One of the unfortunate truths of getting older is that our circle of friends is in danger of shrinking. Our friends develop different circles or or move away or pass away. There may come a morning when you look around and find that no one is there.You may have several concentric circle, with your closest, and generally (but not always) oldest friends in the innermost circle. These are the people you rely on – the ones who share your joys and sadnesses. Some have been in your lives for decades. You share memories. You may rely on a sort of shorthand to communicate. You can often anticipate what they will do or choose. (Yesterday, I had dinner with a friend in this circle and we nailed what the other was going to order for desert.)
The next circle is made up of people who you see on a regular basis socially or professionally. Perhaps they are part of your religious group or an organization. Many people have church friends who they’ve known for decades. They are supportive and active in each other’s life without quite becoming part of the inner circle. Transition Network Peer Groups, for example, may meet for years, supporting each other between meetings but rarely seeing each other outside of that setting. Members of professional groups like the Financial Women’s Association or the Committee of 200 creates strong bonds of mutual support.
The outer circle is acquaintances. You enjoy their company even though you may not have strong bonds. You are likely to come through for each other in crisis, but otherwise may not be deeply involved in each other’s lives. Our connections at all these levels are a bit like a flower garden. We need to weed, feed, prune and replant if we expect to keep our circle full, strong and healthy. How are your gardening skills?
Weed or Treat
Twice a year, it’s worthwhile to review your circles of friends. Sometimes, the circles have simply gotten too large. Are these people still important to you? Have you maintained an active relationship? If not, is this because you are no longer as interested as you once were? Are these relationships still vibrant and supportive or have they somehow grown toxic. Look around. Some relationships will be fine left on their own – a sort of benign neglect, and others need to go. You may have some weeding to do. Consider toxic relationships first. Some clearly need to be pulled up by the roots and tossed. Some may require treatment – a deep conversation to see if the relationship can be repaired (treated) or simply must go.
If you don’t feed – nurture – your relationships, they will probably fade away. Do a quick review. Who haven’t you seen in a while? Make plans to get together or set aside time for a long call. Put together a small group of friends who will get along – or perhaps are acquainted – and have a meal or an adventure. Think about mixing circles. No matter how you do it, connections that you can’t find time for at least quarterly are in danger of withering and dying.
It’s likely that we all have a couple of very needy friends. they may need to speak with you or even see you daily. Is this what you want? if yes, then there’s nothing that you need to do. Sometimes, though, you may feel choked by a relationship that has wrapped its tendrils around your life. This is when you need to do some judicious pruning. Cut back on those tendrils. Clear out space for you. Pruning relationships is really setting boundaries. It’s letting the other person know that you don’t have time right now, then suggesting another time that works for you. Or being clear about exactly how much time you have. Or letting your voicemail work for you.
Sometimes, there’s a relationship that you value that no longer fits in the same place. I’ve had friends with whom I spent most – if not all – of my free time (and theirs) for a number of years. Then something changed. Sometimes, it was geography. Sometimes, their interests changed. Sometimes their availability. People move away or go back to work and spend more time with work friends or get involved with projects groups. Don’t give up – just replant. Redefine the relationship. Move it to a different part of your garden.
Part of replanting is finding seedlings or cuttings or new plants. Can you expand your circles to include the children or spouses or relatives of your friends? Can you add new people to your circles to reflect your new interests?
If you take the time to care for your friendship garden, you can be like friends of mine who are all well past 50, cherishing their chronological peers as well as those a decade or three younger. After all, variety makes a garden interesting, isn’t it?