Boris Thomas, JD, PhD

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BFF, Buddy or NOT - Part 1

Over time, long-standing friendships accrue valuable shared experiences, including the celebration of milestones and, of course, mutual caring.  But like all relationships, whether based in career, romance, family or other community, friendships are lived day in and day out.  In this two part series, I take a look at ways to explore the meaning of your friendships and to contemplate the benefits versus the challenges.  Following is a real question based on a real situation.

I'm frustrated with one of my college buddies. Our friendship hit the skids because I got tired of having to "chase him down."  We'd do stuff, then I'd reach out to him and get crickets--not even a short text back.  He'd surface months later, saying he had been busy, wasn't feeling well, was stressed out, etc.  We reconnected last year, and the same thing is happening again.  I don't want to toss out a 20 year friendship, but I'm tired.  Any thoughts?

Examine Your Expectations and Needs

This is a good rule for all relationships.  It seems as though your friend, over many years, has shown you how he operates.  Are you expecting him to behave differently than he has in the past?  If so, what did he do or tell you that would make you think that his patterns would change?  If you haven't been given any sense that things were going to be different, then you're probably setting yourself up for disappointment.  Men and women are acculturated to think about and express themselves differently in friendships, but there are basic tenets that apply to both.  Ask yourself these three questions, and reflect on how your friendship works:  

  • What did you get from the friendship in the past?  

  • Has that changed, and if so, what are you getting now?

  • What do you want/need from the friendship going forward?

Know the Genesis of Your Friendship

Sometimes we are bound to friends because of intense shared experiences such as childhood, college or work.  Other friends come into our lives through our families and mutual acquaintances, the new friendships growing based on common interests and attitudes, but also boosted by the connective tissue of a shared social network.  Some friendships are unicorns, born out of the most unexpected or random circumstances.  

  • All friendships are not created equal. 

  • We usually get a specific need met by each friend and, likewise, we provide something special to each of our friends.  

  • What we need from and are willing to give to friends evolves.  What you both needed when you met may not match what you need now.

Determine the "Rhythm" of the Relationship

From year to year, does the friendship have seasonal highs and lows?  Maybe your pal is flexible and easy to hang out with during the spring and summer, then not so available once the fall rolls around?  Do you have a particular event or set of activities, like college football or book club memberships, that you historically have done together?  Does her attention drop off once you've completed those activities?  What do you know about the other parts of his life--work, school, spouse, children--that place demands on him?  What are your respective communication styles?  You may be an email and phone person.  She may be interested in doing, and less keen on communication between your get-togethers.  After you answer these questions, assess whether you're content with the quality and quantity of time that you're able to spend with each other.

Coming next . . .  BFF, Buddy or NOT - Part 2

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