We are all so busy. And our kids are so busy. And marriage takes work. And work takes work. And somebody in the house is always sick. And when we’re not sick we’re running in a million directions.
And sometimes we just need to eat a meal at home. And sometimes we need to just binge on Netflix and eat chips by ourselves…
I am very familiar with all of these reasons that make adult friendship hard. And every single one of them is for real.
It’s not just that we’re busy and overloaded.
(Even though we are busy and overloaded). On top of everything else, our culture puts so much pressure on us to have this amazing group of friends, and when we don’t have friends just like what we see “everyone” on social media having, we feel lonely and frustrated with our own relationships. (PRO TIP* 1: It’s not actually everyone…)
And even before social media was a thing, the pressure to have the perfect friend group was a thing. Before there was Facebook, there was Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe; Lucy and Ethel; Thelma and Lois.
We all should have a ride-or-die friend, and if we don’t, there must be something seriously wrong with us. Personally, I always thought the pinnacle of female friendship was Steel Magnolias. I longed to gather with my besties in a beauty shop where Dolly Parton fixed my hair.
(And truly, having a ride-or-die friend is awesome, but if you don’t, you’re not broken. It’s okay.)
I love social media in lots of ways.
It’s super fun to post about life, and it’s incredibly inspiring to watch other people’s success stories and happy adventures. But it’s not real life. It’s a small slice of carefully curated reality that can create enormous angst if you don’t carefully monitor your expectations of yourself.
Here we were, already wondering if we are doing adult friendship right because we aren’t meeting at the beauty salon Every. Single. Day. to dish about our neighbors, and Facebook comes along and supersizes the expectations.
Nowadays, not only do you need at least one friend who will rob people at gunpoint and then drive off a cliff with you, you also need to have at least 1,000 people online watching your live stream of yourself kicking ass.
Take an intentional inventory of your friendships.
It’s incredibly important when you start to feel lonely or broken in your adult friendships to sit with those feelings. Examine them. Decide whether you are truly lonely (which may in fact be the case!) or you are comparing your own friendships to those you see in the media and online. Maybe your friendships are just fine, but you’re placing unreal expectations on yourself.
If you are truly lonely
The first thing to know is that everyone feels lonely sometimes. Even people who “have a lot of friends” (whatever that means!). Loneliness has a lot more to do with the quality of the relationships rather than the quantity.
Sometimes, simply changing our expectations of what friendship means, and removing the “quota” mentality is enough to help you realize that you have all the people in your life you need.
And if you don’t, releasing those expectations will also relieve the pressure you’re putting on yourself to make a whole bunch of friends. Just settle on one friendship. Pick one person to ask to coffee. Then go to coffee. I can’t tell you how many times I felt lonely in my life, when I was surrounded by people who had no idea I wanted to hang out.
Once you ask, you may find out that they are lonely, too! And once you do it, it will be easier to do again. And if it doesn’t work out, at least you know you tried. And you’ll have more confidence to try again.
Don’t take it personally
So what if it doesn’t work out? What if they act bored, or like they want to run for the hills within the first five minutes. That’s okay. They are not your tribe. Let them be. And don’t internalize it. Maybe they thought you were crazy. (PRO TIP* 2: We are all crazy in our own way.)
But more than likely, they were distracted by their own stuff. They said yes to your invitation because they thought they should even though they had 10 million other things they had to do. Or, when they said yes they had lots of time, but then other things were scheduled and suddenly their attention was elsewhere. Or, they are having a private crisis that has nothing to do with you.
It’s okay. Try again with someone else. Or reschedule. Just don’t take it personally. There’s a whole world full of people. You don’t need to be friends with every single one of them.
I believe most things exist on a continuum.
There is a continuum for mental health, sexuality, politics, spirituality, intelligence, etc. And everyone falls somewhere on a bell curve on this continuum, with zero being one extreme, and 10 being the other, and most of us falling somewhere around average, or five.
Friendship is no exception. Imagine a continuum where zero is no social connection and 10 is your most treasured friendships. Complete strangers are zero. Your lifelong friends are 10.
Most people that you know fall somewhere on that continuum on one side or the other of five, with five being people you hold in warm regard, perhaps even socialize with and lean heavily on during difficult times, but with whom your connection fades as you move on to another phase of life.
If every stranger is a friend waiting to be met, as the saying goes, then everyone you meet has the potential to move up on the continuum at any given time. But what about down? Is that possible?
When you Redefine Love, you love everyone, regardless of whether you know them or how much contact you maintain at any given time. Just because you and a friend have moved on to another phase of life doesn’t mean you love them any less. It simply means you recognize that there is only so much of you to go around.
Distinguish between your capacity for love, which is infinite, and your physical space in the world, which is limited.
Just because you move on to a new phase of life doesn’t mean the people from the previous phase cease to be important to you. Far from it! But it does mean that you need to allow yourself to fully experience this new phase without guilt or shame holding you back.
Your connections to others are constantly growing and changing. People come into our lives for a little while and they are so vitally important for our growth, and you to theirs. As your life and the other person’s shifts – as it inevitably will – you may move in different directions. It doesn’t mean you love them any less. It simply means your lives have diverted onto different paths.
Perhaps you’ll cross paths again someday, perhaps not. Or perhaps you’ll maintain contact, but less frequently or in a different form, such as a monthly phone call or lunch date.
It’s nice to keep in touch with old friends. Just make sure the relationship is one that is nurturing to each individual’s growth. If you find yourself simply going through the motions, perhaps it’s time to stretch outside of your comfort zone and meet new people. If your current friendships are meant to last, they will.
This fluidity only works if we remain accountable. We have a responsibility to those we love, and in Redefined Love we love everyone, whether they are a part of our circle of friends or not. Our responsibility is to know ourselves well enough to set firm boundaries for a healthy life, and to respect others’ boundaries as well.
We must give ourselves permission to let go of relationships that are not serving a healthy purpose in our lives so that we are sure to have enough room to make new connections as well as maintain those friendships meant to last a lifetime. Sometimes, in order to grow we must love people from a distance, regardless of how close we once were to them.
Friends as family
Redefining Love allows you to choose your own family, so the line between family and friends is blurred. Your family grows as you develop new connections with people at each phase of life.
Each of us, if we are lucky, encounters a rare few who come into our lives as family, and they remain there for the duration. This only works if both you and the other person respects and maintains healthy boundaries and accountability over the long term.
Be your own best friend
If you don’t like yourself, nobody else is going to like you, either. If you have a habit of calling yourself an idiot, or beating yourself up after every social interaction, that is the energy you are going to send out into the world. When you start to feel down on yourself, ask yourself if you’d talk to a friend the same way you are talking to yourself.
Once I learned how to love myself, in all my crazy, infuriating glory, other people started loving me, too. This is called grace – loving yourself and others in spite of their imperfections. In my experience, the closer I get to mastering Redefined Love, the more deep and meaningful connections I am able to make with others.
*The term PRO TIP refers in this case to someone who is a pro at social anxiety, and who still struggles with adult friendships. The only difference between the ME now and the ME then is that now I realize that everyone struggles with social anxiety in one way or another, and that we’re all a little bit bonkers. Some of us are just better at hiding it, or accepting our own crazy.