Have you ever had a friendship- a close heart friendship- a friendship you worked for and trusted, a friendship you hoped would be lifelong, fall apart? It doesn’t matter why, I’m sure when relationships end the blame is not on any one party. No matter the circumstances or the cause, it hurts. Sometimes, letting go of those friendships is hard but necessary. Even when it’s best for all parties involved, it’s not fun.

I find myself wanting to defend myself. A lot. To say “no no no, that is not how it happened.” I can readily accept my part but sometimes it’s hard to not reciprocate hurt for hurt. I tend to shut down and assume all responsibility in the moment and then I stew: “wait but that wasn’t fair, sure I share some of the culpability but was the only one? Am I a horrible person? Is it *all* my fault?” 

I recently read a piece by a college aged female about friend groups. It was interesting because I have been reflecting on that very idea lately. After 33+ years, I’m finally ready to admit, I do not like friend groups. And, I’m not good at them. I’m great at cultivating one on one friendships. I’m wonderful at organizing casual get togethers with lots of acquaintances. But, mixing the two? No, I can’t do it. I don’t know if it’s that I haven’t found the right group or just that my personality does better in one on one situations. Whatever the cause, it’s been a long tough road to walk and I hope that my experiences can save others from making the same mistakes in group and one on one settings. 

Mistake #1: Gossip. Gossip is probably the biggest, most significant error I have ever made in my friendships. Even innocent chit chat about other people can be harmful to relationships. The thing is that gossip not only hurts other people through damaging opinion or reputation but it hurts you. I can’t count the number of times someone has shared something they feel about a mutual friend and it has affected my opinion or feelings toward that person negatively. I am very sensitive so I tend to pick up on attitude and tension. I tend to want to take sides and let’s be honest here (because I try to be) I want sides taken when I’m feeling hurt or treated unfairly (you’ll see this word a lot in my discussion of feelings- I have a grave sense of justice apparently and it really irks me when someone perceives me someway other than that which I meant to portray). So, you can see gossip hurts relationships two fold, one, if you have a perceived hurt and the other party doesn’t agree it can actually hurt your relationship. Two, if you share a conflict and the other person does agree it taints both of your view of that third person. For me, if the negative feeling is reinforced outwardly, it tends to fester. Whereas if I am annoyed myself but keep it private, I’m likely to think it out and come to a conclusion that is more understanding and compassionate. 

Mistake #2: Ignoring red flags. If you have an indication that a relationship will not work early on, listen. The other person may have a lot of issues and need a lot of support. That’s not a bad thing but two things to ponder: does that person take time to listen when you have a problem? And, do you have time to devote to constant comforting, affirmation, and support. Some people don’t need a lot of attention and they thrive on being caretakers. In that scenario, a relationship with one person being needy and the other the comforter, works. It may be that you like to be needed and in that case a more independent personality may not mesh so well with yours. Listen to your gut and build your friendship accordingly. I feel like I’ve missed out on great people because we didn’t make great close friends but we could have been really great acquaintances if I’d just listened to my gut and kept boundaries (see mistake #4). 

Mistake #3: Not speaking out about conflict. I’m a wimp. I hate conflict. I avoid it at all costs in personal relationships. I am very very unlikely to say “you did this and that hurt/bothered/annoyed me.” But, sometimes you need to say that. If you have a friend who is constantly 45 minutes late and you like to be punctual and you don’t say anything, they’re going to continue to be late and you’re going to be annoyed. Saying something may not change it but then at least you have parameters and expectations. If someone constantly cancels play dates (I’ve been that person) and you just say “oh that’s okay” when really it’s not. The relationship can’t grow. If I know something is important to my friend and I tend to do something contrary to that, I would rather have a chance to work on it, rather than just ending the relationship. It’s hard to open yourself up, so I think you have to decide early on: is this relationship worth having a discussion or do I put up a boundary? In the case of cancelled play dates, I remember feeling frustrated at first when confronted. However, on further reflection it was valid and I valued the friendship. So, moving forward, I decided I needed to make sure I followed through when I made plans. And, I’m glad my friend gave me a chance to fix it instead of just festering over the annoyance. Her concerns effected how I made plans but in a good way- it made me more mindful and in the long run, a better friend. 

Mistake #4: Not putting up boundaries. Initially, when I meet someone and I like them, I decide I’m going to tell them my whole life story and we’re going to be close and it’s going to be perfect. That’s where #2 and 3 come into play. Sometimes a relationship cannot work on an intimate level for any number of reasons. But, if you recognized limitations early on, it could still be a positive relationship for all involved. For example, if someone is super busy all the time, expecting them to be your shoulder to cry on at a moment’s notice may not work out.  But, that friend may be good to go out and grab some coffee with once every other month. Or if you are at two different places in life, one has lots of little and one has grown kids, you may not be able to do middle of the day activities all the time but weekend girls night might be fun. If you assess your relationships early on and decide what you have to give and what you can fairly expect, you will be able to set boundaries that benefit both people. 

I have made a lot of mistakes in my 33 years of relationships. I have had many friends come in and out of my life. Sometimes the drifting apart was natural and sometimes it’s been abrupt and painful (I’ve often found nothing but time and distance heals those wounds). I learn from each relationship and I’m always striving to be a better person and better friend. I’m coming to realize that I can’t be everything to everyone (I really want to!!) and that’s okay. The people who accept what I have to give and value me with all my quirks, those are the people who will make life long friends. The rest of them? There will be someone else who will be a better friend than I can, and I have come to be okay with that.

6 Comments

  1. I really like this post. And the article you linked to about “friend groups” definitely sparked some deep thoughts – and grateful acceptance. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    1. Thank you! I’ve really been doing some constructive thinking about myself, my relationships, and life in general- it’s helping me feel at peace with past mistakes and hopeful for not repeating them in the future!

  2. I have a rule I always try to follow. NEVER repeat anything negative someone says about friend or acquaintance. ALWAYS repeat something positive someone says about a mutual friend or acquaintance. I’ve seen more friendships broken up because someone with a big mouth told a third party something unkind a mutual friend said. I call those folks “pot-stirrers” and I think most of the time they are reenacting the childish behavior of little girls who want to be the “bestest” friend of someone and so they try to create conflict between her and other friends. Often the gossip is twisted to put the other in the worst possible light and may not even reflect what the person meant. You don’t often see this behavior in men but, unfortunately it’s relatively common in women. As my mom used to say, “If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, keep your mouth shut!” Good advice!

    1. I always tell people not to tell me if someone is saying mean things about me because I don’t want to know. If someone doesn’t like me for whatever reason (which there are bound to be a few people though I can’t imagine why ?), I figure it’s best to just remain in blissful ignorance and my guess is that the relationship won’t flourish anyway. I agree though- repeating such things tends to hurt the relationship with the person who’s repeating them as well.

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