Register Monday | December 5 | 2022

Pruning the Friendship Tree

The Best-Before on Your “BFF”

No one likes to think that friendships have a shelf life, but there’s no denying that some friendships do have best-before dates: best before the first fight, best before she sleeps with the guy you like, best before she takes your money and runs. Of course, there are some friends that are 4 Life. You know them by the little gold chains and the half-heart pendants that proclaim “BFF” (best friends forever). You have the other half of the heart still nestled safely in your own jewellery box.

It is comforting to know that those middle school sayings are still relevant when we’re all grown up. All of my friends for life are just that: friendships that don’t really change. Sure, the people change—we’ve grown out our bangs, thrown out our ’80s threads, then gone out and replaced the legwarmers, re-cut the bangs—but great bonds are irreplaceable. Friends for life don’t always remember your birthday and send you e-greeting cards. But they are the people you always feel at home with, the ones you laugh hardest with, the ones who really know you.

Let’s face it, the very best of friends are a rare find (like anything precious). Along the road, you might get gold, but you’ll also pick up your share of fool’s gold—friends who seem sparkly and wonderful at first, but turn out to be frauds. Which begs the question, How do you drop a not-so-friendly friend? Pruning the friendship tree is a necessary task to make sure the best branches grow and bloom, but should you trim gently around the skirts or take out the garden shears and hack off the unwanted branch?

Recently, I was on a road trip with my mother. Travelling north on the 400, catching up on gossip, Mum told me the story of Jamie, a good friend of hers. Like my mum, Jamie is a British-Canadian who keeps friendships alive both here and in the British Isles. One of her best friends was a woman named Pat. Or at least Jamie thought they were best friends. One day, Jamie opened her mailbox to find a letter with the queen’s head affixed. Pat minced no words. She said, seemingly out of the blue, that she was absolutely fed up with Jamie moaning about life’s woes—she thought it was selfish and boring and felt she was getting nothing out of the friendship. And so she ended it. After forty years of being friends, Pat told Jamie not to call. Her calls would not be received.

Jamie was devastated. At sixty, she is no longer used to being dumped—least of all by a best friend. It seems that Pat just took out the axe and whacked down the friendship tree altogether. But did she do so out of the blue? It’s hard to know if Pat tried to talk and work things out. Perhaps she felt Jamie never listened. Or maybe the two had just grown so far apart that they’d become incompatible. Or perhaps Pat was just a fair-weather friend who couldn’t weather the storm.

I have had my own share of fair-weather friends—the kind who love you when you’re up, but step over you when you’re down. We need friends like this. They’re great to have lunch with, go to the shops with, catch up with and see on the dance floor. It’s a bit flaky, sure, but it can also be fun. The only danger is when this friendly relationship starts to seem like a real friendship (sometimes it is and sometimes it just isn’t). All of a sudden, someone will be asking to borrow your car, and you won’t even be sure that they know your last name. This is the time to pull out the shears and do some pruning. Perhaps leave a silent message (through Bell’s voicemail service) saying you are sorry you missed the call, but hope she found another way. Or a less passive-aggressive and more direct approach is to say flat out, “No, I’m not comfortable with that.” Finish it off with a bright and cheerful “Sorry!”

Perhaps an uglier situation than the fair-weather friend (who, if kept in check, can be an easy, breezy encounter) is the foul-weather friend. This is the friend who gets in touch when the clouds rain down on her—or as she sees it, when her skies fall. I have a friend who only calls me when she is going through a breakup or wants a good cry. When skies are blue (and she is not), I see neither hide nor hair of her. Definitely one for the pruners.

I feel like it’s been raining weddings recently. Every other person I know is getting engaged, and I am already dreaming up beautiful always-the-bridesmaid outfits. What I have witnessed in all this nuptials planning is the ultimate grooming of the friendship tree. Not everyone can come to a wedding; it’s just too expensive, what with the meal and the open bar and such. So, fair-weather friends are tossed to the wayside (except those few who are charming and will warm up the dance floor), foul-weather friends are discarded because they won’t know (don’t worry, they won’t ask about you), and suddenly making up a list of tried-and-true pals is serious business. I’ve seen brides with pens in their mouths, eyes cast skyward, asking themselves, ”Now, how good of a friend is Lucy, really?” Of course, in our everyday life we don’t (and shouldn’t) make tiered lists of our friends and rate them. Every friendship has its cycles, after all. But there is no harm in doing a little reality check from time to time. Is that person for the most part a good friend to me? Am I feeling used and abused? Is this getting a bit tired? If it is a bit tired, I think it’s just fine to take a break; the best kind of friends never really go away, anyway. And even when you trim back branches, it doesn’t mean they can’t grow back. Even better.