Monday, 16 May 2016

Mull it Over Monday: Adult Friendships

When I was a child I never gave making friends a second thought. If I was at the park or the playground at school I would simply say, “Wanna be friends?” or “Okay, we’re friends now.” and life went on. Zero fucks given! Sometimes I never saw those kids again but my tiny attention span didn’t care. Onto the next thing! In school we buddy up with our desk neighbors or recess playmates. Having attended the same school from grades K-6th, my friends didn’t change much from year to year. I had the same BFF the entire time with a few others sprinkled in for good measure. I have to wonder if that friendship was setting an example for all future ones.

As we grow up we often grow out of those childhood friendships. We make friends elsewhere like college or work or other places where we might mix and mingle in our adult lives. It feels increasingly difficult to make let alone maintain these friendships. With every new life change it seems we shed a few more folks from our contacts list. Yet we spend our down time watching shows like “Friends” or “Melrose Place” or “Happy Endings” or “How I Met Your Mother” or other such shows where a group of inseparable friends hang out everyday. It all looks so effortless and easy and hey why don’t I have this perfect group of friends in my life!?!??!?!?!

When people find out that I’ve had the same set of friends for 20+ years their eyes bug out of their heads. They can’t believe it or just refuse to. They assume we aren’t close or don’t talk and while that has been true occasionally with a couple, that’s not the case with my nearest and dearest. Some have asked how we make it work or how we manage to remain close and I never really thought about it. I would always just shrug it off and say, “I don’t know!”

I have been thinking about this more and more lately and I’ve come to some conclusions about what has worked for me or maybe what I and my friends might do differently. I think the first biggest thing is simply knowing who you are. We spend our youth trying to figure out what our identities our. Who am I? What do I wanna be? What do I wanna do? If you don’t know who you are how can you find like minded people to hang out with, connect with? We try! But studies have shown that most adult friendships last 3-7 years, tops. I think for a lot of folks this works out just fine, especially in our twenties when our lives feel like an endless series of changes.

Another huge part of the adult friendship thing is just being honest. I don’t just mean not lying to people in order to deceive them. I mean being honest with ourselves, about ourselves, with others and beyond. If you’re constantly putting on airs and pretending to be something you’re not, how can you possibly meet people who you can truly connect with? You can’t. You’ll make fair weather friends and friends who think you might be able to help them get ahead. We do tend to meet people where we’re at and attract what we are, so if you’re not honest you just won’t be able to create the kind of lifelong friendships they write about in literature. It’s about authenticity, not status. You don’t have to take people out for fancy dinners and shows. Whatever happened to just hanging out? Playing board games? Telling stories by the fire? Good conversation is my second favorite drug of choice. These things are timeless and rad and we should do them.

The thing that has made itself unbearably clear to me as an obstacle in adult friendships is vulnerability or really a lack thereof. We never want to appear vulnerable. We hide our pain. We always, politely, say, “I’m good” or “I’m okay, how are you?” when asked. We never get to the part about our struggles or heartaches or heavier topics. Our society has programmed us to never show the not nice sides of ourselves or our lives. Adulthood means more responsibility and more pitfalls than we can anticipate. While we can achieve success in many aspects of our lives, friendships and building them never seem to get prioritized. How can we be there for one another if we never let each other know we need that support? We also need to be vulnerable enough and open enough to accept that support. I still struggle with that part, but I try. We bond more deeply and honestly when we are our most vulnerable with one another. I think that’s why it’s so hard to make those ride or die kind of friends as an adult. We grow closer when we include others in our lives during our struggles and will naturally want to reciprocate that support for one another because of it.

Something I have seen affect many of my relationships is the politics of social gatherings and who gets left out and why. It’s important to celebrate with those you love and love you back, but how many times have we run down our short list only to find ourselves “but then I’ll have to invite _____” after thinking of someone you wanna invite. Feeling obligated sucks. You may have your reasons for not being into someone or avoiding potential conflict by inviting or not inviting them. It’s tricky! I think if you’re finding yourself avoiding someone you should really just let them go. Don’t make it personal, just don’t lie about shit, ya know? Don’t tell someone you’ll invite them to your next thing if you have no intention of doing so. Also don’t be jerk. If someone never accepts your invites do not assume it’s something to do with you. It could be, but it could also be a million other things! With me it’s almost always anxiety or depression or potential triggers (I have PTSD). There are times when I truly want to attend a gathering but simply can’t. Talk about FOMO! (Fear of missing out.) But not getting inviting feels so much worse. So please, keep inviting folks you genuinely enjoy the company of. Maybe just check in with them about what’s going on in their life right now and see if there’s any obstacles you might be able to assist them with if they are open to that. Communication is key!

In fact, communication is everything!!! Look, no one wants to be annoying. No one wants to be lied to. None of us are mind readers. It’s vital to communicate! It’s not weakness to tell someone you want or like something. Why are we always trying so hard to look cool all of the time?! Ridiculous! Just be yourself, do what feels right, and treat people with respect and kindness. I swear we add so much pressure and stress to our own lives by trying so hard to fit in or be liked. What is the point?! I’d rather hate someone for who they truly are than love them for what they’re not! I don’t want to build any relationship on lies. Also, stop trying to live up to anyone else’s expectations but your own (and check in with yourself about what’s important to you and why). Your life is yours to live. You have to live with how you choose to live it. How you treat people is a choice. Choose wisely! Also, take no shit! It’s one thing to be vulnerable and open with your friends, but don’t allow anyone to treat you like a doormat! 

Lastly, time and effort for our friendships simply go right out the window when we have careers and families to worry about. On this one though I gotta say that technology absolutely helps! How long does it take to send a text or an email? A cute or funny picture sent to a friend having a tough time can mean so much. I have been able to maintain and grow friendships entirely online and wouldn’t trade those friends for anything! It really is the thought that counts. I have also recently started to write letters and cards to send to friends via ye olde snail mail and lemme tell ya, it’s awesome! Nothing is as uplifting as getting some kind words from a friend in your mailbox when you’re used to nothing but bills! It’s a way of “showing up” for our friends whether or not we can physically be there for them.

We don’t all have a traditional blood related family to depend on, for whatever reason. For me, my small group of friends are my family. They are who I turn to when I feel like I can’t go on, when I’m struggling, when I’m hurting, when I’m freaking out about all of the pitfalls in life. They are also the first I turn to when I have something to celebrate! We show up for each other and that fucking matters, folks! We lift each other up, we hold one another accountable, we cheer each other on and we’re damn sure there to have each other’s backs, too! (Even and especially on Christmas day! -inside joke-)

It means prioritizing your friends over your love life. It means checking in with each other and checking on one another. To connect with someone in a real way you not only get to know the person they are now but the person they are capable of becoming. I can absolutely attest to that fact in my own life. With the love and support and accountability of my friends over the years I have seen my career grow, opened my own business and made it through a divorce and the struggles of multiple lay offs. They have been there for me every step of the way. When I have been at my absolute worst (literally in the middle of a panic attack at a huge-noisy party) and my best (Fatty Affair)! They push me to be my best self and I am there for them when they don’t know where to turn.

Sometimes it’s simple stuff like getting together for dinner or drinks or watching bad movies and bitching about them after. Or it’s creating an excuse to get together for a karaoke party because they know I’m so fucking depressed and at times it’s the only reason I’d leave the house. We buy tickets for shows we’re in, we bring bouquets of flowers and cheer the loudest! Even when we can’t see each other for months at a time we remain in each other’s lives because these relationships matter to us! We can’t all have children (or simply don’t want to), we don’t all have parents or siblings that love us unconditionally, but we can be there and be that for one another. It takes work! It takes time to develop that level of trust and honesty and comfort with one another. But I am living proof that it is always motherfucking worth it!

There’s no secret handshake. There’s no password. There’s no dress code, though J would prefer no one wears flip flops! Ha-ha! No one wants to hear that things take work or time; those two things seem to make everything harder to attain, right? But real friends will do this. Good people will do this, or the right ones will anyway. Because good people don’t make you feel less than or weird or in the way or not enough. People who connect with you in the right ways, the best ways, will stand up every time to remind you that you are awesome! Even and especially when you can’t see that for or in yourself. My friends are a constant source of love, snark and inspiration and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Mull it Over Monday
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