Friendships: Middle School vs. Middle Age
Both stages of friendships are hard
"I have so many fond memories of middle school" said no one ever.
When we found out our first baby was a girl, I had many thoughts and dreams for her--and concerns. However, not one of them included, "how am I best going to help her navigate the trials of female middle school friendships?" And yet, here we are.
"I have so many amazing friends it is annoying," said no adult ever.
As I approached middle age I never thought, "I hope I finally figure out how to make lasting friendship." And yet, here I am.
The tears, the anger, the hurt and the joy. My daughter and I are sharing these together. It's bittersweet. Well, mostly bitter, because honestly, who needs crappy friends?
How do we teach our children to be good friends when we don't understand friendship ourselves?
Parallels in Friendship
Since I've entered my forties and my daughter entered middle school I've notice a lot of parallels going on in our lives. In some ways it helps that both of us are going through the sames things. In other ways, I can't help her as much as I'd like because I'm hurt too. I don't have the answers she needs because I now find myself just as confused as she is.
I had mistakenly thought that I had this friendship thing all figured out. I was secure in thinking I had many good friends in my life. In the past couple of years I have sadly discovered this isn't true. Don't get my wrong, I have a couple really truly amazing friends who would do anything for me. The problem is, most people I know are just too busy.
Am I the only one that feels this way? Are there other middle aged woman (it feels really weird to refer to myself as that) who are struggling to make--and maintain--solid friendships? Am I worrying about this too much? I don't know the answers to these questions, I just know that they are weighing heavy on my heart lately.
The Difference Between Then and Now
The biggest differences between middle school and middle age friendships are:
- Are figuring this out for the first time
- Are experiencing the potential damage of gossip for the first time
- Haven't mastered the art of inclusion
- Different is "weird"
- Are super sensitive about everything
- Feel like friendship (or the lack of it) is the most important thing in their lives RIGHT NOW!!!!
By middle age we have some experience with friendship, but that doesn't always translate into being a good friend.
Middle Aged Friends:
- Are old enough to understand good vs. bad behavior
- Often disguise gossip as "caring"
- Get comfortable with our circle of friends and stop trying
- Judge by the act of exclusion
- Don't make time to discover what truly makes our friends unique
- Aren't sensitive enough
- Are too busy to sustain friendships
No matter how old you are the results are the same: hurt feelings and loneliness.
"No Use for Friends"
A women who I considered a very close friend recently told me she has decided she just "doesn't have time for or use for friends anymore."
She seriously said that to me on the phone.
She also invited ZERO friends to her recent wedding. By the way, if you happen to read this, we are truly bummed. We, your friends, all wanted to celebrated with you. We've been on this journey with you for years and are excited you finally found your prince charming.
Sadly, she probably won't read this because she also unfriended and blocked everyone on Facebook except her new husband. Apparently, she means business. I'd still answer if she called me, though. I miss her.
Doing Life Together
Doing life together is a huge part of what makes life worth living. You can't do life together if you are too busy.
This busy world and these busy lives we create are so full of agendas and to-do list that they become empty of friends. How lonely. How sad.
Friendships in Different Seasons of Life
My daughter and I have had many, many conversations over the last year about what makes a good friend. Recently, we started discussing the idea that people come and go in different seasons of life. This is a bit hard for her to understand right now since her memory is only of one season.
I have the blessing, or burden, of many more seasons.
As I take inventory of all of my past and current friendships I wonder about their purpose. There are people who have drifted out of my life that I think of fondly. There are other people who I purposely eliminated because they were hurtful. And now, there are people who I would really like to get to know better but I don't know how.
What Makes a Good Friend?
My daughter is forming her own opinions of what a good friend is. In her words this includes:
- Honesty. They are truthful to me and don't lie to me. They tell it how it is.
- Loyalty: They are my friend through thick and thin and don't have all that crappy drama stuff.
- Kindness. They are nice to me, but also to others. Part of this is not talking about me behind my back.
- Respect. They respect not only me but other people, including teachers.
I have been more introspective, concentrating on what I need to do to be a good friend. I have recently discovered that I do not trust myself to read people well enough to make good decisions about friends. I have picked some people lately to invest in who haven't panned out. I need to learn to be more discerning. I honesty thought I would have figured this out better by now. It's troubling, to say the least.
How Do You Make People Feel?
Ultimately, for me, it comes down to this:
People remember how you make them feel more than they remember specific things you say or do.
So I asked myself, "How do you want to make people feel?"
My answer is this:
When people encounter me or think about me I want them to feel good. I want them to know how grateful I am that they are in my life. I want them to know I am there for them. That I make time for them. I want them to know that I am interested in the things that matter to them. I want them to feel loved.
Am I accomplishing this? I am unsure and this bothers me. Partly because I rarely ever see some of my friends to know how they are doing.
Busyness is a friendship killer.
However, taking inventory of my friends did reveal to me the people in my life who make me feel this way. They are the ones worth pursuing, because they pursue me too.
I am aware that it would be very easy for me to come across here as a condescending friendship expert and overly critical of those around me for not being better friends. While I am currently sad that there are people who aren't making time for me, make no mistake: I am holding myself to these same standards and have been taking a long hard look at the type of friend I am vs. the type I'd like to have. They should be the same thing, right?
No one wants to be my friend vs. who is worthy of my friendship
The fact that my daughter is somewhat of an introvert and usually prefers the company of her cat and the solitude of the woods to people, means that she isn't bothered too much about how many friends she has. What does bother her is when she gives her heart to a friend and it isn't treated with care. She has strong ideals about how to treat people fairly and it very hard for her to understand why a friend would be mean. We talk about how people aren't perfect and friendships go through ups and downs. She is really good at explaining herself and sticking up for herself. She is working on forgiveness and remembering that people aren't perfect.
I am an extrovert, which probably has something to do with my need for validation by way of friendships. God blessed me with this child so I could learn how to be more conscientious of shy people. More understanding of the need for alone time. She has also taught me to be a bit pickier with the friends I chose. The investment is worth it. But what happens when the investment was a bad one? Or, if it takes a long time to mature.
I am working on remembering that just because people don't make time for me doesn't necessarily mean they don't like me. I admit, this is hard for me, and I wish it wasn't.
My response to the woman who has no need for friend anymore was, "I guess that is the difference between you and me. I want friends in my life."
However, if you rarely make time for your friends you will find yourself without them when you need them. I NEVER want any of my friends to feel like I don't care about them, so I am making more of an effort.
But like my daughter is learning: no one is perfect. I set reminders in my phone to call them. I set lunch dates. I think about who I haven't heard from in awhile and I reach out.
If you don't see your friends often I encourage you to reach out.
I do get discouraged, and because I don't have an iron clad, rock solid self esteem, I tend to wonder if some of these people even think that I am worth making time for.
But what would I tell my daughter if she was feeling the same thing?
"Of course you are worth it. You are a great friend. You need to find people who are just as interested in being your friend as you are of being theirs."
So, that is what we are doing together. It's been a bit lonely. We have high standards.
Are my expectations too high?
Probably. But I don't want to expect anything less of myself, so I am not sure what else to go on. How do I explain this to my daughter?
"Well, honey, just don't expect anything from anyone and you will never be disappointed." That's crap advice because, to some degree, we are what we perceive. I don't want her to set the bar that low for herself either.
I worry that there is a trend toward being WAY too busy and WAY too self-absorbed to be able to be a good friend.
Who do you do life with?
I am making a pledge to reach out more. To make sure that the people who matter in my life know that they are important to me. I am going to accomplish this not just by telling them, but by showing them with my time.
Taking the time to reach out. To ask how they are doing. To make the effort to plan to get together. I will return texts. I will return calls. It's the nice thing to do.
My heart will continue to be open to the people I know who don't have time. If you do reach out, the answer is yes, I'd love to get together.
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