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Why Friends-Of-Convenience Are Important Even If They Fade

Indeed, these friendships are just as important as any other friendship.

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When my kids were preschoolers, we moved to a city where I didn’t know anyone. My husband worked long hours and I was stretched thin until I made a friend across the street — another tired, bedraggled mom with two squirmy kids. She was a lifesaver, and we helped each other out. My kids would go play with hers while I’d grocery shop, and vice versa. But when she moved, our friendship evaporated into thin air, reinforcing that our friendship was built around surviving the preschool years.

I didn’t reflect on it until just recently when I moved across the country again. This time as a lonely empty nester in a new city, I made friends with a younger single woman in the building across the street. Our age difference made for a mutually stimulating friendship. No deep heart-to-hearts, mind you, but there were coffee meetups and a book club. It was just what I needed. A couple years into it, though, she moved across town. I never heard from her again. Friendships-of-convenience may at quick blush be regarded as an unhealthy use-people-and-discard-them scheme. But this give-and-take type of friendship at a critical juncture in life can offer tremendous value. 

What are friends-of-convenience?

These are our casual friends — the ones we meet up with pretty regularly at work, school, the gym or a hair salon, explains Irene S. Levine, a friendship expert and the author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend.

Levine, a psychologist and former professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, points out that it is easy to make friends during high school and college — when we’re thrown together with people doing the same things as us, at the same time — or when we parent and find “mom” friends who have children the same age as ours. “The same could be said of relationships with neighbors who are nearby and easy to connect.”

Clinical psychologist Margaret Rutherford says that context is sometimes what holds a relationship together, and when that context changes or ends, the relationship often doesn’t survive. Rutherford is host of the SelfWork Podcast, which made Parade magazine’s 2021 list of top mental health shows and has been downloaded 2.5M times. 

Cultivating friends-of-convenience is just as important as any other friendship

Why? These are friends who are there when you need it, says Rutherford. “Convenience doesn’t imply a friendship is somehow less than or inferior,” explains the author of Perfectly Hidden Depression, in its second printing and being translated into seven languages. The difference, she says, is that they emerge from a specific context — extensions of work, school or neighborhood. Levine acknowledges that situational relationships often aren’t ones we consider intimate or close, but they’re valuable and energizing because these are people with whom we share experiences and/or interests.

Friendships-of-convenience are critical throughout life

“There isn’t any stage of life when we can’t benefit from having casual friends,” says Levine.

Heather Dugan, author and founder of Cabernet Coaches, advises “future-proofing” your social connectivity against the slow fade of relationships tied to a specific space or time and the subsequent isolation that can accompany even ordinary life transitions by constantly building out your friend foundation. No matter the time in life, be willing to go first with “hellos” and offers of help to new neighbors, Dugan says.

Friends-of-convenience complement old friends

“We see ourselves best through the eyes of our close friends, but friends-of-convenience (or ‘proximate friends’) are also essential to our overall connection; they provide company and fresh perspective in the daily spaces our deeper friendships can’t go, adding texture and emotional value to our experiences at work, in our neighborhoods, and at our kids’ schools,” says Dugan, author of The Friendship Upgrade: Trade Clickable Connections for Friendships that Matter

Levine points out that while technology has enabled us to make friends across oceans, having friends who are convenient, geographically accessible and organically part of our lives can both jump-start and support meaningful friendships.

What to remember when a friend-of-convenience disappears

Though logically you may understand why a friendship faded, it can leave you reeling with feelings of guilt or rejection.

Rutherford says it’s natural that one of you could’ve believed the relationship would be something more lasting — and not dependent on context. Emotionally, this can be difficult to work through, she concedes. 

What can help? “[T]urn that hurt into a recognition of the purpose the friendship served in your life,” says Rutherford. She encourages self-examination — asking yourself questions such as what you learned that you needed to learn and what experience was helpful. “Growth isn’t always pleasant. But it can bring wisdom,” she says.