Is it OK for Friendships to Fall Away

I walked into a lot of new lunchrooms as a kid. I went to nine different schools between kindergarten and senior year. At each new place, I found myself in a familiar place – my eyes dancing around looking for kindred spirits. Fortunately, I always found some. But months later I would find myself in another familiar place: the painful place of saying goodbye.

My childhood friendships were always for a season. They were made for a time and a specific place. For a certain age.

As a military child, I didn’t choose this manner of friendship, though I’m finding the same rhythm of life exists too as an adult, especially in a transient city like Washington, D.C. Seasons come and go, and friendships do too – even when you stay in one place.

I was talking with a friend last week who mentioned an awkward interaction she had with a long-time friend. In the schedule shifts and life changes, they hadn’t found a way to stay connected that felt natural. On this particular week, they had run into each other and exchanged pleasantries - “Oh your kids are so big! And she’s walking now? And what days are your kids in preschool?”

Then, they turned away from each other and went on in their daily routines.

I sensed guilt in my friend’s reflection. Should I be more proactive? Is she mad at me for not making more effort? Maybe I should invite her over?

Season shifts aren’t for the faint at heart. They can be harsh, turning schedules upside down and – for a moment – causing everyone a bit of panic until we can last exhale and settle in. As a parent, I notice these changes even more. Maintaining friendships through those changes becomes, well…hard.

Though I didn’t see it then, I know now that a unique advantage of being a military child is that I can easily link memories with ages and places. Cemented next to the mental reels of childhood are the friends I had then. The life lessons I learned are intrinsically connected to them. When I look back, I can’t help but see God’s fingerprints all over my friendships. They worked in bigger ways than I could imagine.

Yet, they were only for a season. And the compounding value of those friendships only started when I said goodbye. Friends manage to be a part of us, even when they are no longer a part of our everyday lives.

I’ve lived in the Washington, D.C. area for ten years now – the longest I’ve ever spent in any one city. As an adult, I’ve invested in friendships that I know are for life. Lifetime friendships are formed in all kinds of ways. For me, they are formed in the in-betweens: the friends who get me from one season to the next, whether they are near or far away.

But there are other friendships who exist for a season, and who naturally seem to fall away when transition comes. Is that ok?

I think so.

Are they any less meaningful?

Absolutely not.

Eventually, life changes will force many of us to close a chapter on a friendship. Our children will experience these changes too, as they switch schools, move neighborhoods, or end extracurricular activities. As parents, we can help our children navigate these changes by helping them identify what they love about their friends and brainstorm creative ways to keep in touch in the new season. Our attitude and response to our own friendships become models for them.

So what will we choose to do next? That’s up to us. We can choose to let change hover over us with guilt, hanging on to what our friendship once was. Or we can choose to extend gratitude for what the friendship was and give that friend a new place of honor in our lives.

And for that, I offer a simple prayer: “Thank you for bringing my friend into my life in this season. I learned so much about myself, about You, and how to be a better friend. Help me to take what I’ve learned to other friendships. And when I think about her, let me be filled with gratitude for the way You provided in that season.”

Jessica Mancari is a speechwriter and executive communications director for a leading trade association in Washington, D.C. She believes truth can tell beautiful stories, for which her family provides the best content of all. Jessica lives in Arlington, VA and attends National Community Church's Potomac Yard campus.