When I was a senior in high school, my English teacher told me that after graduation, I’d be able to count my true friends on one hand. I rolled my eyes. Just another old person spouting off outdated life lessons. I was in a tight circle of girlfriends and nothing could ever take away our bond!
Fast forward a few months, after my first week in college, someone asked how my high school best friend was doing. I was like, “Who?”
Friendships can be weird like that. In a way, it’s how it’s supposed to be.
Several months ago I wrote an essay for young girls about friendships. The point was simple: life is too short for crappy friends. It was easy to write because things don’t change much as we get older. Sure, the intensity of mean girl cliques and the desire to be cool and popular can die down, but the principles are the same: we want to be liked, respected, and to share our lives with other people. We aren’t built to be alone. Well, unless it’s an exhilarating Target run without kids, obviously.
Although our culture has shifted, it appears our need for a tribe has stayed the same. But which individuals, which trusted few do we let into our lives?
Hopefully they will be the people who get our sense of humor and love us unconditionally. The people who call us out on our crap without judgment. The people who are loyal and would stand up for us against those hurting us, even if doing so could hurt them too. The people who don’t reject us the moment they realize we aren’t so perfect after all. Is that too much to ask?
Well, it may be too much to ask of the woman we make friendly small talk with at the playground. She’d be like, “Whoa, pump the brakes lady. I’ll share this bench, not my secrets.” But for the people who have been given the honor to truly know us? I don’t think it is.
Motherhood can be a particularly vulnerable, lonely time because we’re so damn needy. We need to relate, we need answers to our millions of questions, we need a laugh, probably a bath, and some friends that just “get it.” Misery loves company, but joy does too.
So, we join online pregnancy and mommy groups. We book play dates, join church groups, and introduce ourselves on the playground. This desire to fill the friendship void, however, can lead to the slightest hint of desperation, and our standards for friendship can get a little lax. I’ve witnessed mommy groups devolve into a Mean Girls message forum where barely anyone gets out alive. Relationships are hard. And weird.
To make things even more complicated, even when we do have wonderful friends, we can still feel isolated and lonely. This is common. Friends growing distant with little explanation is also common. Rejection, sadly, is common too. Life is a constant cycle of life and death and friendship certainly isn’t immune to this ebb and flow.
I’m fortunate enough to have a small handful of close friends I can rely on, but that doesn’t mean loneliness evades me. It can be hard to find something to talk about when the only thing happening in my life is my baby. Infants have an all-encompassing way about them, I’m afraid. I’m also committed to stepping into my purpose as a writer. Few understand why I would stay up until 3 AM writing with an infant who is a dedicated morning person. So, whenever I meet someone new and there’s a connection, I tend to speed things up and get to the good parts of the friendship where you can say anything, be confidants and laugh hysterically. I offer over the best parts of myself like a fragile gift I just know they will cherish and keep close to their heart. Except, of course, when they don’t.
Maybe I do it because I’m a Libra, maybe I do it because I’m an optimist. Maybe it’s because I’m prideful and trick myself into thinking no one can hurt me. Probably all of the above. I think I need the Bible verse, “Don’t cast your pearls before swine” tattooed on my forearm as a reminder (or maybe written in pen or something washable). If people don’t offer what I want or need in a friendship, it doesn’t make them a bad person, it just means I shouldn’t have given them my pearls.
As each year passes, my tolerance for people who don’t respect and value my pearls dwindles. I’m always shocked by how neediness can cause me to compromise my own self respect and dignity. I’ve allowed friends to be emotionally abusive and manipulative because I knew their personal issues and anxieties were making them behave that way, and told myself I was strong enough to not take it personally. I’ve walked away from a wonderful person who grew distant over a trivial conflict. It was a sure sign I gave my pearls to someone who didn’t really want them. I still miss her.
I read once that in order to love yourself, sometimes you’ll appear unloving. I think that’s why I stuck around some friendships that were causing me to wither — I didn’t want to appear callus or be misunderstood among our mutual friends. Yet, if I’m not growing or thriving, I’m dying. As I’ve said before, life’s too short for crappy friends.
So, when we find ourselves feeling lonely, what are we to do?
I don’t have the answer, but I have some ideas. A lonely, isolated season, like winter, is the ultimate reset button. A time for rest, reading, preparing, and more time to fall in love with ourselves. Not from a place of ego, but from a place of self-worth. Then, as the sun begins to shine again and the birds begin to sing, we enter a new season of friendships and growth. I’m starting to sound like a New Age guru sitting next a man playing a wooden flute, but I may be on to something here.
Not all friends are created equal and they definitely aren’t all meant to last forever. Sometimes they do, but usually it’s for a certain time, during a certain job, during a particular phase, or during a long flight.
And we needed them all, good and bad, in some way or another. They come into our lives, guised as a friend — but perhaps they were an obstacle, a distraction, or a lesson we needed to learn. Maybe they were a mirror that showed us something we needed to realize about ourselves. We always learn from the people who show up in our lives. We can’t help it.
As for the friend that hurts us, rejects us, or walks away from us like we’re nothing — well, sometimes I’m that friend. Perhaps sometimes we need an isolated season to grow into the friend we want for ourselves. Then, as is the order of things, what we need shows up right on our doorstep.
See, the hard truth is that most people won’t be loyal to us. Most people will be awkward and distant during our tougher times. Most people would put business, money, reputation, hell — even their nail appointments over us.
But some won’t. And those precious friends who cherish our pearls, well, they will be few. I would even guess you could only count them on one hand.
The perfect amount.
I guess old English teachers know what they’re talking about after all.