The #1 Thing That Kills Friendships

I'm going to spare you a long, drawn-out prologue and get right to it. The most common reason -- by far -- for lost, dwindled and dead-on-the-vine friendships is the inflated and faulty (yes, faulty) expectations of one friend for another. It is a simple truth, when you put too high of expectations on a friend, or all of your friendships, sooner or later, you will get burned.

Now, let's blow out that match and build some better friendship strategies.

Premature Expectations

OK, having just made a grand declaration that lofty expectations are to blame for most failed friendships, let me backtrack a bit. See sometimes, although the expectation may be justified and completely rational, it just happens to come before both parties are ready for it. I've dubbed this premature expectations (tee hee).

My definition of friendship includes support, respect, fun and the equal giving and taking of that last pour from the wine bottle -- at least this is how my best friendships work. And I'm going to go out on a pretty sturdy limb and say that these are the main goals for most female friendships, or close enough.

The thing about friendships is, though, that while the fun and respect are usually instant (because everyone is due respect, and well, you wouldn't choose to be friends with someone whom you don't have fun), support, generosity, trust and real caring develop over time. Likewise, expectations or hopes for how a friend will treat you also follow a natural and gradual growth pattern, starting with the basics and increasing to the point of extreme friendship (where they promise to take your dog, children, husband and/or new Prada boots should you unexpectedly kick it).

Again, expectation problems are not so much about what is proper to expect with a friend, but more so about what is proper to expect with a new vs. more established friendship.

So often when we meet someone with whom we really connect, we get all excited and giddy, and perhaps over-zealous in our desire to bond with said person. We meet a new gal in the running group, completely hit it off to the point where we can't wait to get home to send her evites to every event on our calendar for the following two months. We over-share and tell our new friend things we haven't told our closest friends. We devote a weekend to cleaning and organizing our new pal's garage because, well, she'd do it for you. Except when she doesn't offer to help paint your bedroom, or she shares your funny story at the next group run and doesn't want to join you at the 35th annual pickle pageant.

You were riding an oxytocin-fueled friendship rave and it felt good. It felt really good, until you realized that your expectations for the friendship didn't actually fit the friendship, because the friendship hadn't actually developed yet.

This is kinda like sleeping with a romantic partner too soon -- you go for the benefits of the relationship without actually having the relationship. And just like when romantic relationships don't work out, it is hard to bounce back from failed friendship expectations, too.

The fix? Take time to build the proper foundation of a friendship. Temper the pace of the friendship and match your expectations to the actual depth of your bond. That way, if you find a friendship isn't really meant to be (because a basic expectation isn't met), it will happen early and on something minor, which will minimize any sting. And alternatively, if she is your destined-to-be-BFF, you'll hit all friendship milestones easily.

Misplaced Expectations

Your gal Patty is a great party planner and keeps your social calendar filled to the brim. She is a ton of fun and you very much enjoy time spent with her. There is never a dull moment with Patty.

Until there is, because it turns out Patty is all about partying and not a bit about pity. So when you break up with the fellow you met last night, Patty isn't really into spending time talking about it and definitely is not lending her shoulder for support.

But that is what a friend does, right?

Actually, no -- not all of them. Some gals are great at empathy and support and having a hanky ready. Other women are terrific at editing your resume, encouraging you to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and absolutely picking up your kids (and feeding them) when work keeps you late. But not every woman is great at everything, and shouldn't be expected to be.

So, if you know that Shelly is always late, then don't continue to get upset when she keeps you waiting at your meeting locale. Instead, trust that when she does arrive, she'll make up for it by letting you drone on endlessly about the ending of your (imaginary) relationship way past when other "punctual" friends would have given you the heave ho.

Here is the other thing about expectations in the one-size-fits-all category: One size does not fit all and you'll end up being disappointed if you try to squeeze everyone in the same hole.

My advice here is to set expectations around reality and individual talents. By setting your expectations to the point where they've already been validated, you'll constantly feel blessed and thrilled when you friends over-deliver their support to you.

And knowing your friends are a blessing is something we should all expect.

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