Friend Dynamics

This was first posted in the Fall 2013 print edition of Darling Magazine.

I’d been a bridesmaid eight times before I turned 25 years old. I was about 22 when my hopes for my own post-college engagement fell apart. Despite my valiant efforts to turn an eclipsing relationship down a premarital road, I found myself attending these parties in my pink, lavender, black and even cranberry red David’s Bridal dresses alone. Sure, sometimes I’d snag a date and take him along, but each time I quietly wondered, “When will it be my turn?”

Years passed and these friends had babies. Instead of the set of mixing bowls I’d gifted them a few years back, I became the friend who now bought onesies and blankets to bring to their baby showers. Many times I felt grateful for my single girl freedom as I watched my friends struggle through the first years of having a child on very little sleep. Other times, I felt left out. Seasons were always changing around me and as I rolled into my mid-30s as a single woman, my secret hopes grew a little quieter and deeper, tucked away so that I wouldn’t find myself a fool for still wanting something that I hadn’t been getting for so many years. I began to hope that there was at least one nice, commitment-friendly guy left in the world for me to marry. I longed to find him in a crazy world of casual and text-only dating.

I made friends with new single people, but I was tired of making more friends. I had enough really … I just wanted to be able to go on double dates and join in the conversations about what it was like to be married or eventually how many times the baby woke up the night before. Hanging out with my friends on a Friday night grew more and more difficult to coordinate and I found myself having to grow content with interrupted phone calls with children in the background yelling, “Mommy!”

Now I’m going through a transition. I’m getting married this fall, and everything is changing. My wide circle of relationships is something I can’t honestly maintain the way that I used to. It’s good, but some of my friends don’t seem to understand. I imagine they miss the carefree, single and available anytime version of me. I’ve had to trade in some of that in order to be connected to one man whom I’ll be sharing my life with.

Transitions are hard. Maintaining friendships amidst the always changing landscape of life is bumpy at times but it is worth the work. If there is one thing that we can count on, it’s that life will change. Change isn’t bad; it is the catalyst that causes growth in each of us. When we grow, we begin to reveal more and more of who we actually are. Some friendships are for a season, others weather through all of the change. What does it take to be a friend when life changes and you find yourself in a different experience than those you love the most?

1. Seek friends who will value you in every season of your life. If someone you are friends with only values you because you share being in college or being single or other commonalities, then the friendship is built on a circumstantial foundation. Build friendships based on deeper qualities like trust, humor, common values, character and goals. This way, when life changes, these core qualities will usually remain the same. If someone values you and the diversity you bring to her life, rather than just common traits, then your friendship will thrive as life changes. When you’re married, make sure to include single friends. If you’re single, don’t leave your married friends out either. Diverse community is the best kind because we get to experience life through eyes that share more than just our own perspective.

2. Value others, but don’t people please. You might find that as life changes, your connection to a friend might change. It is normal to experience this awkwardness in transitions, but you can make it through them if you are patient. Some relationships aren’t healthy and it is best to move beyond them. If your life is changing and it requires that you focus on a certain project or person, don’t get hung up pleasing and meeting the expectations of a friend who is making demands to keep things the same. Clearly communicate how you care for that person and why, then share what expectations you can meet and which ones you can’t. Love people boldly, but set firm boundaries so that you will thrive in all seasons of life.

3. Be curious. When a friend you’ve known for a while is changing and enters a season of life that you have yet to experience yourself, ask good questions. Her experience can be a great teacher. You can learn a lot from watching someone else’s life. Try not to see her change or yours as a threat to the friendship, but as an added dimension to your life. Ask curious questions and sympathize with her daily life as best you can.

4. Don’t burn your bridges. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “Oh no! She’s different now! Is our friendship over? That conversation felt weird!” What I have found over the years is that when people are going through transitions, it’s bumpy. Try not to make a big scene and burn your bridges. Just because you aren’t on the same page right now, you might find the friendship having a revival of sorts in the future. Many times in my life I have found that friendships I thought were only for one season can grow into others. I’ve been very glad that I didn’t burn my bridges so that I could continue the friendship even if there were a few “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” conversations to have.

As American author and journalist Gail Sheehy once thoughtfully said, “If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” Life is full of dynamic growth. Fearing change is a natural part of any transition. It can often be uncomfortable, awkward and overwhelming. Finding our new rhythm of life is something that takes time and having some friends nearby who know you well and can relate to you, whether they understand your experience or not, makes this life a whole lot better.

Invest in your friendships. They are the richest gift you have in this life.