Ok, this is going to piss some of you off. It is going to piss some of my friends off. It is going to piss off a lot of my internet friends I have not yet met IRL . . . but I think you need to hear this.
I have seen a similar blog post one too many times. There are several versions floating around out there and each time I read one, I feel my stomach do an unhappy jump. You know the ones. The ones that talk about how “true friends” don’t need to pick up the telephone, “true friends” don’t need to come visit you at your house, “true friends” may not have time for you, and you need to understand that TRUE friends and adult friendships change, and that is ok, and you should just let yourself off the hook from being a . . . wait for it . . . what is at its core a . . . “true friend.”
I call bullshit on these posts.
(Please don’t throw rotten tomatoes at me).
Just promise me you will read until the end. I do eat (some) of my words . . . not all of them . . . just some. But that is something, right?
Yes, there is a modicum of truth to the basic proposition. As we grow older, our families become our focus. Our life is filled to the brim with children’s activities. We are tired. We are overworked. We are sleep-deprived. We are every sense of the word busy. I get that. I get that there is less time, energy, and truth be told, desire to put into a friendship.
I also get that there are indeed some friendships out there where it DOES work when you may only talk to a certain friend once a year and see her every five. That DOES exist. I know because I have those friendships too. But that cannot be every adult friendship.
I also get that as we grow older, we lose some friends along the way and while it is sad, it happens, and we naturally grow apart. That is not what this post is about. It is about the people in our lives we call friends, the friendships we want, and the relationships we need to cultivate: old and new.
Here is the thing. True friends? True friendship? It takes a little work. It takes a little time. It takes some investment. Not just in the beginning when we are young and free. It is an investment you still need to manage, cultivate, and appreciate. Before you get (too) mad at me, know this, it is an investment that will reward you a hundredfold if you let it.
Women in particular need a village. We need other people, outside our spouse and kids, to commiserate with, to chat with, to celebrate with, and at the end of the day to feel truly heard, known, and understood.
I am going to say that again: Women need to feel heard, known, and understood. By their village. By other women. By their friends.
If you aren’t being a good friend, or having someone be a good friend to you . . . how are you going to feel heard, known and understood? How are you going to make your friend feel heard, known, and understood? It goes both ways. You may have let yourself off the hook, but what that might really mean is that you are letting yourself down too.
I am about to make you mad again. (Sorry! I hate this part. I am a people pleaser. But, you need to hear it.)
You might think you are doing a good job being a “good friend.” You might tell me that you are there for her in crisis. That you did pick up the phone when her mom died, her husband left, her kid received a cancer diagnosis, her pet passed away, etc. That is great. Really, it is. But, only calling her in a time of crisis does not a friendship make.
(Side note: If she is a bestie. And she is in crisis? She needs more than a call. You need to make time for the funeral, drink wine with her on the couch, crawl into her bed, hug her, send her a meal, show her in a real palpable way that you are there. In crisis, she needs help. She needs more than words. She has physical needs and she needs you to meet them. She is your person. She is your bestie. You can do this.)
What I want to talk about here is the less obvious times.
When does a woman really needs her village? In the quieter times. But quiet does not mean that nothing is happening in your friend’s life. Quiet means that the real things going on are harder to talk about. The things that are not easily volunteered to anyone, even your bestie. Things that are not spoken about readily. Things that only tend to bubble up upon a friend hearing a subtle shift in her friend’s voice on the line, sensing a sadness behind her eyes, seeing a flatness she hasn’t seen before. Simply put, the the noticing friend NOTICES. When she sees it with her own eyes, when she hears something is off, she knows to ask the questions, lean in a little harder, be a little more present and even persistent. These are the times when she may discover her friend’s “secrets.” Your friend may have just found out her spouse is cheating on her. Her child has been diagnosed with mental illness. She learned she will never ever have children. She decided to have an abortion and did not even tell her husband. She and her spouse no longer sleep in the same room. She hasn’t been intimate with her husband in over a year. She is just miserable and cries herself to sleep at night.
How do I know these quiet times exist? Because in my line of work, as both a family law lawyer and a coach, I come into contact with so many women who have a story to tell, who want to be heard, and who have no one to hear them. They are not telling their story until I ask them the hard and nitty gritty questions. Until I ask them what brings them into my office. Until I ask them why they are choosing this month to join one of my fitness accountability groups. They have kept these “quiet time” secrets to themselves for many months and sometimes many years. She is doing so much alone. The thing is she shouldn’t have to. In these quieter more private times she really needs that village.
Going back to the concept of village. The place where we are heard, known, and understood. If we start to let ourselves off the hook with friendships, our village becomes empty. Here is the kicker. Not only does your friend not have the village she needs, you don’t either. Ask yourself, do you really feel heard, known, and understood? At your inner core? In a way only your village can do for you? Here is the good news. There are two ways to rebuild: old and new.
As I write (and rewrite and rework) this post, I have come to a realization. As women, we seem to have two sets of friends. We have the long term bestie friendships as I talk about above and a new group of friends that I talk about below. Those old-time bestie friendships are where we we may need to put in a little bit of maintenance. Why? Because your friendship is a legacy. At times in your lives, she has been your family. She knew you when you were young and she loves you despite your faults and will celebrate you at every win. She is part of your inner core and it is plain old silly to take that for granted. How? How do you be a good friend to her? This probably looks different to each person, but remember women (your friends!!) need to feel heard, known, and understood. How do you do that then? One novel idea? Ask her. If that seems to awkward or scary, here is what I strive for and here is what I know I appreciate:
- Call her more often. Even if you can only talk to her for 5 minutes. Say, I know we are both busy and crazy but I wanted to hear your voice! Even if it is a weird time of day. You never know!
- When you do talk to her and see her, ask her questions. Don’t assume you know what is going on in her life . . . even if she posts daily on social media. Just because she posts a bunch, it doesn’t mean that you are off the hook for actually asking her questions on what is going on behind the scenes!
- Text her when you think of her. Even if it is something silly.
- See her IRL (in real life). Maybe it is just coffee. Maybe it is dinner. Maybe it is a planned weekend trip a whole year away. At all times, have at least one date penciled in on your calendar, even if it is months and months away.
- If you are local, try your best to get to her party. Maybe you cannot make every single party she has, but do your best to prioritize it and go.
Here is where I am going to eat my words a little bit. (Just a little). Just like we cannot count on our spouse to be our everything. Maybe we shouldn’t count on that bestie to be our everything too. That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be a good friend to you. She should be. But here is the other hard part. For the friendship I am talking about here . . . the friends you need in the “quiet times,” you may not find this with your friends you have carried with you for decades. That is hard to swallow, I know. It is okay to mourn the fact that your bestie can no longer be your everything.
But you still need to find your village.
This is the second group I was talking about. These might be your people who see the small shifts, the subtle changes, the ones that will be privy to your “quiet” times.
How do you find that village? Your new friend group?
You find a set of women with common interests. With common goals. A group of women where you need to talk on the regular anyhow and as a byproduct your friendship grows. The good news? It is easier than you think. Maybe it is the PTA, your kids’ sports team, that other parent sitting in the reception area while your kids are in therapy, your church group, the women in your yoga class, a local charity, a hiking group, who knows! But it is out there waiting for you.
For me, finding solid, deep, unimaginable friendships occurred as a byproduct of growing my team, sparkle & GRIT. I talk to these women daily. Because we talk daily, we sense the subtle shifts. We sense when things aren’t right. We “see” one another on virtual calls. We know when someone is missing. We know whose kid is sick, whose husband is suffering, who is having ALL the sex, and who is having none, who is considering a career change, who had a bad day, who rocked their day. We don’t wait until crisis to show up and be a good friend. We don’t need to. We were there. We are there for the quiet times (and the loud ones) but we are there.
So, I am eating my words . . . a little. Here is the thing. Your old-time besties, you need to treat them right. Maybe you cannot be their everything and they cannot be your, but you must treat that friendship with value and respect. She makes up your history as a human being. Make it one of your New Year’s resolutions to reach out to her to see what she needs from you and to do your best to cultivate your relationship with her. Then . . . take a look around. See who is in your “now” village. Make a commitment to love the heck out of them, to hear them, to see them. If you don’t have your now village yet, seek it, find it, stop being mad at your bestie that she isn’t your everything anymore . . . she cannot be. But, you are allowed and should find your village. Your people to see you in your quiet times.
Writing this post, I realize, and I hope you do too, that we need friendship: old and new. Just please do me a favor and don’t buy into the garbage that you do not need to try. You need to try, but take some comfort in this. A little goes a long way. To build someone else’s village, you are also building your own for when either crisis or quiet times may strike. The truth is you need your friends as much as you need family. Don’t cheapen that. Don’t shortchange that. Don’t under value that. Just be a good friend: old and new.