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Why Navigating Adult Friendships Is So Hard

When to stay and when to walk away.

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A group of friends making a toast together.
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There is a quote floating around online that says: “I no longer have the energy for meaningless friendships, forced interactions, or unnecessary conversations.” Don’t ask me who the author is because I couldn’t tell you. But at age 40, I feel this quote deep in my soul.

A few years ago, when I was going through a tough time in my life, struggling to get over a breakup, and avoiding being alone at all costs, I would make plans with a potted plant if it would keep me busy and occupied and not lost in my own thoughts. I did not discriminate. Known you for a week? Let’s hang out. Met you on Bumble BFF five minutes ago? Let’s go to dinner. Random person who hit me up on Facebook because you’re a fan of my books and for all I know you could be a serial killer? Sure, I’ll have coffee with you! I kid, but I didn’t have much of a vetting process when it came to who I allowed into my life. And to be honest, I don’t think I valued myself or my time very much during that season. I was on the go constantly … but much like a hamster in a wheel, I was constantly running but not really getting anywhere.

These days, I am much more emotionally healthy, and things have changed. Years of therapy and introspection and doing the hard work on myself have completely changed my perspective. (I’m sure getting older has helped enlighten me some, too. Time really is magical like that.) Today I simply don’t have the desire or the energy to invest in every person who appears in my life. And recently I received a bit of a wake-up call about why it’s not healthy or advisable to invest time and energy into every single person who appears in our lives. A friend I made maybe three or four months ago and had really come to confide in and welcome into my inner circle proved herself to be unworthy of that trust. To make a long story short, she took things I had shared with her in confidence and used them against me … something that I have a zero tolerance policy for. If I open up to you and trust you with things I don’t share with just anybody, and you take my words and weaponize them against me later to prove a point … you are going to be shown the door. Without question, without hesitation. I’m not vulnerable with just anybody, so when I let down the walls and welcome you in, only to have you wipe your muddy feet on my heart, you are not a safe person and you’ve gotta go.

I look around at my life and my circle now and I realize that the majority of the people I consider my closest confidantes have been in my life for at least seven or eight years or more. My lifelong friend Anetra once joked: “I’m done taking applications for friendship now. I’m set. I don’t need anyone else.” And we laughed about it, but to be honest … I sometimes feel like that, too. My other lifelong friend Jason says you have to walk through all four seasons with someone, a friend or a romantic prospect, to know if they are someone worthy of being in your life forever. I don’t know if that’s true or if there’s an exact formula to it, but I do know that as I get older, it becomes more and more vital to me to have people in my life who I have roots with. People who have known me since before I was even ME. People I know I can trust with absolutely anything … the good, the bad, and the ugly. People I can be vulnerable with and be messy with and be 100 percent myself with and know that no matter what I say or do or what mistakes I make, they will always have my back.

And I don’t want to force friendship anymore, either. I don’t want to have to stay on your radar or in your line of sight or constantly be the one calling and inviting and initiating the friendship. If you can’t meet me halfway, maybe you shouldn’t meet me at all. I know life can get hectic and we all get busy … but nobody is THAT busy. If our friendship only exists because I am the one doing all the work and all the heavy lifting, then I’m okay with opening my hand and letting you slide right on through my fingers. That isn’t meant to sound harsh. I will love you and wish good things for you … but I won’t chase you. I value my time too much. I value myself too much. And I know what I bring to the table as a friend so I’m not afraid to eat alone.

I say all this to say … adult friendships are hard. Making time for our friends can be challenging, especially when you’re juggling work, and/or kids, marriage, and all the other responsibilities that come along with adulting. But friendship is just like anything else in life. The greater the investment, the greater the reward. And “too busy” is a myth. People make time for the things (and people) that are important to them.

Ultimately, YOU have to set the friendship standard in your life. YOU have to decide when to stay and when to call it a day and walk away. For me, my new friendship manifesto is pretty simple: I don’t force or chase. If our friendship ends because I stop calling or texting you, we weren’t very good friends to begin with and I’m okay with letting you go. And boundaries are firmly in place until I know for sure you’re a safe person … someone I can share my innermost thoughts with, good and bad, and you won’t flinch or judge or bail. I would encourage you to establish your own friendship manifesto and don’t be afraid to stick to it. You might find that certain people drop out of your life when you do … but the really cool thing is, those people are simply making room for the new people who are going to appear. I’m a firm believer in the idea that everyone who is meant to be in our lives will be in our lives, and the ones who aren’t, will go.

And either way … we’ll be okay.