The last few years have been… challenging. Not in any devastating or negative way necessarily, but in a shaken snow globe kind of way. You know how you can go through those periods in your life when everything feels a little topsy-turvy and unsettled, and you can never quite get your bearings but it’s also kind of inexplicably beautiful at the same time? Yeah, that.
The details don’t really matter, but let’s just say I took on a significant volunteer position at the same time I started working full-time. My kids further entrenched themselves in the tween years, with my oldest on the precipice of the dreaded teens. Nearly every conversation is emotionally exhausting. One of our dogs died, and the other is old and in poor health. Oh, and our household grew by two.
So, yeah. It’s been a lot. Rich and purposeful and transformative… but also A LOT.
Of course, when life fills up in some ways, you need to cut back in other ways, and that was no exception for me. Take an overpacked schedule with side of introvertedness and a splash of social anxiety, and the thing that most easily gets cut? Time with friends and almost all social activities.
I go home early. I say no to girls’ nights out. I might cancel plans at the last minute (I’m sorry, it’s nothing personal).
And my friendships have been impacted as a result.
When you go home early – because you have work to do or you’re “peopled out” – folks think you’re anti-social or a buzzkill. When you have to reschedule or cancel plans, people think you’re flaky. And when you say “no” enough, most people stop asking.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s just me. Do other folks struggle to make time for friendship this way? I see couples out to dinner together or taking vacations together. I see photos on Facebook of that birthday party the night before, and I hear (through the grapevine) about the bbq last weekend. Because — shocker! — life goes on while you’re busying introverting or working or doing that volunteer thing you signed up for. And it’s no surprise that when life gets hard and overwhelming and just too damn much, your friend group shrinks a bit and some folks slip away. Folks stop asking, and you stop going. Or vice versa. It’s hard to know what happens first.
I don’t really blame anyone for this. In fact, I understand it completely. The friendship might feel like more effort than it’s worth. I’m not angry about being excluded or left out. But what I am is a just a tad regretful and even more grateful than ever for the friends who keep asking.
For the friends who ask why I need to cancel plans and don’t take it personally when I tell them that I’m so overextended that I just need to spend an hour sitting in a dark room not talking to anyone, thank you for understanding.
To the friends who check in when I go quiet, thank you for knowing that it isn’t about you but about everything else.
For the friends who keep inviting me even though I turn invites down more than I accept them, thank you for not forgetting about me. For knowing that my need for solitude doesn’t mean I don’t need your friendship. For letting me know you’re there even though your life gets wild and chaotic too.
For the friends who ask about that big thing happening in my life that most people don’t want to touch, thank you for reading between the lines and seeing what others don’t. For asking the hard questions, for knowing that there can be so much communicated in what isn’t said. For saying just the right thing at just the right time, like magic.
For the friends who show up, who stick around, who keep asking… thank you.
A friend recently opened up on social media about some mental health struggles he had been going through. He talked about the invites and how each and every one means so much. And when I read I thought, YES YES YES. Every invite, every question, every outstretched hand (whether over the phone or via text or FB messenger) is like a light at the end of a very long tunnel. It says, You’ll get through this. This too shall pass. And I’ll be here when it does. Actually, I’ve been here the entire time.
Of course, this might sound needy or one-sided. Maybe I’m expecting too much of people. But then when I really think about it, this is what friendship is about. It’s about being real with each other about what you need and what you can give. It’s about being there, asking and asking, showing up again and again and again. Not just for one person in the relationship, but for each other.
Sure, the past few months (years, really) have been tough, but I’ve grown a lot and learned a lot. Mostly I’ve learned how much I need those friends who stick around, who show up, who keep asking.
Don’t we all?
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