In Praise of Short-Term Friendships: Why they matter just as much
My move to Sweden was mired in hardship. As with any big transition, there was a lot of work, bureaucracy, and emotional and mental exhaustion involved. It was also very lonely. My introverted nature and my (then) imperfect Swedish, did little to make me feel at ease in my new city, so I spent a lot of time on my own.
I befriended Lily (name changed) just when I thought I was doomed to live a life of solitude. Imagine my happiness at meeting Lily in Swedish class and learning that she too had just recently moved and was going through the same thing that I was. It struck a chord with me; I immediately felt less alone.
Quite fittingly, Lily and I would often fika (the Swedish tradition of going for coffee breaks) together. Milestones and birthdays were celebrated, secrets were shared, and the mundane but important details of everyday life were exchanged over freshly-brewed coffee.
A lot has changed since then. Lily and I have not spoken in about a year. Lily was always outspoken, brash, and unafraid of confrontation. I, on the other hand, am quieter and more inclined to analyze a situation internally. Because of these differences, we would occasionally clash, and with time, the relationship ran its course, fizzling out after a disagreement.
Yet, I recall our time together with so much tenderness. In many ways, I believe that our friendship was beautiful and meaningful, not despite, but because of its limited duration.
There’s a common assumption that for a relationship to be a "true friendship" it needs to last a long time. A short-term friendship is a failure, and perhaps something to feel guilty about. In reality, a real friendship can be sincere, impactful, and at once, temporary. These friendships often help us get through a trying period in our lives, and much like seasons, they pass when they need to.
Lily’s friendship was just that. She helped me get through one of the toughest times in my life. She did three things to be exact: her friendship helped me rediscover myself in my new city, I began to settle in because our routines created a familiar pattern that made everything less alien, and of course, with her company, I was able to finally feel a sense of home.
Before making friends with Lily, I had interacted with some of the friendly faces I would see in my day-to-day, and while I was grateful for their company, it never seemed like we clicked beyond a nod of acknowledgment. The first time I met Lily she smiled warmly, and she instantly became my refuge.
At a time when everything else was uncertain and changing in my life, our conversations were a constant. She was the friend with whom I could complain, confess, and express myself freely.
I realized that since moving, I had been keeping myself closed off, worried that my new neighbors, colleagues, and acquaintances might misjudge me, so I did not let my personality shine through.
With Lily it felt like I had found my voice again, free to express myself without hesitation or worry. I was able to let my guard down and be vulnerable. Looking back, this seemed like the important first step I needed to take, and it would not have been possible if not for her.
Settling in: Familiar routines, people, and places
With Lily by my side, I began to open up and we both made more friends in our new city. I used apps like Panion to connect with like-minded people in my area. Still, I remained the closest to Lily. Somehow, despite coming from different cultural backgrounds, we had a lot in common - our experiences often resonated with one another and we shared similar perspectives even in the thorniest of issues. That made Lily stand out to me, I was comfortable around her and I trusted her. So much so, that we decided it was a great idea to face things together; from the most daunting bureaucratic errands, to the simplest of tasks.
We established routines together; exercising in the morning, then heading over to Swedish class, followed grocery shopping before stopping at a cafe to treat ourselves. She was the first person I would go to when I had juicy gossip or great news, and I was that person for her.
Slowly but surely, the city felt a lot less foreign. Our little routine helped me settle into my new home; I discovered my new coffee spot, favorite bakery, and my go-to snacks from the local supermarket.
Faces and names became familiar too; I looked forward to the after-work chats with my neighbor, and every morning my heart warmed when I saw Milly the labrador and her equally sweet ‘mum’ who lived down the street. The routines created expectations in my everyday life, which was comforting, especially because it reminded me a lot of a typical day back in my hometown.
As I began to settle in, I began to feel a sense of home. That would not have been possible if not for Lily. She helped me find my balance at a time when the waves of life felt punishing. Through her friendship, I found a semblance of home. It was exactly what we both needed at the beginning of our journey in a new city.
She taught me how to be a friend to myself; her encouraging voice cheered me on when I was weary, and I internalized that even long after we had stopped talking. After accepting my friendship with Lily had come to a close, I was able to move on and create stronger bonds with like-minded peers, many of whom I met on Panion.
Lily and I weren’t meant to be long-term friends, but I am so grateful for the short-term friendship. It provided me with a sense of home that people usually seek when they make a big move to an unfamiliar city.
The memories of this friendship are special to me, I look back on them with tender appreciation. I attribute this to the fact that the friendship wasn’t forced; we weren’t hanging on to the last threads of a relationship and we didn’t keep holding on until we inevitably hated each other. Though it didn’t last long, my feelings for Lily and our friendships are nothing but positive and grateful.