Written by Emily Phan, LMFT
Many types and levels of friendships exists. From the acquaintance you may refer to as a friend because you see each other in your routine environments and you make sure to provide a warm greeting, all the way to the best friend who has been through life with you and you consider to be more like family. In between those two extremes there are other categories of friendship: the person you call when you need a good laugh, the one who will be your cheerleader when you feel like you’re not enough, someone who is always up for an outing, and someone who is around for a season. Of course there are many other types of friendship, but the focus of this blog is the seasonal friendship.
A seasonal friendship is just as it sounds; a friendship that lasts for a season similar to the months in the year. Some seasons last longer than others, but a seasonal friendship will end just the same. As much as a season may be needed, there also comes a time for it to change. Seasonal friendships are often confused with lifelong friendships because they seem to find you when you need them the most. I have heard the meaning of this type of friendship is to fulfill a need in the moment, maybe to teach you something or provide you with support during a hard time.
When trying to categorize your seasonal friendship, you may find yourself asking if you are getting too close too soon, or if you are letting your guard down too fast or even if you are really able to trust this person because you have not known them very long. While most seasons only last a short amount of time, some seasons can last for years, maybe even for an entire stage of your life, like during school or while parenting little ones. But at some point you seem to outgrow each other. You may start to notice that your friendship is becoming more one-sided on a consistent basis.
During a change in season, it may appear as if you are only being called upon for a favor or to fulfill a need. This feels different than lifelong friendships which will experience ebbing and flowing of needs when one friend will sacrifice their own needs in order to be available to their lifelong friend whose needs are greater in the moment. The reciprocation of availability is key to recognize the difference. If you find yourself in a position where you are expressing a need, or a hurt, or a worry and you are ignored or brushed off then it may be time to evaluate this season. Is it that your friend is unable although willing to be available to you or are they choosing to discount your need? Does it seem as if you have valued this relationship more than they have?
You may start to notice that this friend is uninterested in asking about your life and will spend a phone call talking only of themselves without checking in on you. On the flip side, they may call you to seemingly pry about information that you may know and then rush you off the phone after your answer. It is possible that you find out this friend has shared your private life with others even though you assumed that would be kept between the two of you. Or you could simply start to notice that you are changing and growing apart rather than growing together. At one time you may have felt extra connected through shared dreams, values or jobs, but somehow those things began feeling different.
When you start to recognize that it is time to let go of your seasonal friendship, deciding how to proceed can be challenging. You still care about this person and you do not want to hurt them but you also need to take a step back and create some boundaries for yourself and your family. You can begin boundary-setting by no longer being readily available to them as soon as they ask. Start saying “no” when you need to focus on your other priorities. Communicate clearly with “I statements” such as “I don’t like it when…”, “I need to prioritize…”, “My feelings were hurt by…”, or “I am not ok with….”. It is ok to walk away from a friendship that has run its course.
There is no need to feel upset with yourself for opening your heart and sharing your life with a seasonal friend; you were invested in that relationship even if it was for a brief amount of time. Even when this friendship ends it does not mean that you failed or that it was not meaningful while it lasted. You can move on to a new season in your life without wishing them any negativity. You are able to hope that they are happy without checking in or keeping up with their social media. Spend some time to reflect and choose to be thankful for the time that you had with them, fulfilling the needs of the season you were both experiencing together. Take another look at your circle and find a moment to recognize and appreciate your legitimate lifelong friendships and the reciprocation that has withstood the test of time and life’s many battles.