I’ve been thinking about you for a long while now. I’ve meant to write, but I haven’t. For the most part, friendship is something I’ve stayed silent on for many years. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been on my mind.
You see, I used to be good at friendship. Great in fact. Perhaps even excellent.
At two years old, I made my first friend. We remained close and loyal for many, many years. I’ll never forget Barb’s homemade pickles and sloppy joes at basement birthday parties and Christmas parties, family nights with the Meyer boys, stuffing our faces with Skittles, swimming lessons at the lake, boating, skiing, snowmobiling, driving, dances, musicals, prom, and Buster’s night club for teens. You name it, we did it.
In elementary school and junior high, I went through the standard friend routine. In and out of BFFs, invited to this sleepover, then that one, this birthday party, then that one. By high school, I got in a groove with a big circle of male and female friends, and two incredibly close girlfriends otherwise known as “the three pigs.” I had a boyFRIEND for two years, and was friends with everyone so much so that I was named homecoming queen my senior year. Yes, those were the good old days of friendship.
In college, I had no problem making and keeping a big and close set of friends. From day one, I made best friends with my roommate. We lived together for three years and developed an incredibly extensive network of friends. Add to that my boyfriend (now husband) who was in a fraternity, and my friends multiplied exponentially. I had an awesome circle of close girlfriends all throughout college, but also felt completely at home with my future husband’s fraternity brothers so much so that a group of us became known as the “Delt Girls.” In my last year of college, I ventured out into apartment life and made another awesome friend whose wedding I was in after we graduated. Friendship was easy. Friendship was good. Friendship was working.
After college, I got married. We moved 15 driving hours away from everyone we knew. I went to graduate school for two years straight. It was incredibly intellectually and emotionally challenging. I made friends in grad school, for sure. But I was distracted by the daily academic grind, and was one of the few married people in my class of 30. So I didn’t do as much socializing as others. I left grad school with friends. But for the most part, they all stayed in Indiana and Illinois. We moved back to Minnesota.
In those early days of married life back in Minnesota with no kids yet, we reconnected with friends from college and high school, and made new friends through work and church. We hosted parties, attended a bunch of weddings, ate at fancy restaurants, rocked the dance floor a bit, were invited to SuperBowl parties, and began participating in a weekly young married’s Bible study. Friendship wasn’t the same as it once was. There were early signs of friendships fading and changing. But for the most part, we were still rocking the friendship scene.
Our kids arrived in 2002, 2005 and 2011. Add to that our acquaintances, neighbors, co-workers, cousins and friends who had approximately 500 kids all together during that time frame? And voila. Kids change adult dynamics. Need I say more?
From 2004 to 2010, life was incredibly challenging. My sister’s battle with addiction and mental illness was all consuming. For me. For my husband and children. For my parents and brother. And of course, for my sister. I can look back now with clarity and say without a doubt that this is when friendship became really tough. I didn’t have time nor energy to do any friendships well. Many friendships began falling by the wayside. Many friendships lost their luster. And new friendships got off to a rocky start; they weren’t seeing the “real me” at all. I missed a lot of friend gatherings and get-togethers. I missed a lot of friends’ life-changing events, including premature babies, separations, divorces, illnesses, career changes and cross-country moves. The friends I did manage to maintain and develop during that period were incredibly gracious, but I’m sure they were incredibly overwhelmed by the constant barrage of updates, emergencies and prayer requests. It was relentless and impossible to keep everyone up to date all the time. And I felt like an annoyance when I did keep people up to date. Friendship was there, but it certainly wasn’t awesome or super healthy. We were in survival mode. I was in survival mode. Friendship was in survival mode.
Things changed. Things got better. My sister found a new normal. We found a new normal. Life went on and it was much better than it had been.
But if I’m completely honest, I’ve never fully recovered from that friendship survival mode.
I learned to make do. I learned to make it work. I began believing that friendship was fleeting, just okay. I began believing that friendship was the easiest thing to sacrifice when life got crazy, hectic and out of control. I began believing and saying out loud that maybe I was the kind of person who didn’t need a lot of close friends as an adult. I began seeing women do “girls weekends” and “girls nights out” and I just didn’t see myself as “that” person. (Still don’t, to be honest.) I began feeling more and more introverted when it came to women and friendship. I began feeling more and more vulnerable when I shared anything. I began to see myself as a liability to friendship rather than an asset. I began to worry that all I had to offer was my worry, my real, my raw serious STUFF, and all they had to offer was fun, love, and good times great STUFF. I began to doubt myself and my real contribution to any friend.
Yep. I never fully recovered from friendship survival mode.
The most true thing I could say right now is that I’m not really sure how to do friendship anymore. I don’t think I’m GOOD at friendship anymore. I’m not GREAT at it for sure. Yeah, I’m just not sure.
I’ve admittedly reclaimed some ground in the area of friendship since things settled a bit mid-late 2010. If you consider yourself a friend of mine, THANK YOU. I am incredibly grateful for who you are, and who you’ve been. You’ve been a friendship lifeline to me when I’d pretty much given up on friendship. You have given me hope and shown me glimpses of what’s possible – tears around the kitchen island, laughter at the lunch table, shared dreams and fears around hot tea and Diet Coke, and chatting while managing our gaggle of kids at Culver’s after church.
But as much as I’m grateful, as much as I’ve desperately needed the life-giving, special moments I’ve had with friends the past 5 1/2 years, I’m not satisfied. I KNOW I’ve let the ball drop. I KNOW I have way more to offer. I KNOW I haven’t always revealed my truest self. I KNOW we haven’t connected nearly enough. I KNOW there’s something more for us.
Friends, I don’t know your story.
I’ve shared a lot in this letter, but you don’t know all of my story either.
Here’s what I do know.
I see women enjoying vibrant friendships. The system isn’t broken.
But I also see women struggling with friendship. The system isn’t working for everyone.
I see women waiting to be invited.
I see blog post upon blog post about friendship, and lack thereof.
I see loneliness and lack of community.
I see a need for time and connection that we just don’t have.
I see longings.
I see empty spaces.
I see a quiet searching for something more than this.
I see a bunch of women who have holes and hurts and horrible habits that could be so incredibly healed if they just had a friend to talk things through with on a regular basis.
I see a Facebook full of women who would be better off served up a piece of chocolate cake over coffee and friends, than they would another Facebook post about Donald Trump.
I see myself not making enough effort. I see myself not making friendship a priority. I see myself being too busy with other stuff to take the time needed. I see myself desperate for something different, desperate for the next level of authentic, adult female friendship.
I see you. And I see me. And I’m wondering how we can do this differently.
I’m thinking I need a revolution and revelation when it comes to friendship.
That’s why I’m writing you today.
I’m tired of friendship survival mode.
I thought it was working for me, but it isn’t anymore.
If you’re my Facebook friend or blog reader, you might have seen the friendship survey I shared at the end of December. I needed to know if I was on the right track. I needed to know if I was the only one who was seeking something more in the area of friendship. I wanted to know if I was the only one who’d fallen off the friendship wagon at some point. I wanted to know if I was the only one who was desperately wanting to reclaim, renew, and retain good, healthy, solid, real friendships. I needed to VERIFY that what I was THINKING, SEEING and BELIEVING about friendship was at least partially true.
The survey proved I was on the right track.
37 women responded. AWESOME! Maybe that sounds like a small sample to you, but I was super happy with how many ladies took time to complete the anonymous, 10-question survey.
Women ages 18-69 completed the survey. 95% of respondents were between the ages of 30-69.
43% of women surveyed are “satisfied” with the friendships they have with other women. 30% of women surveyed are “NOT satisfied” with the friendships they have with other women. 27% of women surveyed are “SOMETIMES satisfied” with the friendships they have with other women. If we look at raw numbers, that translates to 21 out of 37 women who are only SOMETIMES SATISFIED or NOT SATISFIED with the friendships they have with other women.
Hmmm…I’m inclined to believe this is an issue. Worthy of discussion, at least. Worthy of addressing, at best.
Before we go further, I want to send HUGE PROPS and BLESSINGS to the 43% of women in the sample who are satisfied with the friendships they have with other women. So good. I am so glad. The fact that you can report satisfaction tells me a lot about you and your friends. We have hope. We know this can be done. You are an example to us about what friendship is supposed to look like and feel like. Thank you!
As for the rest of us, the 57% of us who are “sometimes satisfied” and “NOT satisfied” with the friendships we have with other women, we have some work to do. I don’t want to sound rude or abrupt, insensitive or preachy. But this is not okay. We deserve better than this. Let’s do something about this. Let’s be creative. Let’s find better ways to connect. Let’s make friendship work for us. Let’s grow and get to the point where we can say YES, I’m satisfied with the friendships I have with other women. In fact, I’m MORE than satisfied.
So let’s do this. Here’s what we’re going to do.
I’m going to spend the next two or three weeks – however I feel inclined, however I feel led – sharing “Letters to Friends.” These letters are going to be short and vague. No names will be named. No personal photos will be used. I want you to see yourself in these letters. I want good and not-so-good patterns of friendship to emerge for you, and for me. But let me be clear. As vague as the letters will be, I’ll be writing each to a specific woman, with that specific friendship in mind. In other words, these letters aren’t manufactured. They’re birthed out of my real-life experiences with women, with friends. Let’s learn together. Let’s chat together. In this case, vague is the perfect place for reflection.
After that, I’m going to share a post with data and discussion from the anonymous friendship survey. I barely scratched the surface of that survey in this letter. You simply must know.
Then after that, I’m going to share a post in which we’re going to DO SOMETHING about this. We’re going to do something for the 57% of us who are “sometimes satisfied” or “NOT satisfied” with the friendships we have with other women. I’ve had some ideas milling in my mind for a while now. We’ll see how the month unfolds. We have to do something about this. I’m ready to do something about this. And I’d love for you to join me.
P.S. My apologies for the 2,178 word love letter. I guess I’m more passionate about this subject than I knew.
This is the first post of a month-long series on friendship titled Love Letters to Friends. To read the rest of the posts in the series, scroll down and you’ll find all the posts listed and linked for your reading pleasure.