When it comes to romantic relationships, I’ve been very, very lucky. My boyfriend and I met when we were young and have been together for almost 10 years. Besides one breakup/get back together cycle in college (I told him I needed to go “sow my wild oats” but just spent six months crying and writing free verse poetry in my dorm room instead), our relationship has included minimal drama. Have we been through our fair share of relationship tests? Of course, but we’ve always treated each other with love and respect.
My friendship history, on the other hand, has been chock full of drama. I’ve had more than my fair share of toxic friendships, conflicts, and friend breakups. In fact, sometimes I feel like my tumultuous experiences with friends have been an inverse reaction to my blissfully boring romantic life. Maybe it’s the universe evening things out (this girl has a sweet, steady boyfriend, let’s make sure she has to deal with some craaaaazy friends!), or maybe I just have a certain amount of fucked up relationship energy that needs to go somewhere, and since I’ve been happily paired up for so long, my friendships became the outlet.
I’ve fostered toxic friendships with all the classic “types” that my friends have dated (and regretted dating): the manipulator, the sad sack, the emotional vampire, the drama magnet, the mean girl. I’ve broken up with friends (and been broken up with) using all the usual breakup methods: angry texts, ghosting, and difficult in-person conversations. A few years ago, I literally said, “It’s not you, it’s me,” when trying to create some distance between myself and a friend who was treating me like shit. When a close friend of mine recently defriended me on Facebook, it didn’t hurt quite as bad as a significant other ending a relationship in such a casual way, but let me tell you, it definitely hurt.
Don’t get me wrong, I have some amazing friends in my life, but my track record includes a few epic misses among the hits. Misses I’m not eager to repeat.
After moving 3,000 miles away from the city I’d lived all my adult life, I’m facing a blank slate when it comes to my social life for the first time ever. The prospect of surrounding myself with new people and being particularly thoughtful/choosy about the people I let into my life is super appealing right now, but it’s also really scary. Like a dater who has been burned by one too many people they were close to, I’m afraid of getting hurt again. My past of failed friendships has made it hard for me to trust my own instincts when it comes to connecting with people. Now when I meet someone at a party and think, “Oh, she seems nice!” there’s a little voice in my head whispering, “But you thought that about Jenna too, and she turned out to be a monster.”
Lately I’ve been thinking about all the ways I could go about forming a new social circle in the face of that fear. I could take the path a lot of my single friends have taken after a breakup, and go out/mingle with a ton of people, widening my sample size to try to find a diamond in the rough. I could be extremely picky about anyone and everyone I spend time with, and put up a ton of emotional walls that potential friends have to earn the keys to, like some kind of extremely un-fun friendship challenge video game. None of these strategies feel right to me, though. None of them feel natural.
The fact is, like anyone considering a new relationship — romantic or platonic — I need to sort out my own issues before I can expect to form positive, fulfilling connections with other people. Looking back, I made a lot of my not-so-great friends during turbulent times in my life when I felt lost or angry or depressed. I attracted people with similar qualities, and then, as the friendship progressed and soured, I had no idea how to create emotional distance or maintain healthy boundaries. This is a pattern I don’t want to repeat, so I need to do some major self-reflection to make sure I understand where it comes from. I need to work on self-compassion so I never fall into the trap of thinking I “deserve” mean friends. The cliche piece of dating advice about becoming the person you want to date? It totally applies to friendships, too. I’d love to add a few more loving, fun, positive, emotionally evolved people to my life, but first I need to make sure that I’m living up to all of those descriptors myself.
Beyond that, I think friendship, like any human interaction, takes guts and vulnerability and humility and a great deal of luck. I don’t want to be so cautious that I close myself off to awesome people, but I also don’t want to fill my life with mediocre connections. I’d so much rather have a few quality friends than an army of so-so ones (or a small gang of really crappy ones, which is a reality I’ve experienced in the past).
So right now, I’m just trying to be open to social opportunities that come along, and create new ones whenever it feels right. Because if friendships are anything like romantic relationships (which they are), then I have to believe that all my ex-friends left my life for a reason: to make room for even better ones. And when those truly great friends do come along, I’ll be ready. In fact, I can hardly wait to meet them.