An Evolution of Thought

1 Corinthians 13: 11

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

Recently, a national paper printed an opinion piece about the evolution of friendships one experiences as an adult. Gone are the student days of an abundant menu of associates with whom we might forge satisfying social bonds. Rather, as adults, with numerous demands and obligations that sap our days and our energy, we must triage efforts to forge and maintain current comradeships.

Part of re-booting requires us to identify and examine our longstanding beliefs about “the ways things should be.”  Recognition of such assumptions is elusive and typically can extend all the way back to childhood—beliefs we absorbed from our families or fairytales, films or fantasy: All grown ups get married and have children. Boys don’t cry. Displaying indifference is cool. A fancy home or car proves you’ve succeeded. Divorce is the worst thing that can happen. We’re all born sinners.  It’s embarrassing not to have a college degree. This assessment of longstanding beliefs ranges from our primary relationship with our self (do I even like who I am?), to that with our God or view of the universe, to our spouse or partner or lack thereof, our children and extended relatives, our coworkers and colleagues, and (usually) lastly…our friends.

Too often, for those of us even brave enough to review these convictions, distress descends in the form of a variety of realizations including that we have far fewer active friendships than we imagined. Or those we considered close and longstanding, moored in our youth, have drifted further than we realized, no longer providing us with the sustenance we seek. Alas, none of this is a surprise or anyone’s “fault.” We’ve changed; so have they.

The comforting hearth fires of familiarity have cooled. Sure, with effort, we can stir the embers and find the occasional spark, but mostly, what remains is the pang of loss. The hilarious jokes that bonded us in high school are insufficient to bridge the evolution of ourselves as adults, leaving us with less in common than before. Their passionate commitment to X is of no appreciable interest to us.

We’ve run out of things to say.

Which leaves us with a choice: either we find a way to forge a new, adult friendship with these people based on current commonalities or make peace with the fact that hazy sentimentality is the shaky basis for any future interactions. And for those who desire no more than this from their associations, this is a fine way to go.

However, others of us who have premised our idea of friendship on mythologies such as best buddies-for-life, this drifting can create anguish. Puzzled and somewhat panicked by the prospect of finding ourselves unmoored without compadres, many adults either withdraw into the comforting excuse of their family/career or begin a desperate campaign of speed dating with whomever they can find, hoping to recapture that imagined sense of brotherhood from years gone by. (No matter that we were far less discerning in those days.)

This is not to say that we can’t forge lifelong bonds, because of course, we can and do; it’s just that, like any longstanding relationship, it requires effort and a continual refreshing process: you can still be tight with your best friend from seventh grade, but the two of you, together, have moved onto current day interests.

Listen up: adult friendships are forged and exist on an entirely different plane than they did in childhood. This is what nobody told us. A child’s definition of friendship should not be the one we utilize as mature adults. Think about it: you don’t still wear the clothes you wore at 12; even if they might fit, they’d look ridiculous & people would wonder what was going on inside your noggin’. They’re inappropriate for who you are now. Why would it be any different for other aspects of your life?

Fear not! My thesis is not nearly as bleak as it sounds. Rather, by opening yourself up to a patchwork approach—friends with whom you discuss books or politics or children or sports; friends you only see under rarified circumstances; friends who share a similar view on your industry—you evolve into more of a “free agent” where satisfactory interactions come in spurts versus one steady, single, unsustainable stream. My point is this: as you evolve, it is crucial that your needs and expectations evolve, too. Clinging to an outdated model of what a friendship is “supposed” to look like will keep you anchored in dissatisfaction.

Embrace the new normal; adapting to current circumstances is part of your work.

Homework assignment: list 3 examples of people you know who insist on certain outmoded ideals or standards and this stubbornness only results in their unhappiness. Where, in your life, might you cling to an outmoded definition of “how things should be”?

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3 Responses to “An Evolution of Thought”

  1. Julie Crispin Says:

    I think you are right in so much of this post, Rett. Having friendships as a adult requires a lot more work than it did when we were younger, but isn’t cool to see how we have all changed, and hopefully matured?

  2. Julie Crispin Says:

    And I finally figured out how to follow you!

  3. grasshopper Says:

    thank you for this post. It hit on a lot of things that I definitely relate to. The hardest one is for us to realize how much of life is about change, and learning to let go and embrace the flow. We are constantly changing, more than we realize, and it sometimes catches us by surprise when we wake up in the morning for example and look into our closet and wonder “where did all of the good clothes go?”
    it’s a silly example, but true. one day an outfit was our favorite, the next we find that it somehow doesn’t look the same on us, even though it still fits. Of course, it might not necessarily be exactly from one day to the next, but it will feel like that to us. Relationships on every level are in a constant state of evolution, and the ones that are not open to transformation will eventually have to become a part of the past. We must always grow and never be stagnant. And the trick, as you point out, is to learn to embrace this as a positive, as something healthy rather than negative.

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