The Anatomy of a Friendship


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Have you ever given much thought, if any at all, as to the anatomy of a friendship? I mean, what makes a good friend? Friends come in all sorts of packages. But all in all, friendships are different for everyone. Each person comes with unique qualities that we are attracted to. 

We should begin by understanding that friendship is more fluid than it is static. By this I mean that friendships change. People change. Everything changes! Are you the same person you were when you were 20? 30? 50+? The answer is simple, no. How could you be with all that goes into making a person? Arguably, we could say that many of our core values might be the same, but who we are and what we want out of life changes constantly. With that in mind, how can we expect anyone to stay the same throughout their lifetimes? Let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of friendships and their subsequent fluidity.

A common example is marriage/partnerships. Many people marry the ‘loves of their lives’. Right? I think you know where I am going with this. We all start out with idealized thoughts about our chosen partners. We adore everything about them like their cute sneeze, the way he puts on his t-shirt, how the toilet seat remains up after use (it’s a guy thing), or how she takes an hour to put on her makeup. I’ve heard so often that, ‘he’s my best friend’ or she’s my ‘soulmate’, and yet how long before you start to hear or say, “You’ve changed, why can’t you be like when we first met?” Really? R-e-a-l-l-y?In North America, the average length of time a marriage lasts is 7 years and 50% end in divorce! WTF? This doesn’t even take into account the people who live in common-law relationships and separate. These partnerships are not recorded. Wow! Hard to absorb. 

Another common example is your BFF (best friend forever). 

Imagine for a moment of when you first met. How did you feel around them? How do you feel around them now? What has changed?

I’m going to assume that a number of things have been fluid. As we move through our lives and mature, we are met with thousands of external changes to our environment, our families and our physical being. Perhaps we have moved, changed jobs, had kids, changed political views and maybe even faith. I think you get the picture. Your BFF has also been through these changes. So it stands to reason that as you both face change and adapt to life on a daily basis, your relationship has shifted and adapted as well. I will say for the better, otherwise, you really can’t call them a best friend, now can you?

Some accepted ideals of friendship can include pleasure felt when you are in contact, reciprocity, commitment, and mutual respect. We often feel love for these people. A give-and-take relationship is formed and support for one another is expected to flow both ways.

I’ve often been asked, how many friends should one have? There is no real answer to this question, however, research has done some work for us. It is estimated that having between three to five close friends is optimal for one’s own happiness. While this might be a surprise to some, the key word here is-‘close’. It is widely accepted that people have more friends that they associate with, but the value of these peripheral friends gets diluted the farther away they are from your inner ‘tribe’. 

Imagine three circles of your friends holding hands. Your closest friends are in the inner circle or what we are referring to as our ‘tribe’. These people know our deep, dark secrets. They know our history. They sit with us at our dinner table or drink wine late into the night. 

The next row represents those people that you might extend an invite to a BBQ party or your ‘coffee’ only friends. The last row would be those people we call ‘associated’ or ‘peripheral’ friends and are often ‘friends of friends’. 

The fluidity of the outer two circles is higher than the inner one. These circles tend to change often as they are not associated with core values or love for one another. Some people believe all these circles are their ‘tribe’. Wrong! Why you ask? Because the amount of investment you have with the inner tribe far outweighs that of the outer circles. It is both physically and emotionally impossible to keep that many people close to you. And I can assure you that those people feel the same way. Guaranteed. 

Allow me to demonstrate. My most recent example of this is when I met a woman a few years ago and we became fast friends. We had a lot in common, still do. We even worked together on various projects and had a lot of laughs. Still do. But what changed? We both had parents that were diagnosed with cancer and within a short time, they both passed away. Although we were both supportive of each other, we sought comfort from others. These ‘others’ were our tribe members. We knew we had to cut each other some slack and allow the time necessary to deal with caring for our parents. This wasn’t the time to ‘fertilize’ our friendship. It was time to have mutual respect and understanding for each other.

 After our parents passing, we never got back to the close friendship we had prior to these events. Why? I found it difficult to be her close friend because I didn’t know how to. Something changed. But I grew to accept it because I knew in my heart, that she and I would be ok. Our friendship is important, but liquid. I’m ok with that.  I think she is too.

Shauna-Lee Baty

Shauna Baty

Shauna Baty

Shauna is a passionate writer. Her blog is filled with personal antidotes and rants and raves with humour and satirical twists. Her latest book, Weed Your Garden, deals with why you should get rid of toxic people in your life and create the tribe that was meant for you. As a member of the LGBTQ community, she has been involved in many community and municipal organizations. “ As a human race we have to continually fight for our human rights until we get it right.” Shauna currently resides in Calgary Alberta with her partner Tina and her amazing son Jordan.

One Response

  1. Amazing read… A lot to think about. We all have some friends who is “liquid”. Love that wonderful analogy.

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