When I was in fifth grade, I got my first taste of mean girl treatment. Being the new kid and having moved to town from a different part of the country, I had a tough adjustment in my new classroom. Ten-year-old girls can be cruel, and I was often on the receiving end of merciless teasing about my clothes, hair, and Yankee accent. I missed my friends back home, and I was miserable.
On one particularly bad day, after the teasing and snickering seemed too much to bear, my mom sat me down and explained the “truth” about women and friendship. She gently told me that I was going to have a lot of acquaintances in my life but that I’d only have a few “Left Hand” friends when all was said and done.
She told me that someday I’d realize I could count the number of people who would move heaven and earth for me on my left hand. She explained that friendships were about quality, not quantity, and that the girls who teased me mercilessly in fifth grade would not be among those I counted as my close friends. My 10-year-old self wrestled with the notion that friendship wasn’t about the number of girls following you around the playground, and I was dubious about her advice.
As I grew up and entered the age of social media, life became a sea of emails, texts, and notifications from people from my past who I’d assumed were long since gone. With the advent of Facebook, suddenly those mean girls from fifth grade wanted to share the pictures of their new babies with me, and almost daily I heard from acquaintances from high school and college.
When I had children, I added mom friends to my large, ever-increasing social network. Volunteer work put me in touch with other moms, and I filled my days with committees, classroom parties, and field trips. Everywhere I turned, I was surrounded by friendly chitchat, whether in person or online, and yet when I really looked at the relationships in my life, I realized my mother may have been right. While I was never at a loss to have someone to talk with, I felt alone even surrounded by people all day long. My life didn’t feel fulfilled so much as filled to capacity with busy encounters.
As I gazed at a Facebook friends list that numbered in the several hundreds, I realized I was surrounded by friendly people but not necessarily real friends. As this realization dawned on me, I found it to be depressing, upsetting even. How had I let my life become filled with people who, while they knew me socially, didn’t know my deep passions, aspirations, and life goals?
They didn’t know the thoughts behind my actions, and I noticed that catty behavior surfaced because people didn’t take the time to work out a disagreement. I took a hard look at my friendships and relationships, and sure enough, I had Left Hand friends who’d stuck with me through thick and thin. Those friends who had seen me at my worst and yet still answered my phone calls. Those friends who didn’t consider me just a thumbs up on a picture on Facebook or a tag in a photo at a school event.
I also came to realize that the noise of filling my world with acquaintances and friendly people was preventing me from cultivating and maintaining my Left Hand friend relationships. Perhaps with the wisdom that comes with turning 40, I determined that I was no longer willing to put quantity over quality when it came to my friendships. My kids are getting older, and I’m focusing more on a career I love. I no longer have time for the bullshit that accompanies maintaining relationships simply for show or to be polite.
In the last year, I’ve whittled my friendship circle down to a tiny network of trusted friends, and I’ve never been happier. My friends, the ones who enrich my life and fill me with joy, have become my priority, and I know that I am one in their lives as well. I have said “no” to filling my life with meaningless interactions and people who clutter my life with needless drama in favor of a circle of friends who uplift me and fill my soul when I am depleted. My social calendar is much quieter these days, but my life feels fuller than ever.
I am no longer concerned with how many friends I have, and I give no apology for not investing time in relationships that are one-sided or soul-sucking. And every time I look at my left hand since redefining my social network, I’m reminded that I have friends who have my back and will never tell anyone what I’m really like after a few too many chardonnays (you know who you are). I now know, too, how lucky I am to have my Left Hand friends, and I’m going to grab onto them with both hands and never let go.
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