A look at choosing friendship with awareness, who you spend time with and why.
Yesterday I met old friends, work colleagues I have known for almost thirty years. We haven’t seen each other since the start of the pandemic, despite several attempts.
We sat in a cafe, ate lunch, drank coffee and tuned in. We talked family, work, politics and growing older, bolder and wiser until eventually one of us burst the bubble and waved goodbye heading hurriedly out of the door for a zoom meeting. I find a deep sense of comfort in the company of people I have known forever, yet not all friendships are the same. There are friends I have known for a similar amount of time who I really don’t know at all. It has only ever been a “chat-bob” kind of connection, my way of describing conversations which never go beyond the superficial. The kind of friendship where you don’t go near anything that matters. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the Chat-Bob Queen when required, it just doesn’t feed me.
Reflecting on the days events, I began to explore how I feel with friends, why I can be myself with some and not others. In my experience, the sharing of an emotional event, whether that be changes at work, getting married, pregnancy and birth, raising children, or caring for ageing and dying parents creates a lasting bond, a connection that offers the possibility of closeness. I recognise that in order to share these experiences in the first place, you need to feel safe. This knowledge goes a long way towards explaining the levels of intimacy which can be achieved in some relationships but not others.
It’s often a crisis which cracks us open. In our wild moments of panic, chaos and grief we somehow find those who are willing and able to offer support. Observing who we choose to talk to at these times offers fascinating insights. I found complete strangers helped me enormously when my father died. Small acts of kindness and understanding, given freely with love when I was completely overwhelmed, restored my faith in humanity and in myself, it enabled me to continue.
Friends come and go and, just because they are only with us a short while, is no measure of the depth of connection we feel. I have sat beside a stranger on a train, had the most incredible human exchange, never to set eyes on them again.
If we are to move on in life, to grow and to flourish, to achieve our dreams and potential, we must allow friends to come and go. When the relationship has run its course, it’s an act of love to move away, to let go, accepting nothing lasts forever and that friendship is as impermanent as anything in life. Our denial of this truth can be the very reason we cling to worn out friendships which no longer support our growth. This doesn’t mean life is an endless party. We all go through challenging times and occasionally feel friends will grow weary of our inability to laugh when we are desolate. In times of grief, loss and enduring illness, we discover who will stay the course, who will be with us on the journey and who will fade seamlessly into the background.
I took a long look at my friendships and was surprised to see how much of an imbalance there was in many of them. I stopped contacting where I had always initiated. Many didn’t get in touch and when we did bump into one another would say: “you haven’t been in touch” or “hello stranger” or “I’ve missed you.” There are as many different kinds of friendship as there are people, it’s our responsibility to work out what we want, what we need and to establish firm clear boundaries which honour who we are. We fail to do this for fear of rejection and abandonment, yet without firm boundaries in place we can feel abused, down trodden and taken for granted.
Healthy relationships involve the giving and receiving of time, energy, love, space, nurture and care. Caring enough for another human being to share some, or all of the above. It’s important to check in with yourself on a regular basis, to notice how you feel before you meet, during the time you are together and afterwards. You will feel uplifted and nourished in the company of some friends yet completely rung out with others. Some will listen, others are unable to listen, yet happy to give advice without being asked. Sometimes you realise, at the end of the evening, that they haven’t asked you a single thing.
We all have needs, emotional drivers which attract particular kinds of relationships. This may be because we are hiding, are afraid of something, or feel we have nothing to offer. Whatever the reason, noticing how you feel in the company of others enables you to choose, and therefore achieve, better quality relationships. Over time, these are the relationships which will endure and certainly the ones which will nourish and sustain you.
And finally, never underestimate the difference between the social butterfly and the introvert. The social butterfly may appear to be the life and soul of the party, yet seek unattainable intimacy. The introvert may feel they have nothing to say, preferring a quiet night in to a wild night out whilst connecting deeply in their own quiet way. We are all unique with special gifts to offer to the world and to our relationships. Recognising this uniqueness allows us to come to a place of wholeness, a place of self-acceptance and ultimately self love. A place where we can be at home with others, comfortable in the knowledge that we are enough; we always have been.
In the end what binds us and draws us back to healthy relationships is love. The ability to be separated and yet nothing changes.