THE BLOG

So, What's Your Situation?

17/11/2014 14:08 GMT | Updated 17/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Most recently, when I reached out to a friend who didn't respond, I got thinking about purely situational friendships. What are they really? How do we recognise them and accept them for what they are ... or were? Without answering these questions, we often waste a lot of time trying to stoke a fire that has died out. Brr, that's cold.

I don't know about you, but I prefer warm and cosy to cold and uptight. No contest. Still, figuring out whether a friendship is hot or cold can be tricky, particularly with so many varying levels of friendship. Let's face it, even the best of friends can wander off, but that's totally different from never returning.

Nowadays, with an ocean between us, some of my friends and I have to make a huge conscious effort to keep our friendship warm. Fortunately, however, we tend to understand whatever level our friendship is at, whether it is a best friend forever (BFF) relationship, or a close-acquaintance friendship, which might mean not seeing one another for years, but still somehow keeping the friendship constant. Not to mention the many friendships that sit somewhere in between.

Whatever the level of friendship, however, and regardless of how often the fire is stoked, what matters is that it is maintained electively, that a commitment is in place for the duration. This is the major difference in a lasting friendship and a purely situational one.

These types of friendships are rarely, if ever, elected. Bear with me. I know the old saying, too, that although we don't choose our family, we choose our friends. Maybe, but only to a certain degree, especially when we are younger, because after all, most friendships, if not all of them, hail from a situation, be it the situation of school, work, the gym, church, the hair salon, common friends, pushy parents, etc.

For example, in the circumstance of school, we have a limited pool to choose from in the first place. It all depends on where we live, what type of school we attend, and so on. Sure we hang out with the folks that we have the most in common with, and if we are lucky enough to be a top athlete or a popular student, we become friends with people who have different interests, too.

Then, at university, work etc. we continue to choose our friends from specific situations, but interestingly enough, we begin to make lifelong friends for two simple reasons. First, by the time we reach this life stage we have a bigger, more diverse pool to choose from. And next, most of us start making a conscious choice about who to befriend.

I know I did. When I was a young reporter, I remember seeing another young reporter and thinking, what a nice girl. I think I'll introduce myself to her. And so I did, and all these years later, we are still friends.

Then a few years later, while working in New York, I spotted my BFF and thought she looks like a really nice person; someone I'd like to befriend. And so I did, again. Of course, over the years, in each of these situations, we have chosen to stay in touch, and in each case, at different levels, but whatever the level, a lasting friendship has its own constant component, which requires conscious effort. Purely situational friendships don't have this.

That's why most times, when the situation ends, the friendship ends too, though physical distance is not the real deal-breaker. As mentioned earlier, many of my friends live in the US. It's psychic distance, or the lack thereof, that severs ties. If people don't get into each other's emotional space, they don't really get to know each other.

And quite frankly, few of us confide in and trust people we don't really know. We shy away from them, sometimes feeling alien or alienating them, causing the friendship to feel empty. Again, brr! Best to recognise purely situational friendships for what they are, and even celebrate them. Why not? Some of my most memorable friendships have been purely situational, getting us both through the best and worst of times at school, work, during an event, and so on.

But often when such friendships end, they end rather badly, like a romance gone sour. Over the years, I have learned that not honouring purely situational friendships with closure leaves them existing in the subconscious mind. Not only does this bind us to the past, but often it does so negatively, when most of the memories are likely to be positive, even if there are plenty of growing pains to remember.

Of course, social media puts us back in touch with old friends, but being in touch is totally different from being in a constant friendship. The key point is: there is a difference between having a purely situational friend and having a friend that evolves from a situation. In the case of the former, there isn't a long term commitment, and in the latter situation, there is.

Since becoming an expat nearly seventeen years ago, another thing I've learned for sure is that lasting friendships do not require day-to-day nurturing. If this was necessary, all of my friends, even the ones here, would have dumped me over the last few weeks for sure, as I have seemingly done nothing but meet deadlines.

But what lasting relations do require is choosing to make a conscious effort, whatever the situation might be. Case in point: there goes the phone. It's that friend I've been trying to catch up with. That's life ... even in constant friendships.