As a therapist, the subject of friendships ranks securely in the top 5 topics of discussion. Why wouldn’t it? Friendship brings us fulfillment, confidence, a sense of family, security, and don’t forget great memories and many times, a shared history. On the other side of friendship, there can be rejection, anxiety, insecurity, confusion, and pain.
How can something that can bring the deepest joy also bring so much pain? It’s interesting, I would say without exception, every client that broaches the topic of friendships thinks they are really going out on a limb because they are the only one who could possibly feel insecure about the topic of friendships. The wave of relief that washes over their faces when I give them the breaking news that the majority of people grapple with friendship dynamics or the lack of friendship dynamics is worth the price of admission.
Relationships take work. Friendships take work. These are facts. Let’s take a look at some of the questions and comments I hear about friendships.
We used to be friends until Covid. This one is huge and has so many layers. Did any of us really come out of the lost years of Covid with all of our friendships intact? Have we taken the time to reassess? Many friendships fell apart because of vastly differing views about the pandemic and how to respond. This is the most common scenario I hear and it is really an interesting study in core values that aren’t exposed in friendships until the proverbial rubber hits the road or in this case, the shot does or doesn’t hit the arm or mask does or doesn’t cover the face. Either way, we are all realizing that our circle shrank after the pandemic. From my therapeutic lens, I think there is value in looking at the WHY regarding the state of your friendships. Did you discover this was not a good fit, to begin with, and let it go, or are you hesitating out of fear of rejection and having difficult conversations? I would suggest that our friendships, even the ones we let go are worth investigating and understanding. It’s useful as you move forward to understand why you invest time in the people that you do. Why do you open up to some people and not others?
Why don’t I have as many friends as I used to have? I love this question because it indicates that someone has really taken a look at their life and they see that something is missing close connections. When this question is asked I always follow up with a question. Why don’t you have as many friends as you use to have? Answering this question is hard because it requires you to take a good hard look at each of your friendships and be honest about what is good and what isn’t and what role you played. The other important factor is that friendships change over time. I always categorize friendships as core ( we share history, met in school or college, this would be your ride or die and they are often not geographically close). The second is situational deep friendships ( think friends you made at work or if you have kids, you met other parents and developed friendships). The third is interest-based ( you met at yoga, a meet-up group, or participating in something you find meaningful). Depending on where you are in your life the opportunity to make friends in these areas changes. Many of us work virtually now, so there go office place friendships, some of our kids are out of school, there goes meeting people that way and some of us have not engaged in our interests in a group setting, thus we aren’t meeting people in those settings. I will leave it to you based on where you are to see where the opportunity lies in these three scenarios for you to make friends.
How do I make friends? I can’t emphasize how brave a person has to be to ask me this question. I mean you have to get vulnerable. I mean no one really thought they would be 28, 35, 46, 50, or 62 and asking this question. Guess what, we all do! Whether anyone wants to admit it or not everyone has a friendship rejection story and man, those burn deep. I have seen that one rejection keeps people from opening themselves up to relationships for a lifetime. If you are asking this question it is because you want this, you want to make friends. I will outline steps for making friends in my next post but here are the high points. Put yourself out there, step out of your comfort zone and talk to people. If you are taking a yoga class, don’t leave without introducing yourself to someone ( I know, cringe, but do it!). Lower your expectations, yes, a therapist just told you to lower your expectations. Be curious about people. If someone thinks you are interested in their lives, they will be interested in yours. Lay down the rejection and anxiety of bad friendship experiences, you survived those, you really did! It’s time to let them go and clean slate this friendship thing.
Knowing that this blog post is too long already, I want to leave you with this little nugget. EVERYONE questions the subject of friendships. You are not the only one. I am here to tell you that if you are questioning and assessing friendships it means they are meaningful to you and you have identified what you want. Go after it, it’s a new world out there and we all need someone to share it with.