When That Friendship Isn’t Everything You Hoped For

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I’ve had a tendency to blur the line between best friend and only friend, clinging to one person for all my relational needs. I’d look to that person for fun and for a listening ear. I’d expect her to keep me from feeling lonely and to make me believe I was valuable, loved, capable, and worthwhile.

Maybe it won’t surprise you that these expectations didn’t lead to healthy, mutual, long-lasting friendships. Eventually either the weight of all my needs would be too much for my friend to carry or I would get frustrated that she wasn’t everything I expected her to be.

In my hurt and disappointment, it was easy to think I just needed to find a better friend. If I could meet the right person (and get her to like me), then I’d be happy.

Part of the problem was that I believed making friends is either something we’re good at or we’re not. Since I believed I wasn’t good at making friends, I shied away from taking risks to get to know people. If I did find a friend, I felt freed from the pressure to reach out to anyone new.

While there can be something wonderful about having someone who will be with us in all the ups and downs of life, expecting one person to be everything for us is a lot of pressure. I’m learning that making friends is something I can practice and that my life is enriched by a variety of friendships.

With one friend, I enjoy fun conversations over delicious food…but if I share about my big, scary dreams I’m likely to walk away feeling more advised than heard. Another friend is wonderful at asking thoughtful questions and offering enthusiastic encouragement…but as a mom to several little ones her time and energy are limited. With some friends I feel safe to talk through some of my deepest thoughts without feeling judged. Other friendships have formed around mutual interests.

My appreciation and enjoyment of each friendship grows when I recognize what kind of support that person has to offer and look for the connections between us instead of expecting them to be someone they are not. What that looks like varies not only from friend to friend but also from day to day.

Just like us, our friends go through good times and hard times and have varying needs and demands on their attention. Sometimes they may be glad to give us extra support. Other times they might be barely hanging on. Of course, we want to be able to depend on our friends. But we also need to have a strong enough foundation within ourselves and within a community that we won’t collapse if that one person isn’t able to meet a particular need.

Another big problem with the way I approached friendship in the past was that I was looking to someone outside to make me like who I was within. I struggled to see the value in who I was, but also didn’t believe I was capable of change. I wanted someone to be able to convince me I was ok.

The thing is, no one can make someone feel worthy of love and belonging. No matter how complimentary, supportive, and devoted someone is, if I don’t trust in my own worth, it will never be enough. If I don’t believe I’m lovable, I won’t really believe that another person cares no matter what they say or do. I’ll look to them to be reassured over and over again.

I put a lot of pressure on my friendships by demanding something that was impossible to give. I wanted my friends to give me the self-value and self-trust I didn’t know how to find on my own. At the same time, I would try to do whatever I could for them and to be whoever I thought I needed to be to make them keep liking me.

Friendships are still a struggle for me. I’m quick to assume that other people don’t actually want to spend time with me and I worry that an invitation to spend time together will obligate them into something they don’t want to do. I have to remind myself to let my friends see who I am instead of trying to figure out who I think they want me to be.

But I’m learning that each friendship doesn’t have to be perfect and I don’t need any one person to embody everything I hope for in a friend. I can appreciate each friend more for who she is when I know I have others to turn to for the kind of support she isn’t as suited to give. I can be myself more honestly in friendships as well when I remember I don’t have to meet someone else’s every need and realize that when she turns to someone else sometimes, it doesn’t necessarily mean she doesn’t still care about me.

I’m not sure what your friendship history is like…maybe you make friends easily and have a full social calendar. Maybe you wish you had more friends but don’t know how to find them. Maybe you have a number of people you call friends, but never quite feel like you fit with them.

Friendship can be wonderful and beautiful. It can also be challenging in more ways than we could begin to cover in one post. Whether your friendship struggles look similar to mine or different, I want you know you’re not the only one who sometimes finds friendship difficult.

What is the most value thing you’ve learned about friendships? In what ways are your friendships not what you hope they would be?