I know we all like to paint friendships with this magical brush that makes it seem like we can talk to our friends about anything and everything. With some friendships, perhaps this is true, at least for a time, whereas with others, it has actually never been so. That doesn’t make these friendships less meaningful, it just means there are certain rules that need to be respected for the friendship to stay healthy and mutually agreeable and enjoyable.
I have friends with whom I discuss “#MumLife” and our conversations don’t tend to steer very far away from this. Perhaps that is because this is all we have in common, or perhaps it is because that is exactly where we are in life and what we need to vent about. It’s not necessarily that my friends without children couldn’t understand my trials and tribulations with motherhood, it’s just so satisfying when the other person RELATES in a way only other mothers can. It’s probably the same with friends you work with. Sure you can discuss your boss with anyone, but the people who work with you, who deal with the same issues, they really GET IT, and you naturally turn to them first to talk work.
In these situations it feels normal and natural to follow and respect the unspoken laws of conversation. Sometimes, it might be a little less clear though, what exactly the rules are, and why?! For example, I know my religious friend is in no way a prude, however it would feel disrespectful and wrong to turn to her about issues concerning the more intimate areas of my life, while we often talk finances. With other friends we almost always talk about our romantic and sex lives, but it would seem intrusive to discuss money. I’m not sure exactly why this is, it just….IS! As it has always naturally occurred that way though, I don’t question it.
When I make a new friend, I am always hopeful it will be with someone to whom I am free to discuss anything and everything as mentioned above, because I have had those friendships in my life, and they are by far the most welcoming. I have learned though, that things change. The person you could once turn to for everything can just as quickly become the person you can’t turn to. Maybe they are “the thing” you need to talk about or maybe you don’t approve or support what they are doing or vice versa. Maybe you think they wouldn’t understand your choices or behaviours on a certain issue one day and suddenly find yourself turning to someone else, or looking for someone else to turn to in regards to one particular issue.
For the most part, I find I am pretty happy if I have an audience for each area of my life, regardless if it is the same person or not. The rules of conversation, are, ironically, all unspoken. I feel this is for the best, because I have really struggled in the past to maintain friendships with people who presume to imply rules of conversation to our friendship. I once had a friend, for example, with whom conversation was regularly directed towards relationships, dating and sex. My friend at the time was single. When she got into a relationship, she told me in no uncertain terms that discussion of her relationship or anything surrounding it was off limits and none of my concern. Added to that I was not to discuss it, or her, with her partner, with whom I was also friendly. While she was well within her rights to stipulate this and place firm boundaries to protect her privacy, I really struggled to find things to talk about and really resented the insinuation that I was restricted in my conversation to topics she approved of, as though she was the ruler of our conversations. Not just with her, but with her partner too. Our words became harsh and sadly, we didn’t talk at all soon after that. (Note, this was not the sole reason we parted ways, just the catalyst for a bunch of crap that lead to each of us not feeling safe to talk about anything at all, especially not how we felt. Communication fail!)
Happily, there have been more successful examples of transitions. Like when I can see a person’s eyes glaze over when I talk about a certain aspect of my life, either because what I am saying is not something the listener can relate to, or because I have over talked about the issue at hand one too many times. (I am definitely a person who likes to ruminate over certain things longer than most find necessary and struggles to swallow certain truths because they don’t taste as good as I hoped.)
At a lunch with a friend recently, she exclaimed to me “I’m sorry, every time we talk, I seem to say the same things.” I have NO issue with this. I know my friend needs to talk about the issue until it comes to a resolution for her, at which point she will no longer feel the need to discuss it. It was in fact, I think, powerful for her to come to that conclusion on her own and reflect that she seems to be facing the same issues over and over again, without me shining a spotlight on it. However, sometimes maybe you do need to light a candle to help your friend along and encourage her to perhaps make some changes instead of complaining about the same things over and over again. I see value in both approaches. If you must fall into the latter category though, remember Mary Poppins. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Try to phrase it in such a way that shows concern for your friend, and doesn’t make her feel as though you are telling her not to discuss her problems with you, or your friendship may not survive the fallout. Alternatively you could just not really engage her in the topic, and steer the conversation elsewhere.
Then there are those other times when the rules of conversation change “in the most delightful way!” Maybe your “#MumLife” friend branches out and decides to confide in you about something deeper or bigger, and suddenly, you feel more able to do the same. Your friendship feels more meaningful although it never felt meaningless to begin with. If you are going to try and extend your range within a given friendship, you might be glad you did. Just take it slowly, and be sure not to exhaust her with the new topic, until you are certain she is comfortable. Sometimes in our need to share, we forget to be mindful of the amount of energy it may be taking the other person to listen, especially if we are pushing their comfort zone.
Of course, some of the best friendships don’t have much conversation at all, and that is ok too. If you both enjoy events together, and there’s not much room for talking, except about the event, then there’s nothing wrong with that. As long as you are feeling heard and supported in all areas of your life, by one or by many, you will be happy if people seek and enjoy your company for any reason. Bottom line? Know where the boundaries lie, and if you want to push them out, or pull them in, do it slowly and gently, and try not to make a conversation about the rules of conversation?! Blog Fail?! Lol
Your Best Friend ForNever