I recently talked with a friend experiencing angst and exclusion within a friendship. Several women I know are agonizing over the invitation list to their children’s mitzvah celebrations, afraid of the repercussions of necessary cuts. One good friend continually gets upset when she hears of even just two friends hanging out without her. Another despises being the last to hear big news.
At times I’ve felt left out — a birthday celebration I was unaware of, shopping trips, lunches or days spent at the pool amongst friends sans moi. When feelings of rejection bubble to the surface, I mumble or grumble to my husband and chide myself for being childish. But, if I am being childish, seems I’m not the only one.
In our forties, aren’t we supposedly older and wiser? Why does it feel like we’re still schoolgirls whispering on the playground? What’s the deal with this friendship frenzy?
My core group of friends, formed over a decade ago when I moved to Philadelphia, remains strong. From different places, backgrounds, and experiences, we met as new moms in our newborn playgroups, music classes, and preschools. As women have moved into our neighborhood, lives, and hearts, our size has grown. We’ve been through make-ups, break-ups, marriages, divorces, births, miscarriages, illnesses, unemployment and death.
We’re a large group with it’s own mini-circles concentrically overlapping. Some play tennis together; others vacation as families, see concerts en masse, or spend the summers at the beach. We’ve met friends of our friends, ourselves forming new friendships. Some have moved away and some have moved back; our brunch table expands and contracts as the seasons change. As our kids have aged, we have too, our friendships growing deeper as our kids grow taller.
As my children spread their wings, so has my circle of friends. From its core, it expands, including the girls I’ve known since I was a girl, the gaggle I got into trouble with in high school and my faraway college besties. It’s full with fellow writers I’ve connected with over social media, spinners from spin class, runners I run with, and yogis I practice with.
I’ve had an electronic pen pal, spilling secrets over the dim light of my computer. Now local, we are moving our friendship from virtual to actual reality. I’ve made great friends through my children’s school, and together we share a special connection unique to those who’ve walked the same halls for 11 years. There are the camp moms, former colleagues, and women I chat with in barre class.
“Women understand. We may share experiences, make jokes, paint pictures, and describe humiliations that mean nothing to men, but women understand. The odd thing about these deep and personal connections of women is that they often ignore barriers of age, economics, worldly experience, race, culture — all the barriers that, in male or mixed society, had seemed so difficult to cross.” — Gloria Steinem
All of these women have resulted in a large base where I could reach out and find whatever I need at any given moment. My husband laughs that just when he thinks he’s finally met all my friends, another branch extends dangling a few more smiling faces. My friends have similarly expansive groups with deep rosters. So what accounts for our feelings of exclusion and insecurity? Why do we laser our focus on the one friendship that has momentarily receded when the rest of our cup overflows?
My theory is that friendship is a mix of chemistry, timing, shared interests and often history. We’ve all got different temperaments and tendencies, needs and capacity. And we aren’t on the playground anymore. As we age, we make choices that our loved ones might not always agree with. Our needs ebb and flow, so it’s only natural our friendships will as well; yet while we accept the rest of our lives move and morph, we insist our relationships hold still.
Our friends tether us during uncontrolled and often unwanted seismic shifts in our world. We desperately want our anchors to remain forever cemented in place. So changes, shifts, and evolution within these friendships leave us vulnerable and unsettled. But, nothing stays the same; expecting that of a friend or friendship is not only unrealistic but ultimately limiting to the potential of where that friend and friendship can go.
“A lot of women, when they’re young, feel they have very good friends, and find later on that friendship is complicated. It’s easy to be friends when everyone’s 18. It gets harder the older you get, as you make different life choices. A lot of women’s friendships begin to founder. I was interested in why that was, why it’s not possible for a woman to see her friend living differently and just think, Oh, she lives differently.” ― Zadie Smith
What I focus on when I’m feeling left out and blue, what I told my friend in angst and what I’ve reminded my daughter of is that change doesn’t have to be bad. That which recedes, often advances back. True friendships with real roots can handle tension, strain, space and growth. Withstanding time, they wind up with their roots twisted; turned and tangled as together they grow.
Feelings will get hurt and hurt feelings suck. I try to remember that everyone can’t be invited to everything and that’s OK. More importantly, each connection I have is unique — a close friend making a new friend might mean less time for the two of us but we’re still us, impossible to replace or recreate. In yoga, we practice the art of keeping our eyes on our own mats. It’s inconceivable not to look at someone exhibiting beauty next to you. It is conceivable to admire but not envy that beauty. Notice that which is around you, but don’t allow it to send you toppling to the ground.
And if you’re really feeling down, talk it out. We hash things out with our moms and argue with our spouses but are afraid to speak our minds to our friends; scared to rock the boat, we hold our feelings. The boat can withstand a few waves. We’re older, let’s try and be wiser.
“Constant use had not worn ragged the fabric of their friendship.” ― Dorothy Parker
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