Evolving and Enduring

“Long friendships are like jewels,
polished over time to become beautiful and enduring.”
 – Celia Brayfield

Like so many others, I spent some time watching the news the morning following the passing of Queen Elizabeth.  One of the stories focused on the many responsibilities to be assumed by Prince William in his new role as the Prince of Wales.  The story contained a clip of a speech delivered by the Prince this past March during a trip to the Caribbean.  While his words were directed to a political reality currently facing Britain, they are no less true in our personal lives – “Relationships evolve, friendships endure.”

The COVID epidemic impacted almost every aspect of our lives.  It changed how we work, how we socially interact, and even how we worship.  But perhaps its most significant impact was on our friendships and relationships.  Over a period of two years, and in some cases even to today, our relationships and friendships have changed, and it would be easy to say that these changes are a result of the epidemic; it would also be a falsehood.  The evolution of our relationships and the endurance of our friendships, rest with us.

Some might say that a friendship occurs through the evolution of a relationship, and an enduring friendship is arguably one of our most precious possessions.  So the first question becomes what are the actions we can take to create healthy evolving relationships.  While not all inclusive, here are a few:

  1. Be Selective – Relationships don’t just happen.  They require an investment of time and effort.  Hence when establishing a relationship ask yourself a few questions:

    1. Why am I pursuing this relationship?  What do we have in common?

    2. What value does this relationship bring to my life, and likewise, what value do I bring to the relationship.

  2. Keep Expectations Realistic. No one can be everything we might want them to be. Healthy relationships mean accepting people as they are and not trying to change them.

  3. Be You – Trust is everything!  Be yourself! It’s much easier and more fun to be authentic than to pretend to be something or someone else. Healthy relationships are made of real people.

  4. Communicate and Be Open   It can’t be said enough: communication is essential to healthy long-term relationships.

    1. Be present.   Really be there for them.

    2. Actively listen.  Do not interrupt or plan what you’re going to say next.  Try to fully understand their perspective.

    3. Ask questions.  Show you are interested.  Ask about their experiences, feelings, opinions, and interests

  5. Reach Out – Be proactive, the periodic phone call, email and text serve to illustrate that you value the relationship.  One of the most cited reasons for relationships ending is found in the phrase, “I rarely heard from them.”

Friendships are a similar, but different story.  Friendships are usually born of a commonality.  It could be based on a common cultural, situational, work-related, political or geographical situation.  The subsequent bonds that nurture friendships are usually rooted in sharing the same pleasures of life and/or same convictions of the heart.  Over time those pleasures become even stronger or one side loses interest, and the friendship fades away.  The fact of the matter is we are lucky to call some “good friends,” even luckier to call others “great friends,” and the luckiest of all is when we find “enduring friends.”  So what is the secret to an enduring friendship?

Julie Beck is the author of a series of interviews called, “The Friendship Files,” She has spoken with 100 sets of friends about what drew them together and kept them tight over the years. In a recent Atlantic article she reflected what she learned about how to build friendships that last.  Beck identifies three essential ingredients that contribute to enduring friendships;.ignore them in your own relationships at your peril.

  1. Time:  Research shows that you need roughly 50 hours together to make a casual friend and more than 100 to become close friends.   But according to Beck, time together is also essential.  Sometimes that time builds up slowly, and in other circumstances, those hours get put in really quickly.  Whether the hours slowly grow over decades or pile up suddenly over mere days, there is no way around putting plenty of time into building friendships.

  2. Rituals – When we are so busy with the other things in our lives where do we find the time?  One solution many of the friends Beck talked to was creating rituals. Whether it’s a monthly supper, a weekly walk, a monthly Zoom or a twice yearly reunion trip, it’s often easier to stay connected with your friends when you create a recurring event on your calendar.  Beck shares, “I personally find that the effort of coordinating hangs (or even phone calls) is the biggest barrier to seeing my friends. It’s much easier when something is baked into my schedule, and all I have to do is show up,” Psychologists confirm that set rituals make friendships easier to sustain over the long haul.

  3. Grace – No matter how good your intentions, we all sometimes let our friends down. According to Beck, those who see their friendships endure across the decades take those inevitable disappointments with grace. What does she mean by grace? She offers two interweaving definitions: “One is the forgiveness that we offer each other when we fall short. The other is the space that creates connections–and reconnections–that feel nothing short of miraculous.” 

We are a social species, and there is no shortage of neurological evidence that humans are hardwired to connect.  This is why loneliness is so painful, why we care how others treat us, and why we spend so much time obsessed with past and future relationships.  We want our relationships to evolve and we seek enduring friendships.  The real question is are we willing to put in the effort to make it happen?  I know I can make some improvements in this area.  How about you?

Embrace the Challenge