Where do they go?
Are they hiding?
Or are we just not looking hard enough?
I’ve occasionally browsed through the long list of faceless names in my phone, or the endless string of nameless faces in my photos. Sometimes I wonder what happened to those people who were once such a seemingly enormous part of my life. And sometimes, sadly, I just wonder who the hell they are. But one of the hardest things to understand and accept, is when we look back and remember those people perfectly, remember how close we once were, even sometimes remember the last few times we saw or spoke to them, but can’t quite put a finger on why they aren’t a part of our lives anymore. Sometimes we know exactly why we don’t speak and realise what a shame that is, because the reason for broken contact was never a good enough excuse to leave them in the past.
A study showed that those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60% (anapsid.org). In another study, women suffering from depression saw “volunteer friends” regularly throughout the year. 72 % had a remission in depression. That’s about the same success rate as antidepressants. (psychologytoday.com)
You will go through 396 friends in a lifetime but will have only 33 at any one time. (flatrock.org). That means only 1 in 12 of your friendships will stand the test of time. Out of the 33, only 6 are considered to be close friends while the 27 are social friends i.e. workmates or drinking buddies. On average, most friendships – even very good ones – last only seven years. But several studies have shown that, at least between chimpanzees, baboons, horses, hyenas, elephants, bats and dolphins, animals can form friendships for life with individuals that aren’t even from their species. Check out these animal studies here.
Conducted by the Centre for Ageing Studies at Flinders University, a study followed nearly 1,500 older people for 10 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22% – WebMD
Having friends helps us to live a longer, happier life. Science says so, and the rest of the animal kingdom are clearly figuring it out. So why do we ‘intelligent humans’ find ourselves looking back on our lives and occasionally realising that some of these life enhancing relationships are missing, and have been for some time?
Maybe the first question should really be,
Why were we friends in the first place?
Oxford English Dictionary Definitions
A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations: she’s a friend of mine / we were close friends
A person who is not an enemy or opponent; an ally: she was unsure whether he was friend or foe
A contact on a social networking website: all of a sudden you’ve got 50 friends online who need to stay connected
Wikipedia suggests that characteristics of a friendship include affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, altruism, mutual understanding and compassion, enjoyment of each other’s company, trust, and the ability to be oneself, express one’s feelings, and make mistakes without fear of judgment from the friend.
A best friend is sometimes the equivalent of one soul across two bodies. They are the people with whom we share our thoughts, feelings, successes, failures, secrets, ambitions, fears, hopes, dreams, beer and occasionally, inappropriate shenanigans. This is the best person to safeguard your deepest secret and yet doesn’t misjudge you or disown you for being a few paperclips short of a stationary set.
A friend is a reflection of your character and personality. They can be a great source of inspiration and can take you to new levels. Two people who are on the same wavelength. These rare people come once in a while and can become an asset in your life.
The many factors that influence our fate to meet an acquaintance and decide to become a friend are impossible to capture, but none of the above sounds negative. In fact, friendship sounds, um, kind of nice, right?
So why do we let them go? Especially when we live in a world where it’s so easy to keep in contact.
FRIENDS WERE LIMITED … UNTIL FACEBOOK
In 1993, anthropologist Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford extrapolated for humans the results he obtained studying primate social groups: every individual can only maintain up to 150 significant relationships at the same time. Dunbar didn’t take into consideration the social network explosion.
Is accumulating relationships detrimental to closer friendship ties?
Our friendship memories tend to be selective. Sometimes, after a breakup, the natural tendency is to relegate someone, once close, to the metaphorical spam folder of life. When that happens, we are less likely to include that person on our list of close friends, even when reviewing the ones we lost over time. But that really depends on what type of person you are.
According to a recent study by LinkedIn, 68% of people born after 1980 would sacrifice a friendship for a promotion.
So what’s the link between our personality, and the friendships we choose to keep or lose?
There are only 16 personality types in the world and you are definitely one of them. Here’s the list:
- ISTJ – The Duty Fulfiller
- ISTP – The Mechanic
- ISFJ – The Nurturer
- ISFP – The Artist
- INFJ – The Protector
- INFP – The Idealist
- INTJ – The Scientist
- INTP – The Thinker
- ESTP – The Doer
- ESTJ – The Guardian
- ESFP – The Performer
- ESFJ – The Caregiver
- ENFP – The Inspirer
- ENFJ – The Giver
- ENTP – The Visionary
- ENTJ – The Executive
The verbal title given to each one differs slightly, depending on which site you visit, but the general characteristics of each ‘type’ of person, remains basically the same. If you’re interested, you can take the test and find out which one of these 4 letter codes ‘defines’ you, you can do that here. Personally, I found it shockingly accurate.
I’m going to tell you what this test taught me about my personality type, INFJ, and how I interact in terms of friendships. Maybe interesting reading for those of you who know me well, less so for those who don’t, so you have my permission to skip over this part.
There is a running theme with INFJs, and that is a yearning for authenticity and sincerity – in their activities, their romantic relationships, and their friendships. People with the INFJ personality type are unlikely to go for friendships of circumstance, like workplace social circles or chatting up their local baristas, where the only thing they really have in common is a day-to-day familiarity. Rather, INFJs seek out people who share their passions, interests and ideologies, people with whom they can explore philosophies and subjects that they believe are truly meaningful.
From the start, it can be a challenge to get to know INFJs, as they are very private, even enigmatic. INFJs don’t readily share their thoughts and feelings, not unless they are comfortable, and since those thoughts and feelings are the basis for INFJ friendships, it can take time and persistence to get to know them. Meanwhile, INFJs are very insightful and have a particular knack for seeing beyond others’ facades, interpreting intent and compatibility quickly and easily, and weeding out those who don’t share the depth of their idealism.
In friendship it is as though INFJs are searching for a soul mate, someone who shares every facet of their passions and imagination.
INFJs are often perfectionistic, looking for ultimate compatibility, and yet also look for someone with whom they can grow and improve in tandem. Needless to say, this is a tall order, and INFJs should try to remember that they are a particularly rare personality type, and even if they find someone compatible in that sense, the odds that they will also share every interest are slim. If they don’t learn to meet others halfway and recognize that the kind of self-improvement and depth they demand is simply exhausting for many types, INFJs are likely end up abandoning healthy friendships in their infancy, in search of more perfect compatibilities.
Once a common thread is found though, people with the INFJ personality type make loyal and supportive companions, encouraging growth and life-enriching experiences with warmth, excitement and care. As trust grows, INFJs will share more of what lies beneath the surface, and if those ideas and motives are mutual, it’s the sort of friendship that will transcend time and distance, lasting a lifetime. INFJs don’t require a great deal of day-to-day attention – for them, quality trumps quantity every time, and over the years they will likely end up with just a few true friendships, built on a richness of mutual understanding that forges an indelible link between them.
The reason I include this is because, for me, this has answered the big question – the basis for this vomit of information all over your daily internetting. I now understand why there are people in my past who never made it to my present, and most likely won’t feature in my elaborately over-imagined future. This explains it to me perfectly.
But for the rest of you, who are not ‘INFJs’, or for those who couldn’t be bothered to take the test, I’ll get to the point and answer the question of your lost pals.
But not before another fun fact for the psychologists out there:
A ‘SHOCKING’ EMPATHY STUDY
A group at the University of Virginia studied brain scans from 22 different people who were under threat of receiving small electrical shocks to either themselves, a friend, or a stranger.
Scientists discovered that the brain activity of a person in danger, versus that when a friend is, is essentially the same.
“Our self comes to include who we become close to,” says James Coan, psychologist and director of the study.
“People close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat,” he summarizes.
Coan relates this development to the issue of survival and similarity, which grows as you spend more time with someone.
“Humans come together to prosper. Our goals and resources are shared. If someone is threatening a friend, they’re threatening our resources and goals,” he believes.
Isn’t that sweet!
There are certain connections we make in life which are not exactly the kind of friendships that follow the aforementioned rules and definitions. I’m talking about the temporary residents in our hearts. The ones who seem so close at the time but in hindsight, we realise were so easy to let go of. These people, it’s time to realise, were more than likely friendships of convenience.
These are the friendships that served a purpose at one time in our lives, but once we/they had been worn out and were no longer beneficial to us/them they were savagely ‘fired’ or tactfully ‘let go’, (depends on what industry you work in I guess). They may have shaped a part of our personality, temporarily, or may even have left a lasting mark on us and who we are as a person, but ultimately, for whatever reason, they did not make the grade for the next chapter in our lives. They would have been either disbanded, leaving a void ready for the next convenient body to fill, or immediately replaced, with no time for a shared cup of remorseful tea.
But is it not morally wrong to ‘trade-up’ in our friendships as we change our needs and values in life? Maybe. Does that stop us? No.
If we wanted to follow Aristotle in his philosophies, then these friendships would be considered friendships of ‘utility’ and friendships of ‘pleasure’. That is, I may love my friend because of the pleasure I get out of her, or because of the ways in which she is useful to me. Not ideal grounds for a lasting and loving relationship. But he had another level, a third category for friends, and that was a friendship of ‘virtue’, so, you would find that friend to have a virtuous character. This third category seems to be the one that sticks.
If you love your friend for the pleasure or utility (so, temporary benefit) you get out of them, then surely that’s disregarding all of the values, definitions and characteristics of what a friendship actually is. So they were never truly friendships that would stand the test of time. These friends were fungible (To be fungible is to be replaceable by a relevantly similar object without any loss of value.) By contrast, virtue friendships, because they are motivated by the excellences of your friend’s character, are genuine, non-deficient friendships. Built to last, or non-fungible, because I like my new word.
This is all fine and dandy for the people we already knew were just a temporary convenience in our lives, but what about the ones who we don’t feel this new fungibility (Not an actual word, don’t try and impress people with it) concept applies to? Is there no place for consideration that we may have genuinely felt close to somebody once, and truly didn’t consider them a ‘utility’?
So, without further ado, here are the reasons you’re looking for:
Does your buddy have another buddy? Shame on them! … Not at all, you don’t need to be somebody’s entire life to be one of their favourite parts. Don’t cut ties just because you’re not their one and only pal. Sometimes the little green eyed monster within us makes it difficult to show compassion and to support our friends’ successes in life. It puts us in a frame of mind that means their successes and happiness actually annoys us! What kind of a friend am I if I’m disappointed that my friend is having a good time? If you lost touch with a friend because you got sick of reading about what a good time they’re having on social media, then that’s not true friendship. We have failed to display the affection, sympathy, empathy, compassion and enjoyment of each other’s company characteristics of a friendship. So if that’s the case, were we really friends?
There are times when our own situations make it hard to be there for a friend in their time of need, maybe we just needed to put ourselves first for a while. Sometimes the guilt plagues us and makes it difficult or awkward to get back in touch, so, to avoid confrontation, we just don’t.
Guilt about finding a replacement friend will also stop people from keeping in touch, especially if there were potentially more feelings than just friendship there at one time. Do we just assume they would be hurt by our ‘new friend’ and avoid them? Or are we more worried that the new friend (or more-than friend) will be uncomfortable with the continued friendship with “somebody that we used to know”? We are failing to display honesty, mutual understanding, compassion and trust. So, were we really friends?
You get into a fight and you let too much time pass. Fighting with friends in school was tough, and briefly uncomfortable, but essentially easier to get over because you’d be forced to see each other at school and make up. But in your adult life you’re not forced to see anyone you don’t want to so if you’re not interested in reconciling, it won’t happen. Leave it too long and the idea of reconciliation just becomes awkward, so we don’t. Where’s the affection, mutual understanding and compassion in this friendship? What happened to the enjoyment of each other’s company and the ability to be oneself, express one’s feelings, and make mistakes without fear of judgment from the friend? I guess we just weren’t really friends at all then?
Change of Personality or Behaviour
Did they change? Or was it you? Does it matter? People change. It just happens. But it’s the leading cause of friendship death in your twenties. You don’t know who you are at the age of twenty but you gravitate towards whoever makes the most sense in that moment. Then, as you get more of a handle on yourself and what kinds of people you actually want to surround yourself with, you make necessary changes. You cut the fat. You bid farewell to those who no longer fit. This is perhaps the hardest kind of friendship loss to weather because there’s no one to blame. You both just grew into different people. And when there’s no place to pinpoint blame, the heartache can last longer (source: Ryan O’Connell – Thought Catalogue).
People travel. They move house, they leave the local area, they begin a new life somewhere that’s not close to you, and it makes it difficult to keep in touch. Doesn’t it? With the modern technology of the world we live in, is it fair to banish somebody’s friendship from your present life just because you can’t physically see them anymore?
Change of Schedule
When timing becomes the only factor that stops you from maintaining a relationship with your BFFL… were they really just more of a convenient BFFN?
Change in Values (i.e. family / personal circumstances)
Your friendship was largely pub based and that doesn’t really feel like your thing anymore. You’re growing a family, you have a more demanding career now, or maybe your health is your new priority. For whatever reason, you don’t share the same interests as you used to. I guess it’s not as exciting to hear their stories of the night before, when your night before consisted of bedtime stories and baby vomit or catching up on that report that’s due at midday tomorrow, and probably vice versa. Maybe that friendship was really just situational?
An Active Decision that we Don’t Want that Friend Anymore
Jennifer, who lived in a large urban area, no longer wanted to see her friend Bob because his 21-year-old son was a heroin addict.
“I started to see how his son was abusing him. His son lied to him and constantly asked for money. The last straw was Father’s Day — Bob was so excited, it was all he talked about,” she says.
Bob planned a nice dinner and then his son didn’t show up. Jennifer felt that her friend was being spineless with his son and is seriously considering ending the friendship because it’s painful for her to watch him be mistreated.
“It makes me wonder how I can proceed unless I see that he’s getting some support for himself. It’s very hard to be friends with someone like that. Bob is a special soul, and he adds a lot to my life,” Jennifer says, so ending the friendship is not something she would do lightly. “But at the end of the day, are you being a friend to yourself by standing by someone in this predicament?”
It can be hard to watch somebody you care about put themselves through misery every day without it affecting your own frame of mind. Your friend may need support, but it’s getting to the point where their behaviour is leaving you in need of support too! Maybe we should just look after number 1?
Alternatively, maybe they were just toxic bitches that you’re glad you don’t associate with anymore. Getting wrapped up in gossiping about other people is a true sign that you are miserable and lonely on the inside. Breaking free of these kinds of ties is a healthy way to stop their combined group misery from sucking you in and getting you down, pretending to be happy with them. The chances are they’ll bitch about you once your back is turned, but who cares, at least you’re happy now!
Statistics are no substitute for judgment. – Henry Clay
Mental Illness or Laziness
If you read everything above, and still feel there are people missing and you’re not quite sure why you let them go, then this is the category for you! You’re either too lazy or too crazy to pick up the phone, write that email or drop them a Facebook message to say Hey and see how they’re plodding along. I’m sure they’d be surprised to hear from you and would realise they could have made the effort sooner too. Or maybe they’ll read it and have a perfectly good reason not to want to speak to you. Can’t hurt to find out though.
So which one are you?
Have you only lost people who weren’t really meant to be in your life anyway? Or are you just a nutter who spent the last 20 minutes reading a blog about why you have no friends instead of writing them a quick hello?
Pick up the phone
You might live longer
Primary statistics and information source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (First published Tue May 17, 2005; substantive revision Fri Jun 21, 2013)