My sister once called me a “friendship whore.” It was a crude way to put it, but it strikes a chord of truth: I would do almost anything to win approval. I like being liked, so I want people to like me. When I was little, I desperately wanted to be like Anne (of Green Gables) and find my “bosom buddy.” My nine year-old self would pray every night to Heavenly Father, asking that I would find my best friend, that she would move in right next to me and we’d climb over fences to see each other and swap sleepovers and stay up all night giggling about school, boys, and books. She never came, unfortunately, and I learned that deep, meaningful friendships can still be forged, even if the other person does not live within view of your window, or if you’re not exactly cut out of the same cloth. My shifting circle of friends expanded and contracted as I aged, individuals moved, and common preferences changed.
Over time, I realized that being liked did not always equate to a rewarding relationship. I liked people and they seemed to get along with me, but really belonging seemed to elude me. I would find a friend I clicked with (a roommate or classmate or coworker), but I then moved on and let physical distance act as an excuse for a lapse in connection. I got married and fell into the habit of putting off other relationships in order to just stay home. I loved how close my husband and I grew, but I found myself missing the balance of those other relationships. About a week ago, writhing in my own self pity as I spent too much time looking at other people’s photos on Facebook, I divulged to my husband that I was afraid I did not have any real friends. Sure, I had acquaintances and teammates, but I lacked someone I could bare my soul to who wasn’t married to me or a blood relation. He candidly asked me what I was doing about it. Was I even a good friend?
It was a painful introspection, but I realized that I had turned inward, so focused on my own schoolwork and career plan that I had closed myself off. I wanted to belong, but I took a passive role and expected others to take the action of reaching out to me. I had made myself too busy to be bothered. As luck would have it, my birthday was that same week. My Facebook was flooded with kind wishes, my phone was ringing with texts and calls, and I spent the day being humbled with others’ thoughtful words. I vowed to use the event as a friendship steroid, responding when I could and initiating lunches, phone dates, and email threads. This spurt of interaction has been extremely nourishing. To really belong, though, I’m still learning; I feel like I’ll be learning this my whole life. However, here are some takeaways from my pity party and subsequent humbling (mostly obvious, but still good to remember):
1. Friendships take time – Try to not be so busy that you can’t spare a moment to grab lunch, or at least send an email. To grow a friendship, you need to invest time. However, just a small bit of time can be more than enough if it’s high quality.
2. Prepare to be uncomfortable – If you don’t feel like you belong, don’t necessarily withdraw. Go to events and talk to people, even if you don’t know them that well and you’d rather go home, put on pajamas and watch Netflix. Friendships have to start somewhere and they’ll remain unborn if the conversation never starts.
3. Sign off of social – I spend hours a day on social media — it’s how I stay connected with my network and discover news. I definitely see the merits of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. as a means to meet new people and reconnect with old friends. Just be cognizant of the tipping point, when you stop interacting with others and become solely an observer, comparing yourself to the false reality extracted from others’ posts. Social media can feed self-pity, and sometimes you need a break. Recognize that and sign off.
4. It’s okay to move on – Not everyone will like you, and that’s all right. It’s difficult for a people-pleaser like me to accept, but stop investing energy in a relationship that drains you and gives nothing back. Give a good effort, and if it just doesn’t take, move on.
While my birthday was a marvelous opportunity to inventory my relationships and kickstart my initiative to reconnect, I am far from an expert in belonging. I still want it too much and rely on others’ opinions too much for my self esteem. So, I ask for your advice — do you feel like you belong? How do you foster the friendships that are most rewarding? How do you prevent yourself from becoming a social recluse?