Because if your boyfriend forgot Valentine's Day it doesn't mean you'd break up with him.
When we were young, it seemed that the more friends we had, the happier we were. There was an incessant need to be liked by everyone, and a fear of missing out would lead us to bend over backwards to be invited to everything and anything, even if it meant spending time with people we didn’t necessarily like. As we get older and more confident, our outlook on friendship can change, or in my case – do a complete 180. Lately I’ve become more aware of who I give my time to and far less tolerant of actions I would consider fall into the ‘bad friend’ category, and although I’m thankful for my confidence and new found comfort in being alone, I can’t help but wonder if the ‘my time is precious’ mentality is healthy for our relationships and overall happiness in the long run.
Sarah Doyle, Life Coach and Co-Founder of The Better Life Project, agrees that when we’re younger, we place a lot of value on how many friends we have as opposed to the quality of those friendships. “As we get older, our time becomes more limited and we start to feel more empowered to make decisions around the people that we want to spend time with.”
This isn’t necessarily a negative change in mentality, Sarah explains. “We’re in a generation that has become quite adept at putting ourselves and honouring our own feelings and wishes first”, she says. “We tend to put ourselves front and centre which, at times, is something we absolutely need to do – it’s one of the key traits of being an empowered woman – but there’s a degree of self-awareness that we sometimes lack when making those decisions about who we give our time to.”
It goes without saying that our life situations change with time. As we grow older, we might start working full-time, we’ll get into romantic relationships, we may even begin to have children. When our time becomes more limited, it can be easy to fall into a habit of only making time for people we really want to see. Slowly, we can begin to cut old friends out of our lives for one reason or another – perhaps you’re working a 9-5 job and they do shift work, or you’ve started to settle down whereas they still want to go out drinking every weekend. Although these are things you may consider justifiable reasons to fall out of touch, Sarah says that we need to pay close attention to knowing the difference between a relationship that’s naturally evolving and one that ultimately serves us no purpose.
“The really interesting thing about friendships is that they are constantly going to evolve, no matter what we want or what happens around us, they’re always going to change. There is an ebb and a flow to every friendship that we can be very quick to dismiss, and we can often use our friends’ life-changing experiences or circumstances to justify why we no longer want them in our life in some way. When it comes to friendship, we have to be very sensitive to the other person’s needs and also be aware that certain friends are going to look different. There are going to be times in our lives where we need to be more present for a friend than they need to be present for us, and sometimes we can begin to begrudge that imbalance. So we need to be careful about how we’re rationalising the distance that we want to try and create between certain friends.”
When we get more picky with who we give our time to, we can also become less tolerant of mistakes our friends make and be less forgiving if we believe they have done us wrong in some way. Sarah explains that the ‘I don’t need them, I have lots of friends’ frame of mind can be a dangerous one to get yourself into, and in some situations we should focus more on learning how to forgive rather than cutting a person off altogether.
“Friendship is about unconditional love and positive regard for someone else, and as part of that we need to be able to accept our friend as a whole, not just the parts that we like. That means that, occasionally, we’re going to fuck up. In many ways, a friendship, even though it’s platonic, is like a romantic relationship – we choose to be with someone and love them unconditionally. If your boyfriend forgot Valentine’s Day it doesn’t mean you’d break up with him. We need to be able to adopt that same mindset to our friendships.”
Keeping the friendships that we form as children throughout adulthood can be easier said than done. As we grow, our lives and interests may change from what they were when we were in school, and the things we had in common with our girlfriends as teenagers may no longer be as important to us. Admittedly, there has been more than one occasion where I’ve questioned whether I’d choose to spend time with old friends of mine if we met today, rather than ten years ago. Sarah explains that this is normal, and although history can sometimes make you feel obliged to stick in a dysfunctional friendship, it can also be the push you need to go the extra mile to make a good friendship last.
“When you’ve been friends with someone for so long it sometimes feels like you can’t remember a time without them. Of course, history can make us feel obliged in that friendship, but I don’t think that’s always necessarily a bad thing.”
Dee, 28, from Dublin agrees that we need to put a little bit of extra work into our lifelong friendships to ensure they survive, rather than give up at the first hurdle. “I’ve definitely struggled with whether or not to keep up some friendships from my childhood. On one hand, there is so much history, but on the other, we’ve just grown apart so much and no longer share the same interests. This seemed to become a bit of a barrier between my friend Aine and I. I was really fed up with no longer feeling as close, and I didn’t think she was making an effort either. Eventually, though, I realised that our friendship is just different now, and while we don’t talk every single day, I made a conscious effort to check in with her more – even if it was only once a month, and that has made a huge difference. I know now that just because we have different interests and different lives, doesn’t mean that we don’t still love each other and want to spend time together. Once I made peace with this, there was a lot less pressure and I was able to just enjoy the friendship for what it was.”
I’ve learned to appreciate my besties more. As we grow older, we should spend time nurturing our friendships, allowing them to change and grow, forgiving each other when we fuck up and loving our relationships for what they are – even if that’s different from what they started out as.