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The Secret Sauce To Creating A Super-Solid Friendship

It's one that may surprise you.

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Cecilia Castelli
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The irony of loneliness is we all feel it at the same time — together.

 — poet Rupi Kaur

Not taking things personally is the secret sauce in solid friendships.

Friendships are relationships we choose and depend on in this increasingly polarizing and daunting world we live in. Close friendships enhance our lives in many ways, but what few will openly admit is that meaningful, value-laden friendships also can be tricky to navigate and feel at peace with.

Every single friend I have has struggled to maintain the bonds of healthy friendship with others at some point. Even my most affable, magnetic friends have had to traverse some bumpy roads with people they care about. This relatable information was hard to come by at times.

People often avoid disclosing friendship troubles for fear of sounding like a gossip or worrying too much that they’ll expose perceived shortcomings within themselves.

I have a dear friend I keep in touch with regularly, which includes going to fun outings and events together. The same friend plans a big birthday bash for herself every year — to which I’ve never been invited.

A different friend of mine basically refutes or passive aggressively pokes fun of nearly everything I ever say. At least it tends to feel that way. I’ve shared the ups and downs of my life with another friend for the past 15 years, but she will not have a deep conversation with me. It’s always surface-level only.

My husband and I have long been friends with a group of couples who go camping every summer. Despite them knowing we love to camp too, we don’t get included in their annual trips. We have other friends who happily accept our invitations to dinner or to play golf, but they don’t reciprocate in kind. We wonder if we’d ever hear from them again if we were to stop reaching out.

A few years ago, I was unceremoniously dismissed by my supposed best friend at the time. No explanation was offered — not even when I asked — and there has been no further contact since. I was just flat-out, inexplicably dumped.

Head-scratch inducing, all. And a profound challenge to not view these perceived slights as the result of faults of my own. It’s a thin line between the virtues of self-awareness and personal accountability and the wise spiritual practice of not taking things personally.

The tendency is to believe things are all about us. But more accurately, people are more often all about themselves. And rightly so. Just maybe not. Like I said, tricky. It has taken me long stretches of years to learn to value my friends for their unique gifts and not fault them for their inadequacies — always subjective observations, at best. Years to choose to esteem my friendships for the ways they enhance my life and the ways they allow me to positively contribute to the lives of others, and to stop expecting each of my friends to be all things to me.

I’ve no idea when, where or why that unreasonable expectation originally took root in me. It’s perplexing because when I flip it around, I understand clearly that I can’t be all things to all people.

This hard-won mindset, achieved by getting sick and tired of wallowing in my own self-induced misery during too many private pity parties, allows for more ease and appreciation inside my friendships. There’s more room for me to be the imperfect friend I am, as well. I disappear from friend-life from time to time. When life becomes overwhelming, my instinct isn’t to reach out to friends, but rather to crawl into a virtual cave and lick my wounds. In the sensory deprivation I can gather myself more quickly and get back out in the world again. Restored and recharged, I can be a good friend again in ways I can’t when I’m struggling with life’s challenges.

But I imagine my friends may view my self-care methods differently than I do. My failure to keep in touch and abreast of their lives at times may read as indifference or lack of concern to them. It’s possible they take my silent absences personally — when it rarely has anything to do with them.

I’ve learned to eschew the limiting practice of placing expectations on my friendships in favor of finding contentment in the ways my friends are plenty good enough as they are and as they do. A byproduct is in turn, then, so am I.

I can’t invite all my treasured friends to the beach when we go — there are only ever a few beds. I’m not always up for interacting with the kind of energy some of my friends bring to the table. And I’ve had to let go of a friend in the past too.

There’s a common thread of trust woven into the decisions that determine the kind and frequency of interactions I engage in with my friends. I trust myself to know when and how my time and focus are best spent on others. In turn, I’ve learned to trust my friends to make their own necessary determinations regarding time and energy spent on me.

In short, I’ve stopped expecting, questioning and wondering why, why, why? Instead, I just appreciate, value and understand that it’s not personal. Or rather, it is. And that’s the way it must be.