A friend of mine recently left her current place of work in favour of new challenges, people and closer proximity. While the new position is as exciting as it is challenging my friend was unprepared for the wave of sadness that swept over her when it came time to say her final goodbyes to each of her colleagues.
She took a selfie with each of them as a memento and wrote something positive she had taken away from knowing each person. It was touching when she realized how much time and energy she had actually unwittingly placed into these people and grieved the loss of the friendships.
Of course, I was quick to outline that she would be meeting wonderful new friends soon. (And in hindsight, quick to dismiss perhaps the feeling she was trying to express instead of hearing her. Sorry!) I was also fast to reassure her that if these people meant so much to her, there was always the option, possibility, and hopeful probability that the friendships would flourish outside of work and she could keep in touch with them if she wanted to. The question was – were these people friends, or was she grieving the missed opportunity to make these people actual friends?
My friend was able to articulate that the sadness she felt was in acknowledgement of the death of these relationships and something she had always known but never articulated – these friendships had a shelf life. That shelf life was about to expire. It was the workplace that brought them together and the commonality that kept them together as a team. While they knew much about each other and their personal lives, the glue as she knew it was the employment. The team work. The politics. The morning teas and yes, the send-offs. They were friends in a context, but that chapter was coming to a close.
It is testament to her journey to mention that this is the first send-off she has had. Her previous jobs have not always ended on such positive terms and it is an important thing to mention that maintaining positive workplace relationships through all the diversity that work can create is character building and takes a developed maturity.
So why, when we know deep down that some friendships have a shelf life, do we not acknowledge it, change it or question it at the time? These could be work friendships, church friendships, club or gym membership friendships, community or school friendships, mother’s group friendships or any number of other circumstances whereby our friendships with these people, however close, rely on the commonality of meeting at a certain time for a certain purpose and don’t allow for much change.
I follow a wonderful friendship writer called Shasta Nelson from www.girlfriendcircles.com and she recently released a blog/video about this concept. You can view it here. While this post is specifically aimed at mothers, she has some extremely valid points about what she coins as the 5 circles of friendship.
Shasta explains her classifications of friendships. Circle 1, on the left is for acquaintances. People who you are friendly with and may describe as a friend, but with whom you don’t share much personal information or spend much time. Circle 2 is where I imagine my friend’s workplace friends belong. People in this circle meet regularly for specific reasons and we can fall victim to assuming that this, combined with the sharing that happens when we meet make us good or close friends. Certainly we value these relationships. However we fail to acknowledge that when the common thing such as the employment ends, so too will the friendships. Circle 3 is for people with whom you are too intimate to ever be casual, but there is not enough consistency for you to really be close either. Circle 4 is for people you are expanding. This is important, because this is what you do with circle 2 people if they are important enough for you to acknowledge the shelf life before the expiry date and change it. This is when you expand the people from circle 2 into your life. You start to make connections and associations with one another outside of the commonality that brought you together. If done correctly some of these people may move into circle 5 for your best and closest friends. These are the people who practice the most consistency and vulnerability which leads to her ultimate goal of Frientimacy. (This is the title of her book, which I highly recommend!) The book has this simple but amazing formula that consistent time and vulnerable sharing and commitment to that continuation is the secret to friendship. Really simple when you think about it! Wow.
Anyway, I digress. Shasta also mentions in the above mentioned video that it is healthy to have friendships in all the circles and some that stay there, but that we also need to be mindful of our expectations of each group. We cannot expect friends from group 2 to value and know us the way friends in group 5 do, nor can we expect friends in group 5 to relate to us on the things we share with group 2. If we don’t keep these expectations in check, we may find ourselves feeling disconnected from everyone which she outlines is extremely bad for our health and wellbeing.
If you can relate to this and find yourself wondering if your friends are actually your friends and if the friendships have a shelf life, perhaps it is time to start expanding and practicing your friendships in a different context before it is too late!
Your Best Friend ForNever