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Of evolving selves — and outgrowing others

Do connections we form come with a shelf life? And are relationships only for a reason or a season? Or can they also be for a lifetime?

By Simran Sodhi

Published: Fri 21 Jan 2022, 10:07 PM

Last updated: Fri 21 Jan 2022, 10:09 PM

Meeting an old college friend after 20 years for a cup of coffee would be exciting. One would catch up and re-connect, and start a new phase together. Or so I presumed. I was quite surprised when, after the initial hugs and five minutes of chatter, it was difficult to sustain a conversation. I tried picking up the threads, but the dots seemed to have disappeared with time. It was a difficult half an hour and I left with a disappointed hug and many thoughts.

Admittedly, I have changed over the last two decades. The other person, too, has… and so has the world. Yet, there are a few with who we seem to “reconnect” quickly and easily — even after a long gap. But there are many we “fidget” with. And this is not limited to friends alone; it extends to family and relatives as well.

For Zari Kaarina Jafri, an artist, who lived in the UAE for many years before moving to London, her own evolving self, her friendships and the ties around life all get viewed through a philosophical lens. “It is in our DNA to change and evolve,” she believes, but “if someone has been close to my heart in the past, time simply does not exist in terms of being apart physically. You pick up pieces of time and memories with your loved one just the way you left them. If a disconnect happens, the relationship was never that deep to begin with.”

She also believes that our most intimate spiritual awareness allows us to evolve and invest in relationships that make the experience of life so much deeper and richer.

Zari likes to take a more objective look at the evolving nature of our relationships and how the passage of time plays its own unique role in this. “Challenges and expectations of modern society bundled up with false realities with the emergence of pressure created by media and social media have made us more secluded as individuals… Uncertainty caused by these momentary disillusionments creates a painful void that allows the emotional distance to grow between relationships of any sort. Or that is what we want to pin the blame on.”

It is, therefore, important for an individual to realise that, in the end, it all boils down to priorities and not the lack of time or distance. “That in my eyes is merely an excuse.”

She likes to make this subtle distinction between the years we spent away from someone we were once close to, to a more distinct reality — and that is of the limited time span a lifetime has for every individual. “One does not have to be old to be picky when it comes to relationships of all sorts in life. One has to be wise. One has to acknowledge the limitation of time life has given us.”

It is mere wisdom to spend time with people who help us grow, who help us nurture love and healing. “Actually I see the younger generation being more picky these days. Kudos to the parents for teaching them to be self-sufficient and self-reliant,” Zari adds.

She also accepts the fact that not every relationship is meant to last a lifetime. “Disconnect happens regardless of the nature of one’s relationship with the person. We are not designed to carry every relationship through our lives. It is simply impossible. To disconnect is inevitable at some point of life. Every person in your life has stepped in as a teacher. You decide when it’s time to graduate from lessons learned and graciously move on in life — with humility attitude and gratitude for everything this person taught you on your journey.”

‘We are all constantly changing a little and facing different challenges’

It’s almost 30 years since American sitcom Friends premiered. Globally, it went on to epitomise friendships and relationships — and the attendant hiccups that come with them. On screen, while the six lead characters shared great chemistry, off screen, too, the six remained close. As Matt LeBlanc who played Joey remarked (in 
Hello! magazine) about Mathew Perry, who played Chandler in Friends: “I love that guy! I can not see him for five years and then get in a room together and still have that shorthand with each other. It’s amazing, really. Ten years in a building with no windows and the doors locked, we got to know each other pretty well.”

And that, in essence, is what we seek in ties but very few retain that comfort over time.

For Prerna, who was born in India and then lived in the UAE and Australia for short periods, then in United States and is now based in London, there was constant flux. But she feels that she has found it easy to reconnect with close friends and family, even after a long gap. “In my experience, it’s been the opposite. If it is a very close friend, I feel as if we just pick up where we left off and it doesn’t feel strange or awkward at all. I didn’t grow up with extended family around, so actually I feel closer to some of the relatives I see now than I ever felt in the past as I had very little interaction with them as a child,” she points out.

Prerna, however, accepts the fact that it’s natural we evolve or change as people and individuals over a passage of time. “Life experiences cause people to evolve and adapt, and there are certain key experiences that will change a person and their priorities (whether that is education, work, children, health issues or travel). But for me, the people I’ve been close to in the past are (for the most part) still fundamentally the same… I can still connect with them when we meet and although they may have changed a lot externally — for example, had radical career or social changes — the values that attracted me to them in the first place are still the same. Having said that, though, our separate life experiences and, often, location mean that we don’t really meet very often at all, so in that sense there is a disconnect as we are not in touch on a regular basis. Given the ease with which we can keep in touch now, there must be some disconnect for that to happen.”

For Prerna, the main disconnect is distance. “My parents and sister live in different continents and although I would say we are close, I do miss the day-to-day connection we would have if we lived in the same place. Sometimes, distance can create tension as I think we are all constantly changing a little and facing different challenges… so it can sometimes take time to understand or reconnect with a person given their — and your own — new experiences.”

Over time, our relationships and friendships get assessed, some thrive, and some die, much like the larger course of life. Prerna believes we tend to be more focused with our friendships as we get older and spend more time with people who share similar values and make us happy. “I think this would be especially true given the pandemic!”

She also wonders whether some of the disconnect can be attributed to social media personas versus how those same people are in real life — even though she’s not really active on social media. “Perhaps the image some people want to present of themselves creates a disconnect with people they were once close to, which might not exist if people just met in person or kept in touch in a more personal way.”

A change in our close emotional ties and an inability to sometimes retain that connect — i.e., to care as much as one did years back — can at times trigger feelings of guilt. “My guilt is that I should make more of an effort to reconnect with people who meant a lot to me and were very close to during certain periods of my life when I lived in a certain place. I inadvertently (but perhaps naturally) tend to focus on the friendships in my physical proximity, which means that I don’t invest as much time and attention as I should on people who have been important in my life and still are, despite the distance and lack of contact. I don’t feel disconnected to other friends in different locations who aren’t as active at keeping in touch either, so I hope I will be forgiven for it too! I sometimes think about the saying that friends can come into your life for a reason, season or a lifetime. The ones who you don’t feel any disconnect with are the ones for a lifetime — but that doesn’t mean that the others weren’t meaningful or even life-changing.”

‘A connection comes from being 
relatable, from being understood’

Maybe to soothe the soul, to learn to let go and to occasionally hold on to some ties and some people, we need to remember what Lao Tzu said: Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

Melissa Choong, who is a happy homemaker raising three beautiful children, has her own unique take on how our relationships change, prosper or die with time. She is a Malaysian Chinese who now calls Australia home. “It is natural to evolve as individuals due to the changes in our circumstances, the environment, and the people whom we meet along the way in our journey of life. However, the timing for each person’s evolution is not the same as everyone’s life journey is different. Every person has different key stages to overcome or milestones to unlock and that starts from the day we were born.”

Melissa feels that sometimes our life trajectories take us on different experiences and that can also cause a connect or a disconnect. “As everyone’s life journey is different, the person whom you were once close to may be on a different stage or path in their lives — hence the disconnection occurs.” Disconnections also occur if one is seen to be “moving forward”, and the other is still said to be “left behind” or at still the “same spot” as when the relationship began, she points out.

The stage where one is at a certain point in life vis-à-vis where the other person is can be a big factor to any relationship. “It depends on the stage where both parties are at in their lives… the difference in priorities…” As a young adult, starting out on a career, one is more likely to be open to meeting new people for networking contacts, for potential prospects and for building their portfolio in the industry. A middle-aged person, on the other hand, who already has an established career, who has formed and built relationships with people in the industry for many years now, a need to form “new relationships” would be less likely.

“A connection comes from being relatable, from being understood… If we feel that the other person is unable to relate to us, unable to understand us or value us, a disconnection occurs, and it doesn’t matter whether they are friends or family members,” Melissa says as one weighs whether the equations over time change with just friends or within a family also.

Most of us often feel this pang of guilt when we meet an old friend and the realisation dawns that maybe we should never have met up again, for what was once a connection seems awfully lost now. “There are people that are planted at the various stages of our lives to help us walk through life for that moment or period and when that chapter is over, the friendship or relationship ends — so there is nothing to feel guilty about. This does not mean that they were insincere in the friendship or relationship; it just means the time has come for both parties to go their separate ways as their life journey is on different paths. We should be thankful and blessed they were part of our life journey and wish them well,” Melissa sums it up.

Maybe the idea is to accept that some ties will survive the test of time, others will not. Some people we will grow old with, and some we will be visiting as “guests” at certain points in life.

Simran Sodhi is an author and journalist based in New Delhi, India

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