Like many women, I have stumbled my way through countless friendships over the years. I turned 30 this month and I have been friends with a lot of women (and I mean friends, not just casual acquaintances). I had one toxic blow up that ended a friendship, but most have dissolved over time with change in location, change in life circumstance, or change in priorities. It is a rare thing indeed to find women who can successfully navigate all seasons of life with you. But one thing is for certain, all friendships go through ebbs and flows, but some ebb out to never flow back again.
My 20s were full of experiences with my friends, much more than with the guy I was dating. My girlfriends were the ones who sat with me when I was most vulnerable, cried with me, and drank many bottles of Pinot Noir. They were the ones who saw me as the ugliest version of myself and several of them chose to love me anyway. Those women are still my closest confidants. When I look back on my 20s, I realized that through friendships, I learned a lot about how to navigate relationships and a lot about myself as a friend.
1) Don’t Always Let it Go
If you’re easygoing, sometimes it’s difficult to establish boundaries. If you’re sensitive, you might talk yourself out of things that rub you the wrong way and chock it up to being oversensitive. Sometimes, however, being easy going can come back with a vengeance if you ignore red flags often enough and wind up with a ‘friend’ who treats you like garbage because you have consistently allowed it.
It is so important to have small conversations that address singular issues, instead of waiting years trying to untangle a mess of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and tension. Sometimes that tension and anger can drive a wedge so far between two people that the damage cannot be undone.
2) A Little Effort Goes a Long Way
Effort becomes more important as we get older. Especially as more friends move away and/or become parents, time is precious. Before you know it, months have passed and you haven’t even talked to someone you considered a good friend. Keeping in contact has never been easier with countless social media outlets, but it’s important to be more than an observer of someone’s life.
Sometimes visits and phone calls feel impossible, but texting can bridge the time between that one-on-one interaction. When I became a new mom, texting was vital during middle of the night feedings. I would often catch my other new mom friends awake and we would text. It seemed so minimal, but something as small as texting built community and friendship! You work within each other’s schedules and that effort helps to solidify friendships.
3) Fail to Plan… Fail to Friend
So many people live by their calendars. Use that organizational tool to your advantage! My husband and I agreed on ground rules for a schedule. We used to be so booked nearly every weekend that we found we had no time for friends. Now we are smarter about our calendars. We only plan one event every other month. We alternate holidays between my family and his. Then, we can easily add in celebrations like weddings, open houses, and showers that come up throughout the year. Finally, we try to plan things in order to spend quality time with our friends.
One thing that worked well for me was to train for a half marathon with one of my girlfriends. We never trained together because we live in different towns. But we would often text and encourage each other to run, work out, and eat healthy. Then, we met up and had a girls’ weekend for the race. Friendships rejuvenate you. Planning things well in advance ensures that you take time out of work and obligation. These weekends are good for the soul and good for the relationships.
4) Give and Take
Friendship should never be one-sided. There is a metaphor that is perfect for friendships: “Be a faucet. Not a drain.” If you feel that you are constantly doing for someone and they rarely or never return the favor, it’s time to reevaluate the relationship. I had a girlfriend who always asked favors of many girlfriends, but she would ignore texts that asked favors of her. She rarely showed up for baby showers, open houses, and other celebrations, despite often inviting us to her events.
Give and take isn’t just an exchange of effort. It’s an exchange of respect. Returning the consideration given to you is common decency and necessary in friendship. Sometimes things come up, but if it happens more often than not, it might be time to reevaluate the effort and time you are investing and have a conversation.
5) Accepting the Seasons of Friendship
Friendships serve certain purposes. Some friendships are based on proximity and shared circumstance. You might have work friends who you never socialize with outside work. Some friendships might be deep and intense, but only for certain chapters of your life. Graduate school gave me many wonderful friendships; but as those friends took jobs across the country, those friendships slowly began to fade away. Finally, there are friends that weather all seasons and all circumstance. I’m lucky to have two wonderful women that have been in my life for better and for worse since I was 15.
As I enter my 30s, I look forward to meeting new friends, strengthening existing friendships, and maybe even reconnecting with former friends that might cross my path again. I now pursue friendships in my 30s with knowledge and experience that will make me a better friend and attract those who are better friends as well.