giving to them.
According to the reason, season, lifetime “principle,” sometimes we get and/or give for a specific reason. People come into our lives at just the right time, to fulfill needs we may or may not know we have or to help us learn important and timely life lessons…and when we show up genuinely and honestly for others, sometimes our timing is similarly perfect, whether or not any of us know it right then. I happen to believe some higher power (my Universe) plans these connections out for us. They’re a matter of synchronicity, or “meaningful coincidence” (a concept of Carl Jung). We may sometimes overlook the opportunities we’re presented, but when we’re open to and engage with them, our lives are enriched.
Sometimes we give and get a season. We might work together for a few years then lose touch; we may have gone to school together and bid farewell at graduation; we may live in the same city or neighborhood then move in different directions. We don’t necessarily fall out or come to a screeching halt in the form of disagreement (though we may), but perhaps we just…drift apart, likely because we no longer share common ground, common space, or common experience (it’s interesting how Facebook serves to “extend” our seasons). Perhaps we break-up; dating can certainly be seasonal in nature. It seems to me our companions for a “season” tend to outlast those of reason, but any and each lasts only so long as everyone feels fulfilled and is taking away from the relationship in what feels to be equal accordance with giving (or is satisfied with any imbalance) and so long as circumstances are conducive.
From researching the grooming habits of monkeys, evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar came to discover that the larger a primate’s brain, the more capacity s/he has for social connection. He went on to determine that, on average, humans have the bandwidth for about 150 relationships (the Dunbar Number) at any given time. Many are casual; around fifty are intimate enough for dinner parties and holiday cards; fifteen are close friends; and five are the most intimate of connections, ones we’d be devastated to lose. More social folks may foster a great number of relationships, while more introverted personalities tend toward fewer total connections.
The point is that our capacity for connection – for social commitment – is limited by both cognitive constraints and by the more practical matter of our having limited time to invest socially. In other words, there’s only so much of us to go around. My 8-year old self recognized this truth when she tensed at the notion of keeping all her friends forever. It’s just not possible.
Indeed, I don’t remember all of my scouting companions. A few I could name and am still connected to in one way or another, but only one or two significant friendships remain from all those years ago. The relationships were significant to me at the time (central to my life and connection with the social world, in fact), and they are no less important because they were relatively short-lived. They were building blocks of my life and provided me with my earliest examples of community. I learned and grew from them. But they had their time, and it passed. They fulfilled their purpose (or perhaps completed their season).
I’ve pondered my recently-departed friend and the season I shared with him, and I find myself wondering about its reason(s). I don’t believe this person came into my life by happenstance. Our connection felt more significant than that, and I at least took more away from it than I’ve taken from much longer-term connections. I don’t yet know why the relationship revealed itself how and when it did or why its time was cut short, but I believe it served a purpose. And that purpose may or may not be revealed to me in time.
Reason and season relationships aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They can and certainly do overlap. Though sometimes for me, the category in which they fall is apparent. And the point may very well be that it’s all okay. I’m very grateful for myriad wonderful people who’ve come into and touched my life. And I’m certainly not looking to eject anyone (though there must be something to this since I sometimes see folks announce on social media that they’re cutting back their friend lists…). I seldom, though I can’t say never, enter relationships fully-intending them to be temporary. Instead, like with so many other things in life, I think they’re best allowed to ebb and flow naturally over time. I don’t think they’re meant for us to cling to at any cost or knock ourselves out trying to sustain once they’ve had their time.
For me, lifetime connections are meant to be shared with a special few. They are uncommon gems of people we find with whom we connect on multiple levels – emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Our pinnacle relationships bring to mind the theme song of “The Golden Girls” because they’re the ones in which we “travel down the road and back again.” We stay with them and they stick with us through many seasons and probably for a variety of reasons. It’s with these folks that we bare our souls, to them we reveal all of ourselves – the good, the bad, the ugly. Sometimes it’s in testing the waters of trust and companionship – the stuff of vulnerability – that we come to identify our reason and season people (we don’t stick with everyone through their baddest and ugliest because this investment is the greatest)…and then other times, this proves the very source of lifelong connection. In presenting the most unedited versions of ourselves, we are occasionally met with similarly beautiful and messy versions of others, and it is here we sometimes chance to find our truest and most steadfast confidants.
It seems to me the reasons and seasons all come together across a lifetime in a lovely twist of fate that plays out exactly as it should, allowing us to connect and disconnect in just the right ways, at just the right times, with just the right people. And it’s all okay. In fact, it’s kind of amazing, however not easy it might sometimes be. My friendship for a reason or season lasted exactly as long as it was supposed to, and for that I’m grateful. For a time, to me, it was amazing. And still, I’m grateful for its giving way for new connections to come along just as they should. May I be open always to the reasons, seasons, and lifetimes that come my way.