“We both got busy”– this phrase is where my friendships go to die.
I can’t tell you how many times I cut people out of my life, because I felt that they weren’t putting in enough effort into the relationship. And how many times have we seen messages like this?
And as empowering as these can be… I’m here to say, FALSE. Okay… maybe more like, it depends.
The hardest thing about being in this chapter of my life is the numerous friends I’ve lost– whether we drifted, had a weird fight that never got resolved, or changed so much that “catching up for coffee” was like meeting with a stranger.
In the process of losing friendships and learning to sustain and save the broken ones, here are some things I learned along the way.
1. Be careful whom you lean on
I’m a giver and a helper. But I realized that there are points in my life when I will only be in a place to receive-– it’s happening to me right now. I go to class, I have back-to-back meetings, I’m working out of three offices, and I cannot stop thinking about my future. At the end of the day, I have nothing left to offer the world. Do I want to vent and veg out with my friends? Sure. But what if they’re going through their own struggles? It is so important to be careful of whom you are leaning on for support– it’s possible our friends are barely able to support themselves.
This is where the bitterness can settle in– the feeling that “busy friends” are not making the friendship a “priority”. Conflict can arise when BOTH people are only in a place to receive. I learned the importance of recognizing it, being okay with putting communication on pause, seeking support from folks who are clearly not going through particularly tough times, and checking in when life slows down.
2. Don’t be ashamed to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others
Sound familiar? For those of you who have flown, this is the message that flight attendants say to passengers on planes just before liftoff. Why? Well… because you can’t help anyone if you’re passed out.
The same holds true in life. In order for me to give quality work (whether in the office or in a relationship), I need to make time to take care of myself. In my past relationships, I gave so much time, attention, and money only to have nothing left for myself– spending hours on the phone with a distressed friend and missing a deadline or doing an errand for my colleague when I was already behind on assignments.
It’s okay to cancel dinner plans with friends so that you can catch up on sleep. Give yourself permission to leave a venting conversation when you’re already emotionally drained. Be gentle with yourself and understand when your friends need to take care of themselves, too.
3. Professional speak vs. Friend speak
When I returned home to California during winter break, I created a Google spreadsheet of my availability and asked friends who wanted to see me to fill it out.
Yes. I really did.
I applied a “work thing” into my personal life. It usually works out, but for this case, it definitely did not. I used my “career approach” when I should’ve used my “friend approach”. Granted, a handful of friends who were really into organizing loved it– most others refused to use my beautifully crafted Google spreadsheet.
Why? Because I turned my friends into clients. Learn when it’s okay to turn off the “professional speak,” and just “hangout” instead of “schedule a one-on-one”.
4. Know each other’s love language… and while you’re at, figure out your apology language
My friends know I am a HUGE fan of “The 5 Love Languages” book and test by Gary Chapman. (Discretion: the book and test have a Christian basis and are very heteronormative in language. For example, if you select “female” and “married,” the questions will automatically assume your partner is a “he/him”).
Essentially, we all speak the five different love languages, but we have two dominate types. After taking the test, I realized that many of my relationships fell through because we were speaking different love languages. For example…
Friend A: “You are always on your phone texting during dinner when I just wish you would be engaged in the conversation. It’s like you don’t care.” (Love Language: Quality Time)
Friend B: “What are you talking about I don’t care? I wash the dishes, I pick you up everyday, I walk your cat…” (Love Language: Acts of Service)
And guess what! It happens all the time… I found this quote in my Student Development in College textbook… (yes, I am totally using student development theory to diagnose my life).
“[Stage 6] may involve distantiation, or what Erikson (1959/1980) described as ‘the readiness to repudiate, to isolate, and if necessary, to destroy those forces and people whose essence seems dangerous to one’s one'”.
In the end, it’s all about being gentle with yourself… and gentle with the ones you love.