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Word of the Month: Friendship    

Word of the Month: Friendship

Art by FISK

In September, we’ll be exploring friendship at TLO. It’s one of the greatest joys of life that also has a significant impact on our mental health. Countless studies have shown that social support can lessen stress (reducing our blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones) and foster a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives, making it all the more important to nurture those bonds. But navigating our friendships isn’t always easy – we can grow apart, lose touch, or fall out with people who were once our closest friends. This month, we’ll be looking at both the ups and downs of friendship, with guides on how to set boundaries, build trust, and make it through those painful friendship break-ups. To kick things off, we got our team together to chat about what they value most in friends and how they’ve learned to accept that some friendships aren’t meant to last forever. Read the full convo, below. 

Jessica Schiffer (Managing Editor): This month at TLO, we're diving into friendship. It's a central part of our lives, but it often gets short shrift compared to romantic relationships – we obsess over the latter, even though friendship is more of a constant and can often be just as intoxicating or, in some cases, toxic. The love you have for a friend can be just as nuanced and complex as anything else. At their best, solid friendships keep us afloat in hard times and remind us of who we are, but what one person prioritizes in their friendships can be totally different from someone else. I'm curious, Meadow and Hallie, what qualities do you value most in your friends?

Meadowlark Monaghan (Mental Health Lead): Ugh, well said Jess! The first aspects that come to mind are openness and acceptance – every one of my friends is so different and they all are so open to other ideas, perspectives, interests, etc which makes our friendship (and our conversations) fun! I feel like I am constantly learning from my friends in the best of ways. They also accept me fully for who I am, flaws and all. My friendship flaws are being a horrid texter and also having a far more loosey goosey approach to boundaries than some of my friends, which I think are two flaws that could be hard for some folks but my friends are so damn accepting. I think that comes from them being so grounded and emotionally mature – we all have our own shit going on so we tend not to let the egos get in the way and just make our time together full of support and love. You asking us this made me realize that this is the happiest with my friendships I've ever been – I've really found some good ones.

Hallie Sheinbaum (Project Manager): I love that Meadow. I definitely agree with valuing openness and acceptance, and I feel you on being a bad texter. What I value the most in my friendships, without a doubt, is trust and honesty. If I can't trust someone, they're probably not a close friend of mine! Another thing I've noticed in my past is that friends can get pretty competitive and comparative, and that never turns out well. So, I think that made me realize how important it is to value supportive and encouraging friends who have my back no matter what and are happy when I am happy. It took lots of navigating to get to the circle of friends that I have now and it wasn't the smoothest process, but I am super grateful to say that they are extremely trustworthy and supportive. Jess, what qualities do you value most in your friends?

JS: You guys really touched on everything I value, but the ability to be totally myself around someone and not have to put on any kind of act is really #1. I can definitely relate to the ups and downs of finding your people that you mentioned Hallie, I think it can be really rocky when you’re younger and not as self-assured and trying to fit in with people who, in hindsight, really aren’t good for you and are operating from their own place of insecurity. But that bumpiness lessened a lot as I got older, and I think part of that comes from having different expectations. On the one hand, I really only keep people I can trust and be authentic with in my life, but I also give my friends more grace and accept their imperfections, in the same way they do for me (my friendship flaw is being flaky with plans). I think having that built-in forgiveness makes life a lot less dramatic. I sort of know who I can go to for what, and I don’t expect every friend to offer me everything.

Of course, sometimes you do have to end a friendship, and we've talked before about how it can be 10x harder than a romantic break-up. Have either of you had to navigate that, and what got you through it?

MM: "Built-in forgiveness makes life a lot less dramatic" truly sums up my friendships in my late twenties. Ohhhh the friendship breakups are ROUGH. What got me through the most recent one (which was 6 years ago now) was knowing that in other aspects of my life (moving, school, chasing dreams) I was absolutely making choices that aligned with who I wanted to be and where I wanted to go. So, although it was gut-wrenching, having that confidence in how I was navigating other areas of my life allowed me to accept that it was part of the dance. I think when you start making decisions that align with your authentic self in your early twenties, folks that you've been with along the way (while you were discovering who you are) tend to drift away either naturally or with a bang. I wish we had more of a rhetoric of accepting that friendships can "end" and that doesn't disrespect or negate how valuable they were during that time of your life, I think that would make friendships a lot healthier all around. 

HS: I love what you said, Meadow, about "accepting that friendships can end" and that it doesn't mean you didn't value them. I think it's normal for friendships to fizzle out. I'm a firm believer that people come into your life at certain times for certain reasons. Something that helps me get through the sadness of a friendship breakup is taking time to identify and value the lessons I learned from them, good or bad. I also think some friendship breakups I've had helped me seek out what I want and need for future healthy relationships. I think something else that helps is finding closure, even if it's just for yourself. If I'm being honest, I feel like I haven't fully found closure with a friendship breakup I had years ago, and it still makes me sad to think about.  I don't know if I ever gave myself time or space to grieve the loss, which I think would have helped. This conversation is actually inspiring me to look back on some relationships and find the closure that I need.

JS: I can relate to that, Hallie. I think there’s this idea in our culture that closure always requires some sort of final conversation between two people, but the reality is that’s not always possible, and there are ways to find closure on our own. I think you do have to grieve to get there – I spent a solid year grieving a close friendship that ended a few years ago, and it was highly emotional and uncomfortable, but I also knew it was for the best, and I think that got me through. Just like with romantic relationships, I think we have a tendency to only focus on the good parts when a friendship comes to an end, but sometimes we do need to remind ourselves of why it ended in the first place in order to really move on. That doesn’t mean holding on to anger or discounting the positive memories, but simply acknowledging that there are valid reasons you’re no longer close. Whenever a friendship has ended for me, whether we simply grew apart or there was a falling out, I’ve learned something and grown in a way that I think benefits all of my other friendships. It helps you get clear on what you want those relationships to look like, so there’s always a silver lining.

I’m excited for us to dive deeper into these themes this month – navigating friendship is something we all deal with, but don’t talk about nearly enough. Here’s to changing that in September :)

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414