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4 Hard Lessons About Friendship That Shaped Me

Right now, I’m lucky to say I have some amazing friends who are so supportive, loving, and just rejuvenating to be around.

My best friend in the whole wide world has been in my life for nearly 20 years (which feels wild to say) and even though we’ve had our ups and downs as we’ve navigated life things and growing as people…I know deep down in my bones we’re friends for life. (I often refer to her as my sister on my podcast and most recently cried over our friendship while talking about Pixar’s Luca)

It was honestly through this friendship that I learned what true, unconditional love meant and how to love myself the same way I love her because she helped me see I’m worth loving too.

It’s no secret that my friends are my chosen family. It’s been my ever-deepening connection with people outside of my family of origin that has helped keep me afloat and moving forward.

But it wasn’t always that way. I wasn’t always a good friend. I saw most people as competition and every interaction was a test to prove myself — to prove I was good enough to be loved, to be friends with someone, to be included and accepted…

It took A LOT of growth and maturing to break out of that mindset, especially when it’s the same way my parents showed up in relationships with others — everything was transactional, no one did enough for them, they were always the victim.

Honestly, it probably would’ve been easier to stay in that mindset. I personally think it takes a lot of strength and bravery to turn inward and take accountability for the ways you’ve been a not-great friend or person and actively try to become better.

I’m grateful enough to have friends that have seen me through many different phases and eras of my life and have been soooooo patient with me (and even called me out on my sh!t). 

We don’t heal in a vacuum. Healing happens in safe communities and relationships full of empathy, kindness, and compassion. I would not be who I am without these pivotal friendships nor would I have the same amount of hope, strength, and resilience I do now.

Here are four things I’ve learned from my friendships (good and bad, past and present):

also there’s lots of nuance here and it’s okay if you don’t have the same perspective!

There are different levels of friendships; not everyone is going to be your best bud and that’s perfectly okay. 

It’s unfair to expect someone (or even multiple people) to be everything and meet all of your needs. Different people can meet different needs. I have friends who I know I can go to when I want to go out and have a good time, but they’re not the first people I go to when I need advice. I have friends I talk about every little detail of my life with, but I only see them every so often. 

I’ve learned how to recognize the energy levels I need for certain friends, and as such how much I can tolerate being around them before I start to feel tired. It’s important to recognize this before it turns into resentment.

For example, I have friends that I need to kind of be “on” for and if I’m “on” or even masking around them for too long I get exhausted. And that’s not to say these are bad or draining friends! It’s just the nature of interacting with people. 

I think sometimes we can get into a habit of blaming other people when things don’t click or the vibes are off, or whatever. But it’s always important to turn inward and take a look at how we’re showing up. 

Frequency and proximity might change and that can impact friendships in different ways, but distance and time apart doesn’t mean someone will stop caring about you.

I have friends who I haven’t seen in person in 5+ years and I’ve only witnessed big life things through social media. So while we don’t know exactly what’s happening in each other’s lives, I know that when we do see each other again we’ll pick up right where we left off and it’ll be so fun hearing their new stories.

People may come and go. A lost friend doesn’t automatically make them a bad or toxic friend. It makes sense that as we grow, change, and evolve as people, our relationships will too. It’s part of the process.

Friendship breakups are sometimes harder than romantic relationship breakups, but in the same way it doesn’t always mean it was a failed relationship. 

I’ve been lucky or not so lucky to have never had a “we need to breakup” conversation with friends; some of my friendships have just kind of fizzled out over the years. And while it sucks, I’m reminding myself it doesn’t dictate my worth or question whether or not I was enough for them. Depending on the relationship, I sometimes ask myself “were THEY right for ME?” 

I’m a firm believer that what’s meant for us will not pass us by and that whatever comes and goes in our lives is meant to stay or go. Whatever the case may be, I’m learning to enjoy it while it’s in my orbit. 

Love is not transactional and it does not keep score and it does not secretly test others to prove they love us back. Love just is.

The best friendships I’ve ever had do not keep score. There is no “I did this for you so I expect you to do this for me.” Of course, there’s such a thing as common decency and being a good friend, but oftentimes when we approach our relationships like this, we’re already setting ourselves up for failure.

Actually, I think when we go into any situation or relationship with strict expectations of how someone else SHOULD show up for us and interact with us, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.

In my 20+ years of interacting with people and having friends and being people’s friend (both a good and bad one), I’ve noticed that sometimes we try to test people as if to have them prove they care about us. When we’re feeling disappointed with someone or upset with a person, it might be worth asking, “Are we disappointed because we’ve actually been testing them and they’re not passing my tests? And is that even fair?”

And it makes sense why we might be doing this. It can be a defense mechanism or a response from being hurt in the past so we’re trying to protect ourselves. But really, sometimes, we’re just making it harder for ourselves. 

Again, this is different than having standards and boundaries to avoid mistreatment. But at some point we have to learn how to accept people for who they are and how they show up, instead of who we need or want them to be. (And that leads me back to the first point of being okay that friendship can be a spectrum and everyone will land differently on it.)

Part of loving people is accepting them for who they are, not who we wish them to be and it’s particularly true for friends. 

I feel very lucky to have many people in my life who love me for me and accept me for who I am, exactly as I am. And in having that reflected back to me, it’s helped me better embrace and accept who I am.

So here are your reminders to love your friends and love them fiercely, and if you’re feeling jaded or upset or mad with a friend, identify who much of it is actually them and how they treat you, and how much of it are unrealistic expectations of who we expect them to be and why we’re expecting them to fulfill that role. Remember, boundaries are a form of love. You can be nice and set boundaries, even with your friends.

As always, lots of nuance here; everyone has their own thoughts/opinions/feelings/perspectives on any kind of relationship, so take what resonates and leave what doesn’t!


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