Friendships are hard. Period. Navigating friendships through all stage of life is hard, especially as life changes. When friendships are good you feel great, but when they come to an end, or you find yourself feeling left out of a group of friends, it can be soul-crushing. It can make you question your personality, doubt your self-worth, and even re-evaluate all the relationships in your life.
My 4-year-old already tells me how she feels sad when some kids don’t want to play with her (and I’ve seen her exclude kids too). I remember the drama of middle and high school friendships well. And, oh! the drama of being in a sorority in college and being “sisters” with 100 other women and sharing a house with 30 or so of them. Even as an adult it continues to be hard. Through different stages of my life, I’ve had friends come and go. I’ve been on the inside and the outside of close groups, I’ve had friends that I’ve spent endless time talking to or spending time with, I’ve had lifelong friends, and I’ve been lonely.
As the mom of 2 girls, I find myself frequently reflecting upon my own experience with friendships and hope that I can instill confidence in my girls so they feel secure in themselves as their friendships ebb and flow in their own lives.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way (and continue to learn) about navigating friendships through all stages of life.
1. You’re not going to be friends with everyone
You’re not everyone’s cup of tea…and that’s OK! I’ve never been a people pleaser. In fact, I have a quote in my bedroom to remind me that I don’t have to be.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” — Dr. Seuss
I’m not saying you should be rude or exclusive. I just mean be YOU and be happy with who you are. People will either like you for you or they won’t. We aren’t meant to be friends with everyone. You will find that you will connect with certain people better than others.
2. It’s OK to let friends go
One of the hardest things for me to learn about navigating friendships through life has been letting friends go. Over my life, I’ve had friends that I spent every waking moment with for a period of time, but then at some point, those friendships fizzled out and we slowly went our separate ways. Some of those people I’m still in contact with more as acquaintances now and some of them I don’t have contact with at all anymore.
It’s really hard to understand how you can be SO incredibly close to someone and then lose contact completely. It can be awkward to have a friend who you’ve shared your deepest, darkest secrets with and then they become someone you simply say hello to across a room and can barely seem to carry on a conversation with anymore. But after a great deal of soul searching, I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t make me (or my friend) a bad person for moving on. We fit into each other’s lives for a season and that friendship was real, true and deep during that time. But I changed, or she changed, or maybe we both changed after a while and we don’t fit anymore.
I strongly believe that God puts people into our lives for a reason and he knows when and what we need at each point in our lives.
3. Be an inclusive friend
You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you should be friendly and welcoming. I read something recently that said, “Not once in the history of ever has a person shed tears over being invited. Not once. But many, many eyes have needed to be wiped because they felt like they weren’t included.”
So, when you’re planning to get a group of friends together, consider inviting ALL of your friends. Even the ones that don’t or can’t always come. Invite the ones who aren’t friends with everyone in the group, but are still your friends. Invite the shy ones who desperately want to be included, but don’t know how to tell you. Trust me, as a shy person myself, I can promise they will appreciate the invitation!
4. Protect your heart in friendships
Not all friendships are healthy. If you find yourself in a friendship that makes you feel less than, makes you wonder if a person is a good influence on you, or makes you act or behave in a way that’s not consistent with your values; consider finding a way out of that friendship. I know that’s easier said than done, especially when you’re young and peer pressure is a real struggle or the person is part of a bigger group of friends that you don’t want to distance yourself from, but it’s important. It’s okay to allow friendships and the people in your life to influence the person you become, but when that influence isn’t positive or doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, it’s not a good thing.