My friends are important to me.
Like, SUPER, important.
I have a solid group of women in my life that encourage me, make me laugh, partner with me in good times and bad, and generally make me and my life better.
My friendships have always meant a lot to me, but it hasn’t been until recent years that I’ve started to hit my stride as a friend. So, I was excited to reflect on this topic when someone reached out to me and asked that I talk about how to develop and maintain female friendships through marriage, having babies, and all the good stuff that goes along with those major life changes. I’m not an expert on the subject by any means. I’m just a girl who cares deeply about her friends, who has made plenty of mistakes along the way, and who has found some special and lasting relationships despite those mistakes. Here is my story of finding friendship and a few tips to guide you in your own journey.
If you trace the source of all my drama, sadness, anxiety, hurts, confusions and fears over the years, it all points back to one thing: my search for friends.
I’ve always longed for friends. I wanted to be a part of a group that did things together. The group that you didn’t have to think twice about – you were a packaged deal. I wanted friends who stuck by you through the good times and bad. I wanted friends to hang out with on a Friday night, or come cry with you through a breakup on Sunday afternoon. I wanted, to be wanted. I wanted to be included. I wanted to be invited. I wanted to be thought of. I wanted to be a part of other people’s lives. I wanted, friends.
For my grade school years, this desire remained largely unmet. At the time, I blamed it on very specific things. My family moved from Ohio to Indiana at the end of my fourth grade year. Then, at the end of my eighth grade year, my family moved us back from Indiana to the exact same town, school, and church in Ohio. At first, that sounded ok. It sounded good to just pick up where we left off. But what it actually turned out to be like was similar to showing up at a party that no one invited you to.
Oh, you’re…here? How awkward. I mean. Great! Sorry we kind of forgot all about you. Welcome to ninth grade!
I die a little inside just thinking about it.
I spent all of my high school years trying to navigate the horrible waters of finding friends in an ocean that didn’t seem to want me.
If you read my post last week about insecurity, then you know that I’ve since recognized that I’ve spent most of my life defining who I am based on my insecurities. While it’s true that moving back to my hometown just as high school was starting was not a recipe for an easy transition, it’s not exactly the whole story.
I was terrified to move back. I didn’t have any solid relationships starting ninth grade, and I allowed my insecurities to tell me that everyone else had their group of friends and that I was an unwanted outsider. And so, for four years, that’s more or less how I behaved. Sure, I tried to cultivate the occasional relationship, but mostly within the confines of what people offered me without me really trying to reach out on my own. I let my insecurities paint the picture. I let my insecurities tell me who I was, and who I was not. I let my insecurities keep me from going after the very thing that I was desperate for: friends.
Then, I went off to college and developed some really amazing friendships with girls who I’m blessed to still include in my life to this day. But when my husband and I got married and I transferred to his school to finish up my degree, the same feelings and struggles surfaced that I felt in high school. I felt alone and friendless and unable to do anything about it. Worse yet, I felt sure that the friends I left behind wouldn’t want to continue with our friendship now that I was married and in a new school.
None of this was based on actual conversations. None of this was based on actual experience. It was entirely, 100% based on insecurity and the stories I told myself.
So here is my first tip for finding and developing lasting friendships:
Be very, very careful of the stories you tell yourself about who you are, your ability/worthiness to make friends, and others’ desire/worthiness to become your friend.
Making friends is difficult because we make it difficult. We dump all of our fears and insecurities into every conversation and every experience we have with the people we want to befriend. We don’t see them for what they are; we seem them through alllll our hangups. We assume things about what others must be thinking about us. We assume they are insecurity free and that we are the only ones hustling for friends. We assume others are constantly replaying every conversation and interaction we’ve had with them just as we are replaying those conversations and interactions (spoiler alert: No one else is thinking about you as much as YOU are thinking about you.) We start to tell ourselves the story that they already have enough friends and don’t want our friendship. And so, we quit before we’ve really even started.
Be willing to go first.
Listen. Everyone is a little scared to reach out and make a new friend because the very act of reaching out – be it literally stretching a hand or just the proverbial one – requires so. much. vulnerability. And vulnerability is scary. There is always the risk of rejection. There is always the risk that you will look stupid. There is always the risk that you will reach out and this person will grab your hand and take you down. But the thing is, if you want friends – especially as an adult – you have to be willing to go first.
This is the de facto number one rule I live by when it comes to interacting with other human beings. I try, in almost any situation, to be willing to go first. Why? Because I”m working on knowing that, no matter what, I’ll be ok. Who I am and how I feel about myself is not tied to the outcome. So sure, I’ll go first. Why not?
This looks like going up to a person and starting a conversation. This looks like an invitation. (Guys, you would not believe how many of my friendships are the result of me texting/sending an Instagram DM to a total stranger and saying, “Hey, wanna come hang out at my house sometime?”) It works. Plain and simple. We all want to be included. We all want to be invited. That isn’t unique to poor, insecure, high school Rebekah. Those who have friends are those who are willing to go first.
Be the type of friend you want.
We all have the same two options: Wait around for someone to figure out how to be your friend (which will never happen), or just start being the type of friend to others that you would want others to be to you. This is the perfect follow up to the “Be willing to go first,” tip, but it’s extra hard because it requires extra work. And therein lies the rub of creating meaningful and lasting friendship. It requires work. I think we’ve all wasted some time over the years believing that friendships just happen. And in a way, the beginning of some friendships might “just happen.” But the maintaining of them never does. The growing of them never does. The deepening of them, never does. Friendship is not like wine. You can’t just bottle it and put it on the shelf and expect it to be better in 10 years. Heck, you can’t expect it to even be there in 10 years.
It’s important to check entitled and selfish feelings at the door of any relationship. So if you are struggling with your relationships, cultivate some self awareness and ask if you are being the type of friend you would want. Do you only talk about yourself, or are you willing to make a conversation about the other person? Do you spend time with that person in ways that connects you both, rather than meeting only your needs or interests? Do you spend equal amounts of time giving and receiving in the relationship, meaning, ARE YOU A TOTAL EMOTIONAL DRAG TO BE AROUND?
Guys, the thing I want you to take away from this post, more than anything, is that friendships matter because both parties in the friendship matter. You can’t go into ANY relationship hoping to only have your needs met or your burdens shared or your jokes laughed at or your thoughts listened to. There is another human being involved in the making of friendship with you, so be gentle with them and honor them and, you know, treat them the way you would want to be treated.
So be willing to be the type of friend you want. Extend invites. Start conversations. Send cards. Send texts. Plan birthday dinners. Bottom line: be a good friend. Because good friends always have good friends.
Do the things you love, and you will find people to love.
We spend a lot of time trying to figure out what other people want when, in reality, you just need to figure out what you want, and go after it. For me, I love hanging out with people around a table. I want that table to be full of food, coffee, wine, and plenty of salty snacky things. I want to hang out while we do a fun experience. I want to plan a day full of doing fun things.
So that’s what I do. I plan coffee chats and yoga dates. I plan hangs in new cities for us to explore. I plan dinner parties and clothing exchanges. And you might be thinking that those things don’t sound fun to you. That’s fine. Don’t get bogged down in the details, because the details don’t matter. What matters is just figuring out what you love to do and start doing those things with people. Sometimes you’ll include people that maybe you shouldn’t have. That’s ok. Now you know. But sometimes, when you are out doing something you love with a new person you’ve just met, you’ll realize something: You love being with this person. This person, is someone you want in your life. This person, is a friend.
I loved, loved listening to Jen Hatmaker’s conversation with Shauna Niequist on her new podcast because they really dive deep into the topic of friendship and share their own helpful tips on how to form meaningful and lasting friendships. I cherished their wisdom on how to be a good friend and they inspired me to keep putting the work into my female relationships.
As an adult, I’ve worked to better understand myself in the context of my personality, my enneagram number, and my happiness style. And, I’ve come to the stunning conclusion that the reason why I’ve always felt like something was missing in my life for all those years is because something WAS missing – friendship! It’s not that there was something wrong with me that people didn’t want to be my friend (that is insecurity talking). Instead, it’s that there was something wrong with my thinking which kept me from pursuing the very thing I so desperately wanted and needed.
I’ve learned the hard way that it’s important to go first, to be the type of friend you want, and to do the things I love in order to find people to love. I’ve learned that I need to look at people and situations with clear eyes – not eyes that are clouded with insecurity or with the stories those insecurities are trying to tell me. Sometimes people really ARE just busy and can’t hang out. And it’s ok for other people to hang out without you. That doesn’t lessen your friendship. And sometimes, people feel disconnected from you because of stuff that has NOTHING to do with you. Our insecurities will drain, derail, and destroy our friendship efforts. So it’s important to check your thoughts before you, well, you know – check yo’self before you wreck yo’self!
There is one final point I lovingly and gently want to encourage you to consider when you are thinking through how to build healthy friendships. One that isn’t easy to discuss OR experience, but that is just as important as the other four.
Some relationships are just for a season. While others, were never truly meant to be a part of your life: period.
I’ve had some relationships that were very important to me that, though it saddens me to admit, were just a part of my life for a season. And that is ok! That doesn’t make either one of us a bad friend. People move, change jobs, change perspectives, or simply grow apart. Sometimes we are only really close to people because of common life situations (ie where we work), and when we no longer share that situation, we grow apart.
In those situations, I think the best we can do is mourn the loss of the relationship, but also honor it for what it was – a friendship for a season. We need to be gentle with both people involved and careful not to drain either trying to prop up a relationship that has passed it’s expiration date.
Some relationships are just for a season, and that is ok. You have permission to grow, move on, and grow apart.
And then…there are those relationships that, for one reason or another, probably shouldn’t have ever had a place in our life. The ones that we start out of convenience or loneliness or maybe just bad judgment. I apply the same logic to this that I apply to every everything else in life: We have a limited amount of time on this earth and we either decide how to spend our days/time/energy/etc, or other people will decide for us. We need to get smarter about who we allow to place demands on our life. Ending a relationship because that person is a negative or toxic influence in your life is not selfish, it’s wisdom.
And remember, we teach others how we want to be treated. So when you allow people to stay in your circle of friends who drain you of all emotional, spiritual, and physical energy, then you are teaching that person and EVERYONE around you that that’s acceptable behavior.
In life, a boundary is not demanding that people treat you a certain way. A boundary is simply saying the truth. A boundary in friendship would look like only including friends in your life who love, honor and respect you. If you include people who don’t treat you that way, you can’t then tell them how to behave. Get good at saying no to some people so that you can get good at saying yes to the things and people that matter. (I first heard this idea from Brooke Castillo’s podcast, The Life Coach School, on boundaries.)
I’ve cut a few friends loose over the years because of the demands they place on my life. This is difficult, but necessary. I cannot maintain relationships with people who refuse to extend grace to a mom who has her hands full and loves her friends but also has a lot of other irons in the fire. I am happy to go above and beyond for my true blue friends, but if you have expectations of me that would only truly be fair if we were family, then I’m sorry – but buh bye. I won’t and I will not. I have a husband and all these tiny people making constant demands of my time and energy. I cannot play a role for you that I’m only meant to play for my little tribe here at home.
Oh readers, friends are so, so important. Whether you are the type to go out on adventures with your friends or get together regularly for girls’ nights just invite a friend over for tea and a chat on your sofa, it all matters. We are all made to connect with each other. And we all have the ability to make each other and our lives together, better. But the time and space that we have to offer others is, in reality, limited. So get thoughtful and intentional about what kind of friends you need in your life and start by being that person to someone today.
You won’t always get it right. They won’t always get it right. That’s ok. It’s not about being right or perfect. It’s about coming along side another human being and seeing them for who they are and allowing yourself to be seen for who you are. It’s about showing up. It’s about authenticity and fun and kindness. It’s about all the good things that make life good. And even when life isn’t good – when life is hard and awful and confusing – it’s often times our friends who are there, making the world just a little less scary, a little more tolerable, and whole lot sweeter.
I hope you enjoyed today’s post on friendship. I’m grateful for the reader who requested it. I have two more friendship themed posts coming your way, so stay tuned. 😉 ❤