• Megan Baldwin, LMSW

"So no one told me life was gonna be this way..."

Can I get an AMEN here, people?

Not only are we experiencing just a weird whirlwind of life right now, but it somehow just keeps getting weirder. One constant that has remained a blessing for me throughout this time is connecting with my friends. I think something that people are recognizing now, more than ever, is the power of connection; and even better, for once, they've got the time to allow space for it! Whether that's FaceTiming, calling, texting, or some other socially distant modality - people are having to make an effort to connect and I am HERE for it!

Something that has remained a constant for me (and thank goodness for it) has been the importance of my friends' roles in my life. My friends are some of the most treasured people in my life and I am thankful every day for the space they hold. They have cheered me on, encouraged me, held my hand, and eaten copious amounts of guac and ice cream with me throughout the years. I'm so fortunate to say I know that so many of these beautiful people will remain a constant in my life, and my children's lives for years to come.

But some of them might not. I know that sounds dark, but hear me out.

There's something weird that happens with friendships once you become an "adult." I often refer to one's mid-to-late 20s as "second puberty," because developmentally, it kind of is just that, but also, it feels like this super awkward time in life that often mirrors middle school. (Am I right or is this just me?) I often find myself looking back on those middle school days and wondering where exactly my expectations of friendships formed - but I know it happened somewhere in that mess. As pre-teen girls, I think a lot of us grow up with this idea that we find our BFFs that's it. That's our person. And we become so superficially enmeshed with each other to protect our own sense of self and comfort that we hit these growing pains when our individual identities begin to show through.

Susie didn't like my sweatshirt. Bye.

Katie and I have a crush on the same boy so we can't be friends any more.

Melissa likes Backstreet Boys and I like N'Sync - we probably shouldn't invite her to the sleepover.

I think these learned perceptions of friendships are a lot of what makes our adult friendships so strange and difficult to navigate sometimes. In fact, that's a topic I get asked about often. In a nutshell, the questions often boil down to this: "How do I navigate this friendship? Are these expectations unrealistic? Am I asking too much? What am I doing wrong here?"

I know that a lot of relationship challenges have to do with all of the changes and stressors that we experience during this young-adult period of life: moving, marriage, children, graduating college or graduate school, getting "grown up" jobs, navigating being "the single friend," and many other big life changes. That's why I love (and reference often) the show Friends. It resonates with me for many reasons: 1. It's hilarious. 2. The characters are so unique and you can't *not* love them. 3. Other than the unrealistic apartments, and other lifestyle factors, I feel like the writers articulate these big life changes pretty spot on - especially with their choice in theme song.

One of the hardest things I've gone through is the unexpected ending to a friendship that meant a lot to me; and still, about five years later, I don't understand why it ended. During this time in my life, I was really struggling. I had just moved across the country. I was a newlywed adjusting to life with my spouse, and had gone back to college while working full time. I was in a new (small) town that wasn't ANYTHING like where I grew up. Everywhere I went I felt like an alien. Apparently, I even talked like an alien (no joke, I still get called a "yankee" and we have lived here for 6 years). This was a season in my life where I needed a lot of support from my friends.

After a few months of living here, I felt a lot of distance with one of my closest friends. We went from talking once or twice a week, to hardly at all. She just slowly started pulling away and I didn't understand why, but I could feel it. I was hurting in my day-to-day life, and I was hurting that this treasured friend that I loved so much was pushing me away. I didn't understand what I had done "wrong" in that relationship.

I spent a lot of time angry, confused, and hurt. It was as though this relationship just evaporated into space, and I had no say in the matter. I wanted to fix it (whatever "it" was) - I wanted to remain connected with this person; but it wasn't just up to me to fix. I pushed her for answers for a long time. It felt like a losing battle and eventually, it was. It was the hardest breakup I've ever gone through. I was heartbroken - and I still get a little sad about it from time-to-time, when I wonder what she's doing with her life or come across one of her family members on social media.

During all of this, one of my mentors shared a quote with me that not only helped me understand this particular situation with more acceptance and understanding, but, this quote has helped me to navigate all of my adult friendships with more grace and empathy (for others and myself).

It goes like this: "Friends are for a reason, a season, or a lifetime."

This quote is full of speculation but my interpretation as it applies to my life so far is this: people will come into your life, and for whatever reason, they might not stick around for forever. And that's OK. One of the reasons I love people and love what I do so much is because I believe that each connection we make teaches us something about life and ourselves, and each of these lessons makes us better.

I eventually came to realize that it didn't just matter how I was feeling or what I was going through (man, 23 year-old me could be real self-centered, huh?). I learned that just because I was overwhelmed with all of my stuff, that didn't mean she had to be overwhelmed with it too. That enmeshed idea of friendship that I had come to believe was shaken to it's core and rocked - and I'm so glad it was!

I look back now and see instances where I could have been a better friend to her. I also look back and can see where she could have been a better friend to me. Neither of us were blameless in this situation - and I don't tell this story to paint the narrative that I fell victim to a "friendship breakup." Rather, I tell this story because I think it's important to to consider approaching all of our relationships, (new and old, short-lived or lifelong, surface-level or soul-wrenching) with a healthy dose of self-reflection and a lot of selflessness.

What are some lessons your friends have taught you? I’d love to hear them. Email them to me at info@mbchealth.co.

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