One somber evening not long ago, a husband and wife lay in bed rehearsing the many close friends of theirs who had checked out of their lives from recent years to the current. The husband said, “I have not taken anyone under my wings like I did that guy. I set aside time to meet with him once a week to chat, share laughter, sip coffee, and pray with him.”
The wife said, her voice cracking, “When I say hello to her these days she acts like she doesn’t hear me. In fact, she’s started taking her break at a different time just to avoid seeing me at work. The other day I saw her and another lady talking, and as I approached, they stopped talking. I felt like they were talking about me. Anyway, that’s OK. I will keep loving her, speaking to her even if she doesn’t answer me. That’s all I can do. Love her.”
“Every time one more friendship hits the trash bin, I feel like one who rescues and raises a tiger only to get attacked by that tiger when it’s all grown up. You know, Honey, I don’t know what it will take before you and I finally learn our lesson and stop pouring so much of ourselves into friendships that go nowhere,” the husband replied with much apathy in his tone. “We’ve been let down so many times. May be it’s something with us. May be we just don’t understand this culture, though we’ve been in this country for over a decade now.”
The wife said, “Back home, once you find a friend, you’ve got a friend, but here it’s like it’s no big deal. They just cut off, and you have no idea why.”
Her husband interrupts, “Honey, you know something, I’m in my mid forties, and when it comes to friends, I only have two right now: Amy and Rick.”
Amy is the name of his wife, and Rick is his friend since junior high school.
After few more lines of conversation punctuated with stretches of silence, the couple took each other’s hands, winding their day to a quiet close, as much-needed sleep slowly overwhelmed their tired bodies and wearied minds. Not a great way to end a day, but…
Like many people who value the human experience known as friendship, this couple needs to learn that there are two most unpredictable things in life: the stock market and people. Of the two, you can make a living forecasting the market. As for predicting people, well, it’s a loser’s career.
We all can take some of the sting out of dead-end relationships and trashed friendships once we understand that all friendships are not created equal. Looking back over the friendships of my own life, I can say with some degree of certainty that friends come in five basic brands: casual, temporary, seasonal, intermittent, and permanent.
1. Casual friend: That’s your touch-and-go friendship. The hello-hello kind, just one step beyond stranger or acquaintance. You exchange smiles every now and then when your paths cross, but that’s about it with casual friendship.
2. Temporary friend: As you will guess, this type of friendship is short-lived. It starts over nothing special, and it ends that way, in a relatively short period of time, though “temporary” could be a year or more before one or both friends call it quits.
3. Seasonal friend: This is friendship that was probably triggered by a special event, a moment of crisis, or a transition in the life of at least one of the two persons involved. It could be the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, a flat tire by the road, or any other event that marks a crisis or transition in one’s life. A seasonal friendship tends to come to an end when one or both persons get through that transitional period. The friendship has served its purpose, and it only makes sense to pull the curtain. If you try to force the continuation of such a friendship, you may actually strain the relationship beyond the pain of a broken friendship; you could make an enemy out of your old friend. It’s better to let go.
What hurts most about temporary and seasonal friendships is how abruptly they usually end. Often the person just cuts away without warning or explanation. You ask the person, “What happened? What did I do wrong? How can we work this out?” And he or she says, “Nothing. There is nothing to talk about. You did nothing wrong. It’s just time for us to go our separate ways.”
And you want to go, “Say what? After all we’ve been through? After all these years and all the time we’ve invested in this relationship? This is it? This is how it ends? Can’t you remember? Have you forgotten?”
Sometimes it’s far worse than that. Your once-good buddy may start to slander you, starting and spreading the nastiest kind of gossip and rumor about your character, saying crude and cruel things about you. How more bearable it would be if the ex-friend would let you know why s/he ended the relationship. But you are left to guess from hints dropped here, there and yonder. You must get used to not expecting or getting any explanations. This world can be a jungle, and people can be the beasts.
The surprising thing to me, knowing a little something about human nature, is that we are often shocked when a friendship we thought would last forever suddenly shrieks to a terminal halt. Look at it this way: if the seed of your loins, the embryo of your womb can come into this world, eat your food, sleep under your roof and in your bed, play with toys that you bought or made, go to school on your dime or in your car, accept and enjoy your birthday presents and graduation gifts over the years, etc, and grow into adulthood only to abandon you and cut out of your life, as though s/he never knew you from Adam, why be astonished at all when a friend with whom you shared no blood link, suddenly or gradually walks away from your life? Welcome to the real world. Get used to it, my right-now friend.
4. Intermittent friend: “Intermittent” describes something that starts and stops at intervals. “Intermittent” means periodic. It means “on-and-off”.
Our family enjoys an intermittent friendship with one lady in particular. Let’s call her Lady. She is the Godmother of our daughter. We may run into her at the store or at some community gathering. My wife and I sometimes voice our mutual guilt for not keeping in touch more frequently with this dear lady. But she rarely touches with us either. Recently, I surprised Lady with a visit to her home; we talked and laughed for hours.
There is one time in the year that our family can bet on seeing Lady at our house: the evening before our daughter’s birthday (which happens to be our son’s birthday too). Her tradition for the last few years has been to come with an envelope containing a birthday card, which has money tucked in, the amount equal to the age of her Goddaughter. (She brings one for our son too.) Every time we meet Lady, whether on our doorstep, at her home, or somewhere in the community, it’s like we’ve just made friends with her all over again. This intermittent friendship is one of the most precious relationships we know of. Yes, it’s on-and-off, but we know it’s still there, and whenever we bump into Lady, the meeting proves that our friendship with her is still alive and well.
The really neat, or perhaps odd thing about this relationship is that neither Harriet (that’s my wife) nor I can exclusively claim Lady as “my friend”. Isn’t that weird? Lady is a friend to both of us, to Harriet and me. She’s “our friend”, our intermittent friend.
5. Permanent friend: Life hardly gets any better than a lasting, lifelong relationship with a true friend, with whom you are regularly in contact, like almost on a weekly basis, if not more regularly.
A permanent friendship may start while two students are in grade school. The ride never ends. One is there when the other lands his first job. One serves as maid of honor or best man at the other’s wedding. When one moves into an apartment or house of her own, the other is right there, or knows the day and time when the big move takes place. So on goes this rarest brand of friendship until the ‘ship’ veers by a hospital or some other sick bed, then finally reaches the harbor of a funeral home. From there, one still faithful, though frail friend, follows his buddy to say one last goodbye at a graveyard just outside of town.
Blessed is the soul which has one such jewel of a friend, a permanent friend, especially if that golden friend is someone outside of one’s family circle. But if you find a family member a permanent friend, you’d better take him or her. Life doesn’t churn up a whole lot of that brand anymore.