I skipped April’s post on mindfulness, for reasons I may come back to at a later date, so I was excited to see May’s edition of #MyMindfulYear when it landed in my inbox. This month’s theme is a topic I just love to wax lyrical about. Friendship.
When I was younger, I remember being bullied at primary school. Not major beaten-until-black-and-blue bullied, but small things that girls did to each other to knock any small amount of self-confidence we had managed to develop.
As I progressed to secondary school, the bullying stopped and I had a fairly easy school life. I was friends with lots of different groups, often switching where I sat at lunch or who I sat by in class. At the time I thought it was great that I had such variety in my friendship groups, but looking back it seems like I just didn’t know where I fit in.
In Sas Pethrick’s May email (Sas is the founder of #MyMindfulYear – full details on my January post), she looks back over her own friendships and says: “I was so determined to avoid being disliked, I spent decades twisting myself into a version of me that was ‘likable’. Being an approval whore is freakin’ exhausting!”
I hear ya, sister.
Wanting to be liked and trying to fit in was the theme of twenties. Group activities made me anxious and, where possible, I liked to hang out with my friends in intimate groups of two. It meant I didn’t have a big group of friends; instead I had lots of solo friendships. Close, intimate friendships. I feared mixing my friends in one big group because they were all so different to one another, but it was fine because they each matched a certain part of me at a time when I was still trying to work out who I was.
Now I’m in my thirties (and oh so wise, obviously) I’ve realised the importance of different friendships, the benefits of different dynamics, and the acceptance that we can’t be all things to all people. I’ve also understood the essential need to ignore the people who bring nothing but stress and sadness to your life. I have two big friendship groups and adore every single one of the fourteen or so people that make up each group. The group friendships have resulted in some wonderful New Year’s Eve parties, some amazing group holidays, some idyllic country house weekend retreats and some birthdays so fabulous I can barely remember them.
But alongside those big gatherings are the solo friendships I’ve kept alive since my twenties. They’re the girls who have stayed by my side during major breakups, chronic illness and huge life upheaval. And yet, after all these years, they still haven’t met each other. I have no excuse for it now. I am more comfortable in my own skin, I know what I value and what I can’t stand, and those solo friendships have stood the test of time because ultimately, we all value the same thing.
This year is all change. I am getting married and so have no choice but to put all my favourite people in a room together, and hope for the best. And the girls who make up my solo friendships are going to come together for the very first time to help me with all the bridal crap that I am not made for – hair, makeup, shoes, a hen do I tried to avoid, dress shopping I refused to do anywhere other than from the comfort of my own sofa, and traditions I’m trying to ignore. But the one tradition I do want to keep is getting ready in a flurry of excitement and nervousness with some of the girls in my life. I’ve been bridesmaid for three of them in the last two years and meeting their other bridesmaids has been a wonderful part of the occasion. If the girls you love have other girls they love, well, it only stands to reason that you’re going to make a few new friends.
My days of fighting for friendships are long gone. I live with my best friend and know that actually, this friendship is the most important of them all. Safe in that knowledge, I find it a lot easier to ignore people that bring me sadness and will quite happily let friendships fade away that just aren’t meant to be. But I work hard for the people that are important to me, and I take it personally – too personally – when they don’t do the same. That’s the next thing I need to improve; accepting that just because I haven’t heard from you in two weeks doesn’t mean you hate me. A key life lesson right there.