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When my boys go on a walk together, F, who is five years older, must slow down his pace to match O, his little brother. And O usually walks a bit faster to keep up. They both adjust to a new pace, a pace created by their friendship.
Every pairing between two people creates a new pace. This is why friendship creates something we cannot produce by ourselves. Friendship is not just F plus O as individuals, it’s what F and O create together.
We each have a rhythm to our lives that we develop based on our life choices. I home educate most mornings, then paint in the afternoons. For most of us, when we meet with our friends, we adjust that typical rhythm while we are together. That way our friends better fit into our life that day. We adjust our rhythms. In fact, more adjustment is a sign of a closer friend.
In good parenting ,which can develop into the best of friendships, we adjust our sleeping, our vacationing, even our hobbies and schedules around our kids. We do this in good marriages. I know more about fishing and Dale understands art much more because we are friends as well as spouses. And good business people know they must adjust their pace as they lead their employees. Any teamwork that lasts, that builds good things that last, begins and ends with friendship.
Perhaps you’ve been on a walk with a friend who drives you faster than you want to go. Or perhaps you’ve felt like the fast one all your life and your friends just can’t keep up. Regardless, we all tend to be attracted to people who will adjust our pace in life, faster or slower than we normally like to walk.
This can be entrancing at first and annoying after a few months. All husbands and wives know exactly what I mean. Unfortunately, it’s the norm these days to refuse to adjust. People give stubborn reasons that sound so scientific. I’ve heard so many excuses for our refusal to adjust: It’s my personality. I’m an Enneagram 3 so efficiency will always matter. It’s my spiritual gift. I’m a Virgo. I’m the oldest. I’m the middle child. I’m hypoglycemic. I’m an empath. I’m ADHD. It’s my upbringing.
But friendship invites us to adjust our typical pace. And it’s quite obvious to the rest of the world when we turn down that invitation. I looked out my window in Exeter, New Hampshire one sunny winter day to see an older couple walking down the river path. The wife was a good 10 steps ahead of her husband. I know they were married because I later met them and asked about the pacing difference. “Oh, my wife’s much faster than me. I just try to keep up.” The husband, who had time to talk, told me with a sad smile.
A growing, strong friendship will not always look like this. The fast ones learn to wonder and wait at their friend’s slowness. And we learn how slowness bears its own treasures. And the slow ones may learn to pick up their pace, not because they like being fast, but because some things are worth charging full steam ahead.
Friendship should mutually adjust our pace. I spent too much of my twenties pushing all my friends. In my thirties, I hit a wall in realizing this wasn’t friendship, it was mentorship, spiritual direction (if I’m being charitable to my younger self). Sometimes it was sheer vice: impatience, arrogance, self-importance. When we are the ones who are always pushing or always pulling back, the friendship needs to grow or be re-sorted (as I’ve written about in Sorting and Downsizing Friends).
Good friends mutually adjust their pace for each other, so when they walk together, they walk at an unfamiliar speed to them both. This mutual change is a natural outgrowing of celebrating each other’s existence. As I wrote about last month, all friendship say “It’s good you exist and as far as I am able, I will contribute to your flourishing.” And because we want our friends to flourish we adjust our speed in beneficence and admiration of their soul.
Little kids, however, can put it so much simpler, “Walk with me.”
The Friendship Posts
Expecting Better Friendships: Friendship Fountain, Sorting Friendships, Downsizing Friendships
What is a Friend: Balloon Friends, Companions, It is Good You Exist
The Pace of Friendship: Walk with Me, Return the Volley, Trains and Rollercoasters
Growing Friendships: Friends and Flowers, Growing a Friendship, Weeding a Friendship
Healing a Friendship: Forgiveness, The Work of Healing, The Crucial Question