Unpacking Friendship – Part II – Reciprocity.


I had a conversation with someone last week about friendship through transition. She was wondering how to know when to hold on to someone and similarly, when to let them go. We also talked about the actual how. How do you sustain a friendship from states apart? I have definitely felt the weight of these questions in every transition.

My college graduation day was a tough one. It was a strange juxtaposition of emotion. I was really proud of myself, proud of my degree and proud of the life that I have built on campus. I was also really, really sad and apprehensive. College had become this magical season of independence, self-discovery, and great friends at literally every turn. The dream for an extrovert. I remember experiencing and cataloguing all of the “lasts” with them. Last time we would eat hot subs at Scott Hall, last class we would ever take (ha), last time we would go to 90s Night, last time we would get coffee together at Kofenya…all of that brought such joy but also a shadow side of yearning to hold on to it while it felt like it was slipping away. A large piece of this for me was the people. I thought and talked about how we would all stay in touch. We looked at the calendar to figure out when we would all be back together again. I committed to calling and texting and showing up for them.

This same thing happened when I moved away from Atlanta. New set of friends, same set of worries.

And, surprise! This happened again after my years in graduate school. This time, I wasn’t as worried, because I had learned.

What I’ve learned about friendship is that it takes a lot of energy. It takes thought and action to sustain relationships and most of all, it takes reciprocity. I have always been decent at staying in touch with people. As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve been able to sustain less and less energy for the relationships in which the other party doesn’t reach back. I value depth over breadth of relationships and friendships without reciprocity start to feel pretty shallow.

After college, we were all pretty good at staying in touch. For the first couple of years, we had weddings and other reunion points, were still not settled in our post-grad life and prioritized that text response or return call. But then…life. We all picked up other people. We added new people to our lives, new responsibilities to attend to and other things that requested our energy. This shuffle was painful in some ways at first. It was a definite departure from where we were at the start of transition.

The relationships that still exist are the ones that reciprocate. They are the ones that say “I will be there” or “I can’t be there but I wish I could.” They pick up the phone. They return a text, even if it is 3 days later. Maybe we only see each other every two years or they may only call once a year, but they call. They reach out when an opportunity reminds them of you, to congratulate and support you. They email when in town and we all, no matter the circumstance, always wish we could do more. We wish we could talk more, see each other more, and share in each others lives more. The feeling is mutual.

Although loose, this has become my set of criteria for whether or not a relationship deserves my energy. I’ve always been apprehensive to loosen my grip on a relationship that at one time meant so much to me, but without doing this, I run out of energy for the people who are reaching back.

Friendship after transition looks different, that I know for sure. Eventually, I gave myself permission to let go of the relationships that were no longer actually relationships. I realized the value of reciprocity and started to respect my own time and energy and to reserve it for those that deserved to have it.

My favorite way of phrasing this is that people come in to our lives to serve us for seasons. Some of the seasons are long. Others last merely moments. All are important.

Let’s be those that reach back.






  • Amanda Heinen

    I appreciate the perspectives you share and wanted to also mention that I appreciate that you keep the articles brief. I do not know if you do this intentionally or not, but taking time to read things like this is something that I enjoy but often push aside due to lack of time. I look forward to these, not only because they are well written and thoughtful, but also because I’ve found I can read through them in 5 minutes or less.

    I am with you on the relationship reciprocity thing too. I learned this with friends a while ago, however am still learning to apply the same thing with those people who are family. Although similar principles apply (imo), it is harder to stop contributing to one-sided relationships when the label of family is in play.

    • JMC

      Hi Amanda!

      Thanks so much for reading – I do consciously try to keep them brief because I could blab on and on, if not careful!

      You raise SUCH a good point about family. YES… I feel and have seen that very thing. The label of family adds some level of responsibility that feels heavy. Thanks for mentioning this…I’m going to think on it!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.