Upon reading the following article published by www.psychologytoday.com on 25/08/17, written by Miriam Kirmayer entitled Adult friendships; The lies we tell ourselves, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment that telling ourselves friendships should be effortless is a big lie! There seems to be this societal belief, or even expectation that all good and meaningful friendships are effortless. They require no time, attention or maintenance. There are no expectations, no upset feelings and no drama! Not only that, but that the acquisition of friendships is a smooth simple process and the ending of friendships is a mutual non event also.
Why does this perception exist? It is unreasonable and untrue and causes those of us struggling with friendships to feel isolated and somewhat broken as a result. “What is wrong with me that I struggle to make or keep friends?” While this sort of self reflection can be helpful, the image that everyone else is socially successful is anything but helpful.
There will always be times in our lives where the social calendar is at capacity, and all is flowing well. What that capacity is, exactly, differs for everyone, (Mine is 5, as previously mentioned) however the satisfaction from engaging in these meaningful connections cannot be denied. Similarly, there will always be times in our lives when we feel socially isolated, lonely, excluded or unsuccessful. These times bring on many self doubts as we tell ourselves that everybody else already has friends and nobody else is struggling or open to new connections.
The truth is that we all struggle sometimes, but we just don’t talk about it. If we have problems in our lives then friends are the ones we often turn to, but when we have problems regarding friendships, unfortunately we often have nobody we can talk to about it. Nobody wants to seem like a “loser” when it comes to social conection, nor do they want to be seen as overly sensitive, dramatic or gossipy. Instead we suffer in silence.
There are many life changes that take place that may lead you to seeking new friends. Moving to a new city is the most obvious one – afterall you have left behind everyone you knew and loved for a new start. It can be daunting when you arrive and start to feel like everybody is already at full social capacity and you will always be on the outer. Other changes include changes in jobs, having children and seeking more connections with other parents, changing careers where you have to start at the bottom again, returning to study, retiring when you realise work friends met many of your social needs or maybe even tragedy such as loss of a loved one or trauma such as an assault or a health diagnosis you feel most people don’t understand, or even changing your religious believes. These are just the few that immediately sprang to mind, I am sure there are many more.
Alternatively you may find yourself in an unfortunate situation where you have suffered the loss of a friendship, or a fracture between yourself and a group of friends, leaving you even more frightened, vulnerable and alone, not to mention questioning your own friendship skills.
The thing to remember is that it is ok to feel socially isolated. If you have acknowledged this to yourself then you have taken an important first step! Well done. The next step is to remind yourself that feeling socially successful, fulfilled and connected is an important human need that we have all experienced and can understand. I know it feels daunting to admit you are struggling, but there is no shame in doing what you need to do to make those important social connections. Matter of fact it is important for your mental health that you do. How you start is up to you. There are websites you can join, clubs, churches and meet up groups you can attend, new people you can meet at every place you go or people you can ask to introduce you to others. You will be happy you did when that fulfillment starts filling your soul once more.
Now, this piece would be incomplete without discussing the time it takes to develop a friendship. While you look longingly at the best friends in your office and wish that you could find your person and feel quietly excluded, keep in mind that they didn’t instantly become best friends. It took time to develop that level of closeness. They were once new to each other just as you will be with your friends. As you invest time and energy into your friendships, some will naturally develop into closer bonds than others. Some will fizzle out and some will start hard and fast and finish in much the same way. Be patient. All friendships will feel effortless when things are going well, but as in any relationship with another human, it is impossible to expect things will always stay effortless!
Once you are satisfied that you have reached a level of friendship that is mutually rewarding, you must continue to maintain that friendship. Friendships are not effortless. If you give little effort you receive little reward. Always practice good open communication, show empathy, be kind and generous of spirit. Trust in a friends positive intention toward you and be as forgiving as possible. Show an active interest in their lives and make sure you share enough about yourself to keep it reciprocal. Make time to communicate, celebrate, commiserate, just talk and connect and time to just enjoy one another. If things hit a rocky patch, be aware of your feelings and discuss those instead of the actions.
Know that friendships come and go, and that is just as natural as relationships coming and going. When they go, put yourself out there, and even before that, always stay open to new connections. You never know when things may change and the things you shared with one friend may end or seem less important than they are now.
When friendships end, don’t internalize it too much, learn what you can and focus your energy on making new connections, or building stronger ones with existing friends. Be willing to acknowledge your social issues and encourage others to do the same. Everybody needs a friend. Go be one and see what happens!
Friendships are not effortless and nor should they be. We need to discuss this and find language to describe endings, social isolation and get rid of the stigma that comes with admitting loneliness. Are you with me?
Your Best Friend ForNever