In hindsight, it is probably a blessing that no one told me at 13 that 20 years later, I might still be dealing with middle school drama when it comes to friendships. I mean, where is the hope and change in that unpleasant spoiler alert? Thankfully, I now know it is possible to both experience and survive the turbulence of the teenage years even when you are decades beyond being an actual teenager. As with any worthy goal in life, the key is to keep trying, which is exactly what friendship in my 30s has taught me.
To be honest, I may have hit a rough patch in adult friendships because I wasn’t expecting it at all, so it felt that much bigger and that much more challenging when it happened; it also came in stages. The first was moving to a town where I knew no one but my husband. The second was having babies and deciding to stay home with them (OK, truth – both of those things happened in my 20s). The third, which actually did happen in my 30s, was opening my heart in a place that ultimately wasn’t meant to sustain it, and that is where the roughest transition began; it was also what taught me the most about what adult female friendship is really meant to be.
Here are some of greatest lessons I’ve had in the last few years of finding, losing, and cultivating friends as a grown woman:
Lesson #1: Your circumstances often influence your friend choices.
If you have kids of a similar age or are enrolled in some of the same (kid) activities around town, you are likely going to bond with these women first. Actually, just having kids or not has also played into my own friendships as babies or no babies can really impact a person’s schedule. This also goes for any extra-curricular activities in your life (see? I just can’t get away from the middle school analogy!). If you have a particular hobby or interest, chances are some of the people who march to that similar drum are going to become important to your head and your heart. That’s as it is should be. But if a friendship goes sour, forced run-ins can get awkward pretty quick and you’ve got to find a way to either rise above or pretend like you already have. Seriously. Fake it ’til you make it goes a long way in these situations.
Lesson #2: Gossip doesn’t go away.
Dang it. I wish I could tell 13-year-old me that snide comments and behind-the-back talk definitely disappears by the time you graduate high school, but sadly that just isn’t quite the case. Some grown women handle this better than others (i.e. don’t do it or don’t get as bothered by it), but if you are a word-influenced soul like I am, knowledge of gossip can really hurt emotionally, not to mention the toll it can take on your ability to trust others in the future. Again, see aforementioned advice about rising above and/or pretending you are until you actually can.
Lesson #3: Real friendships are not all sunshine and roses.
As with any relationship worth holding on to, perfection is impossible. There is no way you will ever find someone who is exactly like you and will understand exactly how you think and feel. I spent a lot of time trying to find this in a friend, and a great space was opened in me when I put together that I did not need someone exactly like me, I needed someone who could embrace, love, and support me exactly as I am. That is to say, a friend or friends who would take me and all my flaws and have me anyway. This also covers disagreements and how they are handled within the friendship. Can you and your friend have differing opinions and still walk away as friends, even if neither one of you changes your mind? Can you tell your friend she hurt you and she hears you rather than tries to blame it on you? Those are signs of a healthy, adult friendship.
Lesson #4: Your support system is out there.
Please don’t let the false starts and the short-lived friendships mislead you. Your women are out there and, trust me, they are worth finding. Even if you have to go out on a limb and invite someone to coffee or dinner to get to know her better, it is going to do you such good when you find the ones who will be there for you through all sorts of storms, triumphs, and all the in-betweens. The ones who will pick up your kids when you have a schedule conflict; the ones who will pick you up off the floor when things fall apart; these are the ones worth seeking and holding close. And most importantly, you deserve to be treated, supported, and loved in this way, so please don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise or let a bad experience close your heart off for good.
Lesson #5: There really is a reason behind it all.
Know how everyone says people come into your life for a reason? They say it because it is Truth. Even the ones who temporarily transport you back to middle school. They are there to show you a way to other people, other connections, and also for you to learn what you truly desire from the friends in your life. I have lost friends to time, distance, and disagreement, but those very same women have led me to better understand both myself and the kind of women I want to have carry and support me through this season of my life. Will all of the current ones stay? Perhaps not, but while we are together, I will do my best to be a true friend while remaining grateful for the friendship I receive in return.
The great takeaway for the 13-year-old in each of us? It may not get easier, but honey, it does actually get better with time, new starts, and yes, an open heart.