Life is full of so many struggles. From daily struggles as simple as deciding what to wear to the mundane decision of what to eat to the more significant such as determining who to share your time with. One of my father's favorite sayings while I was growing up was, "You can't choose your family but you can choose your friends," which he almost always ended with "tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are." Yup... my dad was one of a kind! Stubborn, very opinionated and full of life!!
As most children do, I have played my father's words in my head many times during the course of my life. Not always agreeing with what he said but making an effort to understand his wisdom and knowledge. I am now almost 39 years old and I was blessed to have lived in the same home with my parents -- until I got married and moved out -- from the time I was three years old. What this meant for me is that I had the same group of friends from the time I was in kindergarten until well... pretty much now. I have always been grateful to have this small yet amazing group of people in my life. A group of people who I felt knew the 'real' me. We had grown together, made mistakes together, had amazing times together and even some not so amazing times together. We truly consider one another family. We have an unspoken accountability to one another -- or at least we did. Over the last few years, many of us have been through some tremendous changes in our lives and as a result, we have grown apart. In no way has it been intentional or for any specific reason other than...everyone has a lot going on. Some are going through marital separations, others are fighting illnesses and others are simply super busy with careers and children. My life has seen many life altering changes in the past few years that have transformed me as a person to the very core. I am -- in no way -- the same person today that I was a few years ago and therefore, these lifelong friends really don't know me at all anymore. What does this mean? It means I love -- and will always love -- these people with all my heart and that we will always be connected on a level I cannot even put into words however, our lives have taken very different paths and we no longer have anything in common. This used to bother me and even keep me up at night on occasion. It confused me and hurt me because I felt maybe I had done something wrong. I truly believed that these friendships should and would be life-long and I struggled accepting that this wasn't the case anymore until I realized that nobody had done anything wrong. Until I realized the only thing that had happened is that we all had grown as individuals and that we didn't serve one another anymore the way a friendship should and even more importantly... until I realized that it's OK.. . in fact... it's amazing!
This doesn't mean that this small handful of amazing people no longer hold a special place in my heart. This doesn't mean that I don't long to see them and hear about how they are doing and know that they are well and happy. It just means that we have all grown as individuals and our paths are no longer aligned the way they once were. It means that we have actually developed and evolved as human beings which in the end -- I believe -- is the meaning of life: to develop and grow and be in a constant state of change.
Too many of us view change in relationships as a bad thing but what if we viewed it as a positive turn in life. What if we were grateful for what each relationship offered us while it was a part of our life and let it go when it no longer had anything valuable to offer us? What if we stopped holding on to the unnecessary as if trying to pull water from a stone all the while being continuously disappointed?
As I have gotten older, it's become necessary for me to understand and accept that in life people come and go. I have always had a tremendous fear of loss, which had me holding on to friendships and relationships for dear life long after they had anything good to offer me. In the past, I have spent a great deal of my time wondering why a relationship or friendship has fizzled instead of accepting it for what it was and moving on. This realization came to me recently when a person I had considered a friend -- even though we had grown apart -- attacked me for not responding to an invitation. The truth is, I felt terrible about not responding but it was really nothing more than the fact that my life had gotten very unexpectedly busy and I was dealing with a lot. My intension was never to offend, insult or make anyone feel bad however... I was told that I was a terrible person and that our friendship was 'fake'. My view on these comments ranges from hurtful, to angry to truly feeling sorry for the person on the other end of the spectrum. I can say with the utmost of confidence that at the age of 38, I have no fake friendships in my life. Any person I choose to spend my time with is truly because I WANT to spend time with that person however... like I said above, people change, circumstances change and sometimes...people simply grow apart. It took me a few days to get over the comments made by this person that I really considered a friend at one point in time but more importantly, it made me start to ask some questions. It forced me to question my judgment in the people I was choosing to be around and made me wonder how another can possibly think they have any right to question me, and my life decisions in such a way. It forced me to look deeper and question if I was really being true to myself. In my -- very strong -- opinion, a true friend respects you, your time and your decisions. A true friend would have simply said; "hey... you didn't respond? Everything okay?" Looking back at this particular friendship, there were several red flags that I should have paid attention to but I continued to turn a blind eye to them -- hence my fear of loss. I continued to make excuses for this person instead of being truthful to myself and to my gut instinct. A friendship should be easy. It should never be demanding nor should it come with rules and expectations. It should consist of a mutual respect and understanding of each person's beliefs, values and decisions and in my opinion, the very moment any one of these cease to exist... so should the friendship.
So in the last little while my journey of self-discovery has forced me to challenge my definition of friendship. I have seen some friendships naturally fizzle and others end abruptly and in a disrespectful manner. I have also seen new and amazing friendships flourish and grow beautifully for which I am grateful for. Such is life I guess. I am grateful for the lessons these experiences have taught me nonetheless. On the one hand, I have learned that even so called life-long friendships go through phases and changes and on the flip side I have learned to be more mindful of my gut instinct and more careful about whom I let into my personal space.
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