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“This is one thing I really want to tell you,” Rawlins says. “Friendships are always susceptible to circumstances. If you think of all the things we have to do—we have to work, we have to take care of our kids, or our parents—friends choose to do things for each other, so we can put them off. They fall through the cracks.”
“Adults feel the need to be more polite in their friendships. So we stop expecting as much, which is kind of a sad thing.”
After young adulthood, he says, the reasons that friends stop being friends are usually circumstantial—due to things outside the relationship itself. One of the findings from Langan’s “friendships rules” study was that “adults feel the need to be more polite in their friendships,” she says. “We don't feel like, in adulthood, we can demand very much of our friends. It's unfair, they've got other stuff going on. So we stop expecting as much, which to me is kind of a sad thing, that we walk away from that.” For the sake of being polite.
But the things that make friendship fragile also make it flexible. Rawlins’ interviewees tended to think of their friendships as continuous, even if they went through long periods where they were out of touch. This is a fairly sunny view—you wouldn’t assume you were still on good terms with your parents if you hadn’t heard from them in months. But the default assumption with friends is that you’re still friends.
“That is how friendships continue, because people are living up to each other’s expectations. And if we have relaxed expectations for each other, or we’ve even suspended expectations, there’s a sense in which we realize that,” Rawlins says. “A summer when you’re 10, three months is one-thirtieth of your life. When you’re 30, what is it? It feels like the blink of an eye.”
Perhaps friends are more willing to forgive long lapses in communication because they’re feeling life’s velocity acutely too. It’s sad, sure, that we stop relying on our friends as much when we grow up, but it allows for a different kind of relationship, based on a mutual understanding of each other’s human limitations. It’s not ideal, but it’s real, as Rawlins might say. Friendships is a relationship with no strings attached except the ones you choose to tie, one that’s just about being there, as best as you can.