Bringing Home Baby and Other Ways to Ruin Your Sex Life: Friendship
It’s easy to fall into the trap of cliched New Year’s resolutions: lose weight, save more, drink less, exercise, get rid of the 748,923 New Yorkers collecting dust under your coffee table that you swore you would read before you made last year’s resolution. I want to offer you an alternative. Take stock of the relationships in your life and invest in the ones that support you and purge the ones that don’t. The New Yorkers can wait.
I’ve been both the initiator and recipient of the dreaded friendship break up. A few years ago I wanted to break up with a friend. To protect the innocent, let’s call her Monica. There is nothing inherently wrong with this woman, I just didn’t want to be her friend anymore. I spent a lot of time thinking about my obligation to this person and the relationship we had built over the years. My conclusion was that she no longer fit into my life in a way that felt natural or warm. I didn’t see her very often but when when we did have the opportunity to get together my first thought was “oh, I guess I should go.”
When my clients tell me they feel like they “should” do something, I ask them where the “should” is coming from. They often respond with variations on a theme of external pressures or a vague sense of guilt if they admit that they don’t actually want to do whatever it is that they should be doing. People often confuse being selfish with having healthy boundaries.
I’m not suggesting taking on a hedonistic approach to life where we no longer fulfill mundane obligations or stop completing necessary daily tasks. We should still brush our teeth, be friendly to our neighbors and recycle. But we should also stop twisting ourselves into knots for people who don’t bring value into our lives.
Monica called me when she wanted something from me. Maybe it was a ride, advice, referrals for her new multilevel-marketing-pyramid-scheme, but whatever it was, I wasn’t interested. She seemed to glass over when I talked about my kids, my job, my husband, my life. Over lunch I was busy complaining to another friend about Monica when said friend asked me, quite simply, to consider why this person was still in my life. There it was. So easy. So, (Gulp) direct. The idea that I didn’t have to maintain a friendship just because I didn’t want to was refreshing but also uncomfortable. It’s a hard thing to admit and an even harder thing to put into practice.
I don’t doubt that some of my hesitation stemmed from the experience I mentioned earlier, when I too was dumped. It was painful. I reached out for months, suggesting lunch, dinner, pedicures. I rationalized that she was probably just busy or excited about her new relationship. Eventually, I gave up and decided that I didn’t want to be friends with someone who didn’t value me. It didn’t take the sting away but it helped me refocus on the friends that were constants. Even if those friendships required work, they were always worth the energy, even in conflict.
As children and teens, friendships are often a function of proximity. Your freshman dorm, the classmate who lives close enough that you can walk to her house to binge watch FRIENDS on a snow day, or the girl who you bond with because she’s behind you in line to use the Mr. Bob outhouse on a 7th grade camping trip. These friendships have roots. They have history. One old friend of mine recently described these friendships as “home.”
The problem is, when you have friendships based on history and you exit the cattle shoot into the world, your life starts to change. Marriage, children, careers, moving, the ability to relate to these friends begins to change along with it.
Childhood friendships remain invaluable and special but these relationships may not be enough to provide
you with the acute need for someone you can text at 3am to ask if it’s normal that you’ve been up all night fantasizing about punching your husband in the stomach because he’s already sleep through 3 night feedings and a blow out diaper, and they text you back. At 3:01. The same way a romantic partner can’t fulfill all of your needs, a friendship doesn’t have to either. But what it does offer should be gratifying.
I’ve met some of my adult friends in precarious ways. In one instance, she left a note in my mailbox that she had seen me around the neighborhood, when we were both eight months pregnant, suggesting that maybe we could go for a walk since cocktails and sushi were out of the question. Years ago, I may have thought, “STALKER ALERT!” but instead I thought, “OMG, INSTAFRIEND!”
One friend lived next door to me when we were both working 7am-3pm shifts and we decided that it
was fine to start happy hour early as long as we weren’t doing it alone.
One friend euthanized my dog.
These women have become my backbone. At one point I considered calling this blog “A Love Letter to My Mom Friends” it would have been short and it would have gone a little bit like this:
Dear Mom friends,
I love you. Thanks for loving me back. Thanks for letting me tell you all of my scary thoughts and not calling child protective services.
So let’s get back to the slightly more serious, and certainly less comfortable topic. What happens when you want to dump a friend?
What happens when you no longer feel motivated to put the effort into a friendship?
This can happen even when there is nothing identifiably wrong. Even when you are both lovely, smart and kind human beings. Sometimes people simply drift. In romantic relationships, there is usually a clearly defined moment when two people split while the delineation or start and stop in friendships is more subtle.
I am guilty of exaggerating physical symptoms or citing my cranky three year old as excuses to stay home when the truth is, I just don’t feel like going to a party or a dinner or worst of all, a bachelorette shindig. I constantly encourage my clients to maintain healthy boundaries within their relationships. “Say no when you want to,” I tell them. “Be polite but unapologetic if an invite doesn’t interest you,” I urge. But I struggle to take my own advice.
As we get older our schedules become increasingly cramped with responsibility. What used to be a casual night out with friends can easily become a frenzy of trying to find a babysitter and calculating the precious minutes of missed sleep caused by staying out past 9pm.
All of this to say, the relationships that you do hold on to and make time for, had better be worth it. The ones that don’t, should be gently set free.
So while I am encouraging you, my reader, I am also encouraging myself, to say “no.”
Let friendships go if they are no longer full of joy or the flame has simply burned out. Just because a friendship ends doesn’t mean that you are selfish, harsh or critical. Just because someone doesn’t fit into your life doesn’t mean that they are unlovable. It simply means that you would prefer to spend your time doing other things. And that my friend, is okay.
And hey, if you don’t get to it this year, there’s always 2019!
And if you have a few minutes, watch this skit, and be Quinta.
Ariel Stern, LPC is an individual, couple, and family therapist at A Better Life Therapy. Ariel is warm, nurturing and humorous. She is also highly trained to address any of social, emotional, or relationship concerns. To read more about Ariel click here.