Healthy relationships are vital to life. When cared for, relationships bring us joy. They bring us strength. They bring us connection. And so many other great things. But relationships are work! And, I’m not just talking about relationships that come with a lifelong commitment like a marriage or parenting, but friendships too.
Friendships are relationships we choose to have. We start to take this autonomy of deciding our friends when we are young, even before we truly understand what it means to be a friend. When I was in elementary school, I remember sitting around the dinner table with my family and one of my parents always would ask, “Did you make any new friends today?” I don’t remember what my answer was on a given day, but I’m sure I answered yes.
Back then, a friend was someone who held the door for you while coming inside from recess. Or someone who would trade you their peanut butter and jelly sandwich for your egg salad. Or maybe even the girl who has the pretty bow in her hair … maybe we’ve never actually played together, but she seems cool, so I’ll say she’s my friend.
Then we move through this stage of being an angst-filled teenager, and we hold onto our friendships like they are everything. I remember latching on to best friends thinking they’ll be in my life forever, and then we had a fight and I threw friendships away like they were going out of style. This is also the time when I started to learn how to balance friendships with dating. Those “best friends forever” started to take a back seat.
Young adulthood sneaks up on you and all of the sudden making friends isn’t as easy as it was on the playground. I met friends through work, in class at college, and through friends I already had. Friendships are tested through priorities, distance, and time.
Where do we learn about friendships? How do we learn to be a good friend? I am lucky. I have a mother who instilled in me the value of being a good friend. She taught be how to be intentional about whom I create friendships with to make sure I was hanging out with good people. She also taught me how to develop friendships with people that maybe weren’t exactly like me.
I met one of my best friends in elementary school. She was an immigrant coming to Minnesota from a country I didn’t know. She spoke a different language and practiced a different religion. My mother brought us together and that friendship is one of my most precious ones.
My mother also taught me that friendships need to be nurtured, but it’s okay to let time pass. So here I am in my mid late 20s. I have networks of friends from elementary/high school, college, past jobs, work, etc. I love to spend time with them, but since I also have a friendship with my partner, I want to devote time to enrich that relationship. It’s challenging though. Finding a balance, knowing what things we do together with my friends and what I go to alone. He also has networks of friends from elementary/high school, college, and work that he wants to spend time with. We try to balance all around. Time together, time apart, time with my friends, time with his friends, etc.
My partner and I do a pretty decent job of understanding the balance of time we spend together and time we spend with our friends. We know what we each need and we try to honor that as much as we can. As we matured in our relationship and individually as adults, we started to wonder if our friendships should change to account for our relationship with each other. Do his friends become my friends? Do my friends become his friends? What if I don’t really click with his friends? What if he doesn’t really have the same interests as my friends?
Honestly, we’re still figuring it out.
For us, we’re still learning. We try out doing double dates with friends. We go to gatherings together where our friends are. We even have hosted parties where “my friends” and “his friends” come together. We’re trying to do this more. It’s easy sometimes, and it’s hard sometimes. It can be awkward. But when we’re sitting around the table, playing a game with laughter bouncing off the walls, I have to think “my friends” and “his friends” have now become “our friends” regardless of who’s around the table.
It’s normal and healthy to go through the turbulence of finding a groove in the gray space of “our friends.” For some, the dance is quick, and for others (like us), it takes some time – and that’s okay. What’s important is the journey you two take to learn the waltz of “our friends” together. There will be bumps, toes will be stepped on, shoulders to lean on, and many laughs along the way, and that’s the sweet spot.