“I may not always be there with you, but I will always be there for you.”
“If we would build on a sure foundation in friendship, we must love our friends for their sakes rather than for our own.”
– Charlotte Brontë
I had a close friend who I recently learned I wasn’t really friends with anymore. It took me completely by surprise because I thought we were still close but he thought we were barely acquaintances anymore. We’d never had any fights or any real disagreements. All that happened was time.
Him and I went to school together and then moved to the same city for studying. I became a property developer while he became a garden landscape designer. We got busier and started speaking and seeing each other less and less frequently. Today we maybe meaningfully see each other once a year, if that. But that’s enough for me to think we’re close but not for him. The core difference is I think we had different mental models of what it meant to have a close friendship.
A mutual friend of ours said it best. He said that to me I think of friendship like a property person so a friendship is like a house. You spend time with someone and over enough time and deep and meaningful interactions, you’ve built an emotional connection. Each interaction is like a brick that is added to that relationship and forms the foundations of it to build a house. You can leave for periods of time and come back and still have the walls of the house standing and the relationship in the same position as you left it.
Time and work had been spent building the walls upto this height and the foundation is strong enough to withstand not adding more bricks to it for periods of time without affecting it. This is why I can sometimes not see someone for many years but the moment we’re in the same place it clicks and was like nothing had ever changed.
But to my friend on the other hand, he thinks of friendship like a garden. When you spend time with someone and have meaningful interactions that this is like planting seeds and watering the garden. Each interaction is emotionally nourishing and cause the garden to grow and flourish and for the friendship to develop closeness. When you water the garden a lot it grows into something beautiful. The person needs to feel the closeness regularly to feel as if the garden is healthy and growing.
But if you spend time away from the garden, it starts to feel the lack of watering. And if you go too much time without watering it then it might die out entirely. This is why he can grow an intensely close friendship with a lot of emotional intimacy with people very quickly. But to keep it alive and active, you have to dedicate time and effort to maintaining it for it to bear fruit.
That analogy was an insightful one. Partially because it ties into what we both do professionally but also because I think it perfectly captures it. Life happens and people get older and busier. Something I’ve found to be really helpful is to ping my friendships by having explicit conversations outlining where we stand and how we feel about each other.
House people need to know when they’re dealing with garden people. So they don’t come back after time away expecting to see a sturdy house only to see a dead garden. And garden people need to know they’re dealing with a house person so as to plant flowers that need less water. That the lack of regular water isn’t because of neglect.