The No-Longer-Friends Formula

A couple of years ago I was given a friendship formula: Someone is a friend once you’ve hung out twice a month for three months.

I’m wondering now if there’s is a reverse equation. Is there a specific length of absence  that says “we are no longer friends?”

There are some people I see and chat with once a week, at the gym for instance, who I wouldn’t call friends. And then there are people who I talk to once every four months, and see even less, who I do call friends.

A lot of that is history, of course. The friends I never talk to are still friends because of our shared past. We’ve been through stuff together, so they’ve earned the Friend title.

But what of the friends I don’t talk to anymore, and don’t expect to? At what point do they go from “friend” to “friendish person” to “a girl I was once friends with.”

To me it’s a year. If I haven’t spoken to someone (via phone or email) or seen her in a year, I’ll usually go from saying “we are good friends” to “we were good friends.” Twelve months might seem like a long stretch, but things get busy and sometimes months can go by before you realize you haven’t spoken to someone you consider near and dear.

These aren’t the friendships that end due to a blow-up or any other conscious decision, of course. In those instances, it’s quite clear when the friendship is kaput. I’m talking about the relationships that quietly fade. The ones that make you think “Huh, I guess we aren’t friends anymore.”

Even thinking about this makes me want to run to the phone. I don’t want to lose friend status with anyone just because we’ve been in a communication rut!

So what do you think? Is there a formula for no-longer friends?

Attention Nashville! I’ll be reading at Parnassus Books on Thursday, April 12 at 6:30 pm. Hope to see you there!


Filed under The Search

26 responses to “The No-Longer-Friends Formula

  1. Sometimes it takes soundless time and separation to realize, once I meet up with an old “friend” a year later, that we didn’t have much in common at all in the past- you know, those fluffy, vacuous conversations that just awkwardly die off after exchanging “how are you”s. But then again, I will always have friends who I may not have spoken to in years who I’ll always be away to have a fine banter with, let alone the volumes of things to talk about when we’re catching up. As for other people who fall between those two categories I roughly defined, I agree that give or take 8 months to a year, and they quietly become “used-to-be” friends.

  2. I really like this question. Very thought provoking. I don’t know if there is a formula, but I do know a way to test out where you are at. If you call (no matter how long it’s been) and you can talk and pick up just where you left off like it’s yesterday, then time doesn’t matter. Hope that helps.

  3. I don’t think time really has anything to do with it. I have a group of friends I’ve known for a couple of decades with whom I catch up very rarely – in times it has been well over a year – but we seem to pick up exactly where we left off. Other times we have spurts of seeing each other regularly. It often depends what else is going on in our lives, but our ability to pick up and carry on like there’s been no gap at all is very precious to me.

  4. Sisyphus47

    Tend to agree with the Spinster! Time may not be a factor at all, but then we do change, it’s not just the friendship that lapses, but us becoming different? 🙂 A very good post B-)

  5. Shellbell

    I tend to agree with both of the posts above. It’s not time that affects friendships, it’s more likely the subtle changes we go through in our lives as time passes… having children while other’s don’t… children moving on to high school, moving out of the same job circles, or just generally growing apart. Friends are with us either for a reason or for a season.

    • I totally agree with life changes being a big factor. I just blogged about that last week. There are some friendships that can pick up after any amount of time, at any stage in life, and feel the same. And then there are some where your similar lifestyles were the base for your friendship, and they are just there for a season. I know getting married changed friendships for me, I can only imagine you’re right about having children.

  6. Just like the comments above, I don’t think time matters with friendships, nor does the frequency of communication. I’m very close to my high school friends. Even though we only get together several times a year (to celebrate each one’s birthdays), we still have those random Facebook wall posts and Twitter mentions. I guess it’s more of the common interests, as well as the care we have for our friends. I actually realize that I’m not friends with someone anymore when I either forgot to greet them on their birthdays – and see those birthday posts on his/her wall the next time I check Facebook! – or their names didn’t come to my mind as I write down my Christmas gift list.

  7. Christina

    I would say the “no longer friends” determination is when you go through your cellphone and email address books and you think… “Hmmm… we don’t have much in common anymore.” and then you hit the button, DELETE and they are gone from your life for good.

  8. My mother in law told me once that there are friends of the road and friends of the heart. Friends of the road are people that mean a lot at some point of life and then later fade into the background as you change and grow. Friends of the heart are people who you love deeply, no matter how long its been since you have spoken. I love that way of defining it.

  9. Sometimes I am HOPING that if I stay quiet long enough, the other person will realize we are no longer friends and stop liking/ commenting every single thing I ever post on Facebook! LOL

  10. I generally don’t use the term “were freinds” unless there has been a falling out of some sort. It kind of implies that not only are you not friends anymore, but that you no longer like that person. To me, “were freinds” has little to do with not talking anymore, and more about growing into people that don’t like each other much.

    I’ll use the term “old friend” or “friend from [insert time period here]” for friends I may not have spoken to in a long time.

  11. Karen/So Fla

    Had to really think about this one…because it’s difficult for me to think of someone as a friend if they cannot find even a moment to email, call or something to keep in touch. They then fall into the catagory of acquaintence…someone I know. A friend to me is someone that is an active part of my life..even if it’s a small part.

  12. I was relieved, and considered it to be a significant signal that times, they had changed, when people at church FINALLY stopped asking me, “Hey, how’s ____?”, “Have you talked to ____lately?” I had spent loads of time with ____, and it was obvious that we were very good friends, but when she vanished on me, it took a while, but people did eventually realize that I didn’t know any more than they did, and they stopped asking. I think that’s when I knew the friendship had turned a sharp corner.

  13. I blogged about friendship today then I saw your post. My thoughts have been about the difference between “friends” and “tribe & family”. I think friends come and go like seasons regardless of how much time you spend together. Some people have become my “tribe & family” and no amount of time apart seems to change our deep connection and ability to simply pick up where we left off. I wish I knew the equation for the transition of friend into tribe & family!

  14. Cracking post. I think a year sounds about right, although if anyone does get in touch, I know I’ll always be there for them if they’re really stuck. Some friends I have who are dear to me, I only speak/text to every few weeks, but we pick up where we left off. But I do think if it starts to stretch to months without communication, the friendship – bit like a marriage, really – does suffer.

  15. Amy

    I am going to JUST miss you in Nashville! I’m bummed!!

  16. lawyerchik1

    Yes. When your former BFF doesn’t return a phone call or email, and someone who actually is friends with your former BFF, whom you haven’t heard from in a while, tells you “I understand that you and [former BFF] had a fight….” Hm. I guess we’re not friends anymore.

    I like Renee’s distinction, too – friends of the road and friends of the heart. 🙂

  17. Rachel:

    I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your book (which is how I found your blog). As a person living in her “second city,” it offered valuable insight into friend making in addition to being an incredibly engaging and fun read. I’m recommending it to all my friends in similar positions and buying it as a big hint to my lil sis to get out there and make some new girlfriends.

    On the topic of fading friendships, I like your one year rule, although there are some friends I’ve lost touch with for years and then we reconnect and that friendship spark is blazing once again. I generally use the “trust your gut” approach. If you haven’t connected in a while and distance or life changes aren’t a factor and you really sit and think about it, you can usually detect whether you’ve drifted because of life busyness or because maybe you just aren’t such a good friend fit anymore. Sad, but that makes room for more friends, right?


  18. Krystal

    I’ve been wondering this same question myself. I have a friend who I went from seeing once a week for a couple of years and now I haven’t seen her in 7 months. It makes me sad to think the friendship might be coming close
    to an end.
    But, I think it has a lot to do with the type of connection you have with the other person, rather than the frequency of seeing them. I have a few friends who I might only see a couple of times a year at the most, but when I do see them it’s just like old times. There’s no question about our friendship status because it’s just an unspoken thing. However, these are also friends who have been there through trying times and there is a deeper bond there. With the friend I first mentioned, our connection was based more on going out for drinks and chatting about random stuff, but the friendship never reached a personal level.

  19. I do not think that there is a formula but when we forget about someone for months, especially twelve, the relationship may very well be quietly fading. Time goes between me and several friends because of our jobs, mostly, but when one of us reaches out we are quick to reply with a smile. Others that are lost between time, when communication or a thought arises about them, I am not so quick to respond. These are the ones that I think fall into memories. Maybe these are the friendships that were not connected by a, “shared past.”

  20. Sheila

    For me, it hasn’t been a formula that I follow but more of a gut feeling that guides me. I understand that life often gets in the way of keeping in touch so I’m fine with long stretches between touching base. In fact, it’s these situations that reaffirm just how great some of my friendships are…we always pick up where we left off, no matter how much time has passed. However, since moving a considerable distance from some of my closest pals, I have noticed that some people just aren’t able to maintain a long distance friendship (these are the ones who need a BFF nearby and don’t want to put out the effort to remain close while living far apart). Others use distance as a way to move on without having to address why they don’t want to be friends any longer (this I understand because some friendships aren’t meant to last forever). And others keep in touch, albeit superficially (you know, the occasional email asking how I am but never intending to have a deep “give and take” conversation); those are the ones who truly exhaust me. In such cases I think it’s necessary to decide if the friendship is important enough to want to continue putting out the effort.

    Where longtime friends are concerned, I believe practicing a little compassion first is necessary. That person we are thinking of crossing off our friend list may be so preoccupied with life that they haven’t realized they’ve been missing in action. It happens.

  21. The timing of this post is ironic as I am currently going through this dilemma myself. I have a friend I met at work and we started hanging out all of the time. We are so much alike, so we really hit it off, traveled, everything. Then came her divorce. It was over pretty quick for her, but I was there to listen and give advice the entire way. She needed space to figure out where her head was at and I gave it her, occassionally throwing out the reminders that I was here whenever she needed anything. 4 months later, we don’t do anything and now barely speak. But she goes out with other people from work, so I’m getting the sense that I am just no longer a necessary part of her life. And anytime I’ve tried to talk about it, it never goes anywhere. Our friendship has always been me listening to her problems, none of listening to mine. Weve hung out 3 times in the past 4 months, but like I said, she’s doing all kinds of activities with other people at work. I tried to be patient as I am a single woman, but I realize a divorce is an extremely difficult situation. But at some point you just have to stop trying because you’re not getting anything in return. And I end up beating myself up for pursuing a friendship that only seems be an interest that I have. So maybe in this case, a year is too long to wait?

  22. Oh Rachel – i want to cry…just read this post NOW (4.18) life got busy….but I’m so bummed because I was in Nashville on 4.12 and totally down the street from Parnassus…so sad that I missed the chance to see you read there!! Ugh!! 😦

  23. Hope

    I’m catching up on the back posts now. Very interesting topic. I think it is a feeling more than anything else. I went through a period where I was out of touch with some of my best friends. No specific reason or anything either of us said or did. I tend to withdraw when things are rough and don’t feel like talking. I’ll answer emails or contact someone by email and once we get together even if it has been a year or three years we stay in touch.

    There are other friends who I eliminated from my life because I didn’t feel good being around them. I never had a conversation about not staying friends but i had written an email to one of them telling them that I didn’t want to get together with them unless they made an effort to understand me. I did get together but things were definitely not the same and it kind of felt like the friendship had run its course.

    Basically I think it all depends on how you feel about the friendship in general and what the friendship represents to each of you. I’m single and most of my closest friends are married or involved. I see them often when schedules allow for it but I also have other friends who I do things with as well. I also have friends who I do practically nothing with socially anymore but who are there for me and vice versa when it counts.

    I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that needs may change in a friendship and you may be at different stages in terms of how you live life, but having the true blue friend there for you when you are sick counts for much more in the long run than the friend who you do everything with for a short period of time and then moves on.

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