The Definition of Friendship


As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun examining the words “friend” and “friendship” more and more. Both words have taken on different meanings to me, multiple meanings, meanings I’m still not quite sure I even understand. Our childhood definition of “friend” has one interpretation- you are my friend, I hang out with you, I call you, I include your name on poorly drawn pictorials of my life where we have huge asymmetrical bodies and small heads. There are no networking friends at this age, no social media friends, nobody that you go out drinking with unless it’s juice boxes on the playground. These are people you care about and enjoy sticking marshmallows in the microwave to see what they do and eat tubs of cake frosting with.

Then we go to high school and the friend definition splits- you have your best friends, your friends you don’t trust, and the friends that you partake in social activities with. That ideology roughly stays the same throughout college and then you enter the work force- then you become and adult- and the terms “friend” and “friendship” go ape shit.

You suddenly have your friends from childhood, your work friends, your drinking friends, your networking friends, your social media friends, you might start considering family members your close friends now, your partner’s friends, the friends you make through your children. All of these people are your friends, but all of them fit into dramatically different friend roles than you were used to as a child.

This year will be my ten year high school reunion. I always thought that I would be excited to return home and catch up with my small and relatively close-knit class. However, I’m discovering now that the time is here, I don’t feel that excitement at all. It’s not that I don’t like the people I went to high school with, it’s just that I don’t know those people anymore and except for all but one, I don’t feel a particular kinship with them. This sad realization led me to analyzing how at 27 I view friendships.

Throughout my 20s and having lived in three states and two major cities, I’ve met a lot of people. These people get placed into different friend categories without conscious intent. Sometimes the friend is accidentally placed in or they nudge their way into a category they don’t belong and it becomes confusing, so, periodically I do something I call “cutting the fat”. I don’t clear out my Facebook friends or make any grand gesture in cutting ties, I just simply decide to reexamine my relationship with certain people and make sure they’re redirected into the correct friend category. I tried explaining this to a young man fresh out of college recently and he couldn’t understand what I was saying. “I’m friends with everyone!” he said to me cheerfully and then I felt like a huge dick for referring to people as lard.

I tried defending myself by saying that once you get older, you’ll realize that you can’t be close friends with everyone, that life is too short to try and devote time to every single person that you meet, that you’d never get anything done otherwise, and that you end up having to become selective. As the words left my mouth, I thought about my views of friendship as a child and wish they still existed.

Living in a town where socializing is the city’s M.O., I’ve been forced to utilize this unfavored ideology more frequently. This behavior has led to disappointment in the past and the awkward task of trying to explain without exactly saying it- “I don’t view our friendship in the same light as you.” When these times occur I’ve had to reassess whether my methodology is appropriate or fair. No one likes being essentially “demoted” in your life. I’ve been quietly downgraded by friends myself- friends in different states who do not reach out unless I’m physically in front of them or friends who used to call and hang out all of the time and now have moved on. I’ve taken these occurrences in stride and understand that as an adult, this is what has to happen. Friendships come and go, or they stay and ebb and flow. Sometimes a friend is with you from the very beginning and all the way to the end or they challenge your patience and understanding. On the homestretch to 30, I guess I need to realize that being selective doesn’t necessarily mean bad. That being a friend can take on different meanings and that managing each relationship to the best of my ability is all I can really do.

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  • Reply Jdel April 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    I totally feel you, and have also reevaluated my friend list over the past couple of years. (it looks like you and i are about the same age – my 10 year reunion is also this year). In college, or shortly after, it's impossible to wrap your mind around the idea of cutting people out, but in your late 20s, it definitely takes on a whole new meaning. Once again, thanks for writing about something that I have been thinking about a lot lately.

  • Reply Christine Macdonald April 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    It's an amazing thing to realize who your true friends are. They are truly the family you choose.

    Great piece as always. 🙂

  • Reply fathima April 14, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Woah, I can totally relate to this. Especially now, through my twenties, I've re-assessed my "friends" so many times and spent so much time pondering the whole idea – who are real friends, who aren't, what is a "real" friend to me, etc, etc. The thing is, I learnt the hard way that when you put too much trust in them, it sometimes backfires if they aren't in the category you thought they were in. If that makes sense.
    Anyway, I've cut out those who aren't contributing to my happiness and feel much better for it.

    Great post 😉

  • Reply Jessica April 14, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Another great post. I went to four elementary schools, two junior highs and two high schools, so to know of people who made and kept friends from childhood is amazing to me.

    I do think about this a lot, especially after turning 30. I try not to let it get me down too much. It's definitely been hard after the cross-country relocation (husband's job). How does an adult, without children and who's unemployed meet/make friends?

  • Reply Breanna Lane April 14, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    I just wrote something very similar to this just the other day. Friendship can be so beautiful.

  • Reply Hipstercrite April 14, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    @Jdel- It's interesting the things you think about at 27 vs. 20 vs. 10. Sometimes we still have the same views of a 10 year-old doing battle with the new things we've learned at 27. It can be challenging to let go of those views from the past.

    @Christine- Yes. This is something I'm realizing the older I get. You're right.

    @Fathima- Sometimes that's what you gotta do. If people in your life are holding you back or making you unhappy, it would be silly to keep them around. As harsh as that sounds…

    @Jessica- I've moved around a few times. When I moved to Austin I knew no one. For a couple of months I had no idea how to make friends. Then I joined a karaoke competition league (no joke) and it opened everything up for me! Gosh…that sounds so cheesy…Ha.

    @Breanna- I will have to check out!

  • Reply Carol April 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    This blog makes me feel guilty that I haven't come to visit you. I'm not a bad friend, just a poor one.

  • Reply Brooke Farmer April 15, 2011 at 12:15 am

    I have only a handful of people I truly consider "friends." Like love, I think the word is used loosely and thrown around.

    Networking friends, work friends and all that? They're really acquaintances.

    The people that I go out of my way to spend time with are friends. The people I know I can count on to support me or call me out on my bullshit or simply be there when the shit hits the fan are friends.

    Oddly, as I am writing this I am realizing that I have a number of people I have never met that I would absolutely count as friends. People who have really been there for me through my blog in the past year. People who had the right words when I was hurting.

    People who sent me thoughtfully written emails about my son when I felt like my heart had been spliced open.

    Maybe my tight definition of friendship isn't right after all.

  • Reply tennysoneehemingway April 15, 2011 at 2:18 am

    Yep, it's just all part of the wonderful world of aging. I have absolutely NO childhood friends and haven't had for years. Whereas my wife still sees, and regularly keeps in contact with, friends from primary school. And we're not all in the same little area either. I think, sometimes, you either want to or you don't. You literally CAN'T be friends with everyone and you have to cull. I usually ask myself if I'm getting anything out of the friendship, or is it merely a habit, or not wanting to be disliked. A few good friends is better than heaps of ok friends.

  • Reply dull boy April 15, 2011 at 6:13 am

    having friendships where feelings of trust, endurance, supportiveness etc are reciprocated is one of life's luxuries.

    (well it is to me)

  • Reply Scott Tammaro April 15, 2011 at 6:40 am

    Your post made me initially think of my Facebook profile where I'm "friends" with a smorgasbord of folk from my life. I told one of my longtime (30+ years) friends that Facebook is like a metaphorical funeral. Everyone I know is in one room.


  • Reply Adria April 15, 2011 at 7:32 am

    So well put. This is something that I've been realizing more and more lately and it is very difficult to organize your life at a time like this.

    I guess this is what "growing up" is all about.

  • Reply Austin Eavesdropper April 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    God, good post Lauren. Not only did I have my high school graduation too this past Fall (and it was funny and awkward and awesome all at once), but I also think a LOT about various friend levels. Sometimes I think it'd be less complicated if we *weren't* social media people.

    Anyway, in your 20s, when we're making so many big life decisions and networking so hard-core, it seems to get particularly jumbled. But knowing you in real life, I think you handle it all very gracefully. You're someone a lot of people WANT to be friends with. 🙂 But for me, I like having at least 1-2 old, old friends, who knew me when I was dorkier and more unsure. I meet people now that I've gotten it more together, and they think it's always been this way. I'm sure it's the same for you, too. But the friends from way back when who saw you falling on the playground, or taking your first sip of alcohol, or getting dumped by a boy … I love them because there's no networking involved. Our history binds us.

    Also? I freaking love the picture you picked out for this post.

  • Reply "M" April 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    I think this is something we all think about as we get older. It's definitely been on my mind… especially last year when I had to really examine a certain relationship and whether or not it was toxic. It was. Great post.

  • Reply Mister Fifths April 15, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    its tough getting used to this, whether you're the friend doing the demoting or the friend being demoted. after you reach 30 and all your friends start having kids, this trend only accelerates. It's both maddening and refreshing. Dig your blog.

  • Reply James Morningstar April 16, 2011 at 3:18 am

    Yeah, I like the way you point out that a "friend" in one context is not necessarily a friend in others.

    Since my cancer diagnosis, I've learned a hard lesson about friends and levels of friendship.

    Some of those I've known forty-plus years seem the least concerned about my continued longevity and some of those who seemed casual friends at best have gone beyond the call to assure my well-being.

    It's so easy to take friends for granted, thus it is also quite easy to be taken for granted as well.

    Kinda makes me sad but in the end it all really matters not at all.

  • Reply YoungUrbanAmateur April 16, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Oh man, this is definitely a subject worth writing about. I definitely feel what you're saying about how we kind of want to have the old kind of friendships, but our lives just aren't totally oriented for it. The bright side of that is that, post-college, we end up making more friends with people who we have SPECIFIC things in common with instead of people who we just ended up playing on the jungle gym with or smoking weed with (to capture the whole 1-22 year old experience in one sentence).

    Liking what @AustinEavesdropper said about wanting people who were friends with you when you were more of a dork. I think that's huge. Some ppl from that era will still relate to you like you're that dork, so the ones who knew you then but still respect you really stand out as people who "get" you.

  • Reply squareonenotes April 16, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Well thought out and well written, as usual. I think as we get older there will be even more revelations about relationships…how we value them and how they evolve. Growing up is interesting, isn't it?

  • Reply Murr Brewster April 17, 2011 at 7:24 am

    God, I hope 30 isn't really the homestretch.

  • Reply Armand Cordero April 19, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    So nice to read this in words instead of have it play over and over in no particular order in my head. Very clearly put. I graduated from university last year and so much has changed since then. I never thought I would drift away from certain people but I have. I didn't mean to, but like you said and I agree with you, I wouldn't be able to get anything done if I was to spend all my time keeping in contact. Since uni, I've slowly stopped using facebook. Just a decision I made one day. Literally I woke up and thought now more facebook. I don't mind twitter, it's less demanding. My closest friends I'll either see in person, talk to on the phone or text. Anyhow, since Christmas I've reflected alot about how friendships evolve and realised it's just how life is. And just to accept change and see it as a good thing. Great post

  • Reply Justin Southern April 21, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Just found your blog and I'm really enjoying it. I was thinking about some of my own friendships while reading this post, and I started writing this really long comment in response, but the more I wrote the more I realized I wanted to say. I'll probably post it on my own blog now, but I thought I'd let you know that it was a thought-provoking entry. So thanks. I'll start reading this more!

  • Reply laurenne April 21, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    I totally hear you on the friends thing. I think the 20s are a time when we finally realize what good friends are.
    BUT… I also have to say how cool it was to go to my reunion and be with people who knew me when I was figuring out who I was. Even though those times seem horrifying and not you at all, it's nice to laugh about them with people who were in your same boat at the time. So fun!!!

  • Reply Julie May 20, 2012 at 5:06 am

    As I was reading this I thought to myself. Wow this person is only 27. You sound very smart for your age. Most people (like myself) can take years to learn this lesson.

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