“And then,” she said to me. “She told me she didn’t need a friend like me anymore, and unfriended me on Facebook. I was sitting in the airport at the time. It made me cry”
I’ve been hearing a lot of these stories recently. Friendships that go sour and end with an unceremonious blocking or unfriending on social media.
We listen to Ted Talks on how to be great lovers. Or we read books on how to be a great partner and cultivate a healthy, functional, fulfilling romantic relationship. We want to be great mothers, great daughters, great co-workers or co-founders or bosses or employees.
But friendships? Do we even know how to have functional, reciprocal, healthy friendships with people we aren’t dating, working with, or related to by blood? Especially if, like us, you spend most of your life travelling and moving around?
I had another friend say to me recently; “I wish there was a manual on how to do adult friendships.”
What are the rules? Is not knowing your friends love language a deal breaker? If you don’t buy them a birthday gift but take the day off to take them on a beach adventure, and they feel like you don’t love them, is that your fault, or theirs? Is that something we should be communicating to each other? Or is that just in romantic relationships? What about if you forget their birthday on Facebook, is that just a digital ‘whatever’ or is that, like, really bad? How many times can you trade back and forth ‘let’s catch up soon!’ Texts before you both have to admit the friendship is dead in the water?
What does it mean to be a good friend in adulthood?
And how do we keep strong friendships in our adult lives? Here is what I have roughly learnt so far about how to have and keep strong friendships as an adult
1. Showing up.
The quickest way to lose friends is simply to not show up for things. I used to be a pretty flaky friend. I would feel bad saying no to people, so would commit to everything, get overwhelmed and then bail on all of it. Not a great formula. Muchas hurt amigas.
“I’m so sorry, I can’t make it to drinks tonight,” I sent to a friend once, cancelling last minute drinks with the girls I grew up with. It was winter, I was drowning under deadlines and didn’t want to get out of my pyjamas.
“We’re all busy, mate,” she friend responded (yes, it was in Australia) “We all still make the effort.”
And it’s true. We’re all busy. We all lead full, complicated, overwhelming, messy, exciting lives. But if your friends are making the effort to show up for you, it is common decency to try make the effort to show up for them. Or if you can’t, be honest about why, and let them know as soon as possible. That’s why now I try to be really intentional when I accept invites. If I know my week is full, I won’t say ‘yeah, sure!’ To that ‘coffee this week?’ Text. I’lll reschedule for a time I know for sure I can be available.
If I know I’d rather remove my eyeballs with a spoon then go out to a crowded sweaty bar on the weekend, I’ll suggest a morning surf with the friend inviting me instead. And sometimes, I’ll try to remind myself to suck it up and just commit a few hours for a friend.
‘Miss you!” Texts can be a sweet little way to remind a sister you’re thinking of them, but they aren’t the basis of an entire friendship. I mean, none of us are perfect. And of course sometimes life just gets bananas. But there’s no substitute for face-to-face, or if you live in different countries, a quick, 15 minute FaceTime or voice chat.
I can set boundaries with my boyfriend all damn day long. But when it comes to friends, I struggle. Why? Because I know if I set a boundary with my boyfriend, he will accept it. He will love me anyway. I can trust that he won’t abandon me. He can handle the discomfort for a hot second while we recalibrate and talk about it, as I can with him.
With friends, I feel like I never know. As most of my friends are either just passing through on their travels or in a different country, on a screen, friendships can be cut off in seconds. In school if you had a fight with a friend you had to get over it pretty quickly cause it was awkward as hell sitting behind them in class for 8 hours a day every day. Now, with the world as our playground, we can have a conflict with someone and never see them again in our life. Which brings me to the third point.
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Learn to handle healthy conflict.
If you spend an extended amount of time with someone, no matter how long, differences in opinion, priorities or desires are bound to arise. And so often, instead of being honest and working through something with someone, we ghost them, or just cut them off. Because we know if we bring up an issue with something, we might hurt them. Or even worse, they might respond with ways that we’ve hurt them and that might make us uncomfortable for a bit.
So we throw out the friendship. Which, if you think about it, is wild. It’s like driving a car off a cliff and buying a new one every time the tank runs out of gas. Just because our own egos can’t handle 10-15 minutes of awkward conversation. The alternative is we don’t speak our truth to our friends because we’re afraid of hurting them, so in turn continue to let them push our boundaries. We think that’s being giving, we think that’s being a martyr, until you realise you have started resenting them and don’t want to be anywhere near them anyway.
Instead of weakening friendships, good, healthy conflict resolution can actually make it stronger.
It deepens understanding and builds trust, like; I can tell you my truth and I know you won’t leave me. You’ll stay the distance even when it doesn’t feel good.
I can lay out boundaries with my boyfriend and speak to them the minute I feel threatening. Because I feel safe. Because I know he’ll work through it with me.
I want to cultivate friendships that feel this good too.
And what if the friendship shouldn’t be saved?
Sometimes, the friendship really does need to end. It might be an event that reveals a fundamental difference in values. Sometimes, someone really does hurt someone else beyond repair. I have been on both sides of this. I have found the most decent thing to do, if you can handle it, is let someone know why you’re ending the friendship. Otherwise it’s just the equivalent of ghosting.
Be ok when they leave you and know it’s ok to leave people. Some people come into your life for a reason, some a season, and some a lifetime. It’s okay to let people go.
Friendships are like any relationship. The good ones take time, effort, respect, honesty and love.
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Feature Image: Dom Granger