From meeting that generous classmate who shared her fresh box of crayons at pre-school to bonding with co-workers at happy hour, making friends is one of the magical delights of life. Shared experiences, common interests, and similar goals help us to connect further with those kindred spirits around us. Nonetheless, not every friendship will last a lifetime: goals diverge, interests change, and the various transitions of life can mean there are no longer as many shared experiences.
Our twenties and thirties are filled with a multitude of life transitions that can have a major impact on our relationships, from schooling, to moves, to jobs, and—for many—changing marital and family status. Friendships are particularly sensitive to these shifts in circumstances. What should we make of these friendships lost?
Reframing lapsed friendships in a positive light
Anyone who has had a close friendship end on a sharp turn knows it can bring a similar pain and process of grief to that which accompanies a romantic break-up. The heartache is real, and healing needs to happen. A “postmortem” of a past friendship can also be enlightening. We may find that there were behaviors or patterns in that friendship that we should adjust to foster healthier relationships going forward.
But I’d like to suggest that it also can be worthwhile to reflect on joyful and fun things that a past friend brought into your life for which you can be grateful as well. Looking at the relationship through a perspective of what we gained rather than what we lost is a first step to reframing a past friendship for its true value.
So what sort of things might you find?
01. Friendships introduce us to new interests
Many friendships come together based on existing common interests, but a friend’s different interests or hobbies can expand our world. One of my high school friends randomly developed an interest in 1970s disco music during our senior year. I can credit him with introducing me to Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, a song that has been a comfort as well as a karaoke go-to for many years since then.
Past friends may have introduced you to the writings of a now favorite author, enkindled a love of kayaking or hiking, or showed you the fascinating details of another culture. Without those friends, you may never have discovered certain areas of interest you now enjoy.
02. Friends offer us wisdom by sharing their journeys
The fact is sometimes friends’ choices and behaviors show you exactly what not to do in life. These lessons could be as practical as understanding the pitfalls of getting your navel pierced—zippers will not be your friend—to something more profound, such as learning the harm of pretending to be someone you’re not.
I once had an older work friend advise me on the importance of being yourself when you’re dating someone. She had learned from her own life that changing who she was to marry a certain man wasn’t a prize; it was a prison. One divorce later and wiser, she didn’t want others to have that same regret. Learning from the pain of other people’s mistakes can help you avoid that turmoil yourself.
A friend’s example can also offer a positive lesson, or help us better understand our own goals and desires. A friend’s amazing story of why she pursued a certain degree or what she learned in traveling to Peru, for example, could show you the benefits of certain decisions. Every friend has a truly unique and compelling story with ups and downs. We can discover all sorts of insights from someone’s particular path.
03. Gifts that a friend had that were a gift to us
Some people have a tremendous gift of warmth that generates some serious warm fuzzies. Maybe it was a friend who treated you like family whenever you came over, offering up slippers and a warm beverage. Perhaps it was a colleague who really took the time to see you and care to know what your goals and dreams were to see how she could help. Those are behaviors you can emulate to bring grace, joy, and a sense of acceptance to others.
Friends can also remind us of who we are, in the best ways. Sometimes remembering the kind words of affirmation someone once spoke to you can brighten the memories of a forgotten friendship. One of my favorite compliments from a friend was that I had a serene quality and a soothing voice. I don’t even remember the context of the comment, but I do remember how nice it was to see myself through someone else’s eyes in a positive and uplifting way.
Other friends may have made us laugh until we fell off a couch or had a spirit of adventure that incited the adventurer in us. Even if a friend’s gifts aren’t the same as our own, we can appreciate the way that person’s talents and gifts brightened our experiences.
04. A past friendship generally leaves us with some fond memories
Most friendships create at least a few great memories unique to that friendship like inside jokes, momentous occasions, and fascinating conversations. Reflecting back on some of the most enjoyable times can refocus our senses on the good of new beginnings and what friendships at their best can be.
When I was still in graduate school and going through a particularly stressful semester, a friend at that time and I decided to “run like Phoebe" (fans of Friends know this crazy style of running) down the street by our house at night. Though that friendship faded away, that night not only relieved stress at the time, but it has left me with a happy memory and a fantastic story to share with a glad heart.
An effective way to revisit the joyful takeaways is to make an actual list of one or two positive things for which you can be grateful from each past friendship. Not only could it show you some good that you previously dismissed, but it may help provide closure to a relationship that didn’t go the way you would have wanted.
Those friendships that ended can still provide reasons to reflect fondly on what was and what has grown out of them.