It has rightly been observed, “friends are not luxuries, they are necessities”. Friends are the glue that holds our lives together. Friends can be a source of self-esteem, affection and good times. Studies have shown that people with friends live longer and children with friends do better in school.
We often take our friends for granted. Right through our journey of life we deal with friends, often little realizing how powerful and positive friendships can be. Friends indeed play a crucial role in our lives.
‘Friendshifts’ is a newly coined word in English that indicates the way our friendships change as we go from one stage of our life to another, or even relocate from one school, job, neighborhood or community to another. For example, I am still in touch with some of my old classmates in school, though we are living in different cities spread all over the world.
As we go on in years, we make new friends – in the neighborhood, at work, in our social circle and so on. But old friends from school or college days still have a special place in our hearts- probably because we spent our formative and impressionable years with them, sharing our future dreams and aspirations. As the old adage goes, “Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver, but the other’s gold.”
The need to form new friends may be caused by a change in interests, a move to another city or neighborhood, a switch of jobs, a promotion to another level or into another profession, the death of old friends or even of a spouse, and so on. Shifting to new friendships can serve current needs, but one can still be connected to old friends who are seen less frequently.
Staying in touch with old friends needs time and effort. My mother unfailingly wishes her old friends on their birthdays and wedding anniversaries and keeps them updated about all of us. Some of them she has not met for the last 35-40 years, but they are in touch through letters and phone calls. People marvel at the way she meticulously keeps in touch with friends all over the globe, but she derives immense satisfaction from it.
The variety of roles that we must play throughout our life – as student, employee, spouse or parent- changes, as does the place that friendship holds in our life. But we still need friends, ranging from casual to close or best friends, and of both genders. Friendship plays a continual role, although at different stages it will be less or more important to our emotional stability, depending on the other primary attachments in our life.
Often an acquaintance may later develop into a friend. However it is important for both acquaintances to want to develop a friendship; if that mutuality is missing, being visible and following up on an initial meeting are futile.
Studies have found that single adults felt more greatly the importance of substitute networks of human relationships that met their needs for intimacy, sharing and continuity. Single persons often have a ‘family’ consisting of several close, unrelated friendships that they have nurtured over the years.
It is vital to keep adding to a friendship network, as friends become unavailable because someone moves or gets totally immersed in a romantic relationship or an all-consuming situation such as a demanding new job. These friendshifts enable you to replenish your network as you always feel connected to at least one close friend.
Marriage is one of the biggest of life’s friendshifts. In addition to the time-consuming commitment to a spouse and adjustment to a new life, marriage means taking on another set of family relationships- in laws, nieces, nephews- and those role relations cut down on the time, and need, for friends. There is also a spouse’s friendship network that will take time to know. Also, spouses become each other’s close friends.
Becoming a parent also involves a friendshift. Young mothers often develop close bonds with other young mothers in a pediatrician's chamber, the park or even at a crèche. I remember, when my daughter Neha was a baby, I became close friends with Karen, who lived upstairs in our flat in Kolkata, and whose baby Harsha was born 2 days before Neha in the same hospital. Both of us used to take the babies out for a stroll in their prams in the evenings and exchange notes about parenting. Karen is in Singapore now and I am in Rourkela but we are in touch and when I visited Singapore a few years back, we met and had a great time. Parents often develop friendships with parents of their kids’ classmates, whom they meet at Parent Teacher Meetings, School functions, birthday parties etc.
Friendship is also crucial for those who are going through divorce or sudden death of a spouse, whatever their age. It is an alternative source of emotional support for them. Such persons are often drawn towards other singles who may be facing similar situations.
How do friends keep in touch, maintaining the contact that is necessary if a friendship is to survive and grow? The best way to keep a friendship evolving is via the telephone and then through letters/e-mails etc. If you are living in the same city, try to meet your friends at least once or twice a month. You may meet over lunch or a cup of coffee, join an exercise group together, do your shopping together, or whatever.
It is important to maintain your valued friendships, despite inconvenience. You can turn a friendship pair into a threesome or a network. You may then find more power in numbers as a way to more easily keep the friendship flourishing. Friendshifts permit friendships to be more or less important to us, depending upon where we are in life, as well as what our friend is going through. The friendship persists, but it shifts.
Friendship between a parent and a child is a very unique type of friendship. My teenage daughter Neha and I are very close friends and she confides everything in me, including which boy she found handsome at a party. Her friends often wonder how she can talk everything under the sun with me, because they are not so free with their parents. Friendshifts especially as a child becomes an adult, allow a parent-child supervisory relationship to shift to more of a friendship.
Thus friendshifts are inevitable; as our lives change, so do our friendships. Moving a friendship to a different level of intensity or frequency, or even letting it fade away, does not diminish what that relationship once gave you. But avoid letting a cherished friendship fade simply because of neglect or poor time management. Since friendship is a voluntary relationship, if you fail to return your friends’ calls or don’t reply to their letters or e-mails, or fail to be there when you are needed, before long they will find other friends to replace you.
Today we have the potential to benefit from the winning and powerful combination of the exalted status of friendship from the Great Friend Approach of the Old World with the advantages of the new Modern Friend Approach. The newer age values old friends and also sees friendshifts as a part of life. We have more relationship choices than our previous generations, so our best, close or casual friendships potentially can benefit from these shifts. While technology may or may not connect us worldwide, friendships will always be the bonds that will continue to connect humanity.
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