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Sociability • Friendship

Is It OK to Outgrow Our Friends?

The idea of outgrowing a friend can feel callous in the extreme. Once someone is our friend, is the ethical way not always to keep them close to us? 

Imagine that we were for a time very close to someone and their company changed our lives; around them we learned things that allowed us to establish ourselves or move forward to a new level. But maybe we learned their lessons – and now we are in a different phase and facing fresh dilemmas. 

Still life of a basket of red, white and pink roses.
Henri Fantin-Latour, A Basket of Roses, 1880

The idea of kindly relegation makes sense in other parts of life. A pianist might have had a great teacher early on, someone who formed their talent and guided their tastes, but if the relationship succeeded, the student might not need the teacher to be on hand as they were at the start of the journey. They would always be grateful and might keep in close touch, but they would know that henceforth they needed to derive their lessons from elsewhere. 

We might similarly outgrow a friend thanks to their talent at answering to a missing part of us, like a child who – at nineteen or twenty-five – doesn’t need a parent close by any more, not so much because the parent hasn’t done well, but precisely because they have fulfilled their brief perfectly; because, through their devotion and their talent, they have enabled the child to move on. 

We can be deeply glad that a particular person was once at the centre of our lives. We might always love them, but we would not be doing them or ourselves justice if we did not also accept that things can and must be allowed to change.

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