How to stop stressing about friendships

FriendshipIt’s 20 years since one of the most successful TV shows – ‘Friends’ first graced our TV screens. This was a light-hearted comedy about a group of 20-somethings that hung out together in a stream of endless hilarious situations. If only real friendship were as simple as meeting in a coffee bar each week and then waiting for something kooky to happen.

Perhaps, for some people, their friendships are like that. But for me it’s always been a bit of a struggle. I am lucky that I have a number of wonderful people in my life who I can call friends. But for every friend I’ve kept, there is another I’ve managed to lose, grow apart from, or somehow never manage to see. And this saddens me. In most cases the problem has been caused by my own insecurities, by drinking too much and acting like a idiot, or just by being rubbish at keeping in touch. A few I have naturally grown apart from as our lives have headed in different directions and geographic locations. Yet I still often think of these people and find myself beating myself up about not been exciting enough, or diligent enough to keep them in my life. The other problem is I’m a bad mixer of people. I hate hosting parties and I panic when the attention is focused on me. The few times when I have tried to introduce friends seemed destined to end in failure. Add a small baby into the mix and the options to meet friends are narrowing even further, as opportunities to socialise in the evenings or weekends decrease.

Dwelling on lost friendships can be a pretty depressing activity at the best of times, so in these moments of retrospection, I try to remind myself of the following.

1. I only have so many hours in the day and I know a lot of people. It’s impossible to keep up with everyone 24/7 and everyone has their own lives to live too. Realistically can I really maintain a proper friendship with 100 different people?

2. Friendships are not static, they ebb and flow like everything else. People and life circumstances change. It’s not a concious choice not to see people, it’s just that life and people move on.

3. As a result of the above, some people stay in your life and some people go and then new ones take their place. This is doesn’t necessarily mean I no longer care about those people, or they me.

4. If I think about the hundreds of people I meet every year it’s unrealistic to assume I’m going to like all of them or that they will like me.

5. I know that with a real friend, if I unintentionally say the wrong thing, or behave badly, they will let me know I’ve messed up and forgive me (provided it’s not every time I see them). With real friends I never feel shy or awkward, or that I’ve done something embarrassing. Real friends don’t insult me or ridicule me or suddenly blank me. With real friends, even if I can only see then once a year,  I know that I will pick up exactly where I left them.

6. It’s ok not to hang out in big groups of people all the time and to feel uncomfortable when I do. If this is something I really want to move towards, I can work on it and take small steps.

7. I remind myself that there I have people I have known for years and the likelihood is that they are not going away anytime soon. Even if I don’t see them much, knowing I have them to call on makes me happy.

8. In the same way I have different friends for different things (some to go out with, some to chat with, some to tell secrets to), no doubt I fulfil different functions for other friends and that’s not a bad thing either. I guess there are degrees of friendships and that’s ok.

9. I try my best to be there when my friends need me and respond to any requests for help. That’s what friends are for.

10. If at times I’m a rubbish friend then I’m only human. If I fail, then I just have to try harder next time. If friends move on, I wish them the very best and be thankful for the times we have shared. Like relationships, friendship should be a choice not just a duty that neither really enjoys.

A final word should go to friends on Facebook. I admit I remain an uneasy participant on Facebook. I enjoy hearing what my friends are doing and I put up the odd post. I have a reasonable amount of connections, but I am unwilling to spend hours of my days online. I feel I am keeping in touch with people, letting them know I’m alive, but I am sceptical that by ‘liking’ a post or adding a comment, I am really being a friend in the true sense of the word. There just feels so little effort involved. In future I will aim to use Facebook a bit less and phone a bit more or send a letter or card – it just feels a bit more authentic. I feel that friendships where possible are best shared face to face and the challenge is to find that clutter free space in my life to help them grow and get rid of activities that don’t really matter.

Are there other ways in which you could connect with the people in your life?

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