When you are young, people tell you, “Growing up is not going to be easy.” I didn’t want to believe that when I heard it. Well, it turns out they were right. As I enter into the next chapter of my life, I can’t help but notice that some things look different from my youth. I experience things differently, I feel differently, I even talk differently. This is all a natural part of life, I know people change as they get older. But it is not easy. Having moved from Michigan to New York and finally landing in Los Angeles, I have made many great friendships and have had some absolutely wonderful experiences. I have made friends that will last forever. However, I have lost several relationships along the way. I can’t help but carry the loss of these friendships with me as I move throughout life. The problem I am encountering now is, I seem to be losing more people in my life rather than gaining them. Carrying the load of the lost relationships is starting to get very heavy.
Why is this happening?
Are the changes I m making that drastic?
As I sit with these questions, as well as my lost relationships, I am taken back to my childhood, to the very first friend I can remember. His name was Josh.
Josh lived in the condo right down the street from me. It could have been right next door for all I know, Josh was over all of the time. We were best buds for as long as I can remember, until one day my family moved to a large plot of land, far outside of town. The days of having Josh over were gone. My family was now, like most families in the Mid-Michigan, outside of a big city, isolated, and I was alone. I had no idea how to make friends; never needed to, Josh was always there. But now he was gone. I didn’t realize it at the time, but moving away from Josh was a traumatic event in my life. I had to start over. I had lost my one friend; I was back to square one. Having just one friend is not enough to sustain one person for their entire life. I know now that Josh was not going to be my only friend forever, but it was comforting for me to know he was there. I could have used the comfort of his friendship as life began to take some unexpected turns in front of me.
Many of my childhood memories are fractured. In a short number of months, around the time of my 9th birthday, my parents told my sisters and I that they were getting a divorce. Shortly after that, I lost my grandfather unexpectedly to a heart attack. I was never the same after these two incidents. I began to live two different lives. I tried to live the life I thought my folks wanted me to live; a life of carefree happiness and joy. But the reality was, a little piece of me had died, and it was not going to come back. I quickly realized trying to live my parent’s reality was impossible, I would always be faking at least one aspect of my appearance. As time passed, one aspect became two; two became three and before I knew it, the person I used to be was gone. I lost myself in the reality of trying to live everyday feeling like an incomplete person. Somedays I could do it, but most days I fell short. This feeling of falling short deepened my wounds in ways I could not expect and prolonged the time before I could begin to start feeling like a whole person again.
This was my secret reality and I hid it for as long as I could. My secrets made it very difficult for me to show people who I really was. I was ashamed, I was insecure and it was so obvious. (Or so I thought.) That was part of my problem making friends, I projected my insecurities onto anyone I would meet. This naturally created a barrier between me and the new friendship I would try and make. Any new relationship was only going to go so far because I was not able to invest fully in it. This is why (I feel) I lost many of my closest friends throughout high school. My insecurities were so deep, I gave up on my friends and walked away. I invested my time in things I shouldn’t have, and my friends paid the price. I acted in the same manner with my church friends. This was another big challenge for me as I tried making friends; How do I let my friends at school know I am cool, but also how can I not be a “sinner” or “too secular” when I was with my youth group friends? The answer,
I had to fake it.
I am exhausted even writing this. My poor younger self, he was so lost and so insecure. It is no wonder I often feel disconnected from myself, do I even know who I really am? I am getting closer to knowing, but I am further away than I originally thought. I never really recovered from the loss of my high school friend group. Same goes for my youth group friends. I still carry some of the pain from those negative experiences with me today. I regret the mistakes of my youth but I am learning to embrace them as part of the learning that one endures throughout life. I wish I could say that I learned my lesson and was able to protect many of the relationships I made in my 20’s. The truth is, I have lost more friends in the past few years then I have in my entire life. Why? There are a number of reasons, but the biggest reason I have lost more friends in the past few years is due to a change in my faith.
I am currently reading a great book by Fr. Richard Rohr titled, Falling Upward; A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Throughout this book, Fr. Rohr references a transition that he says most, if not all, people encounter as they grow older. He calls this transition, “ Moving into the second half of life.” This transition is not easy. It requires a lot of self-awareness and strength. One of the biggest challenges Rohr states about moving into the send half of life is leaving behind those that remain in the “first half of life.” He says, “There is a certain loneliness if you say, ‘yes’ and all your old friends are saying. ‘no’. So be prepared when your old friend groups, friendships, and even churches no longer fully speak to you the way they used to.” (143)
Part of why I love reading Rohr’s work is the language he provides to his readers. What he is describing has been almost my exact reality. I have felt so lonely, so outcast, so misunderstood for such a big part of my life. I have now learned to overcome those feelings. Learning to embrace the path that I am on has been one of the most liberating moments of my adult life. I no longer have to hide who I am, because I finally accept who I have become. With this, I can move into the second half of my life. In this second half, I have said, “Yes” to a life of doubt and uncertainty. I have said,“Yes” to continue to learn and to study and to grow. I said, “Yes” to widening my worldview to leave enough space for everyone. Most importantly, I have said, “Yes” to loving and accepting myself for who I am. I am beloved, I must not ever forget that. (Hint: You are also beloved, step into it!)
After spending some time meditation (more on this to come) I was able to finally hear the still small voice that lives inside of me. I think of this as my “voice of reason.” Using my “voice of reason, I have come up with five items that I think will help anyone rebuild their friend circles. I am trying all five of these in my life right now with my new group of friends. I am confident that these will also help anyone else out there that desires to rebuild their friend group. And, as a bonus, I bet if you took these tips to any past relationships, there is a chance they could be repaired. Here is my first suggestion.
Show up: This might sound really obvious but this is one of the most important aspects of building trust in any relationship. Living in Los Angeles, you often get used to the culture of FOMO (fear of missing out) that continues to allow people to break plans with their friends. I know for me personally, I have stopped calling folks after a few times of them canceling last minute. And I’m sure it has gone the other way as well, I’m sure folks have stopped calling me after I said I would be someplace and then did not show up. I have learned from that mistake. I no longer stretch myself too thin, or at least I try not to. But more importantly, if I know I am unable to make an event, I simply say, “I’m sorry, I am unable to make it.” The hurt of my “No” will absolutely be less then if I say, “Yes” and do not show. I have learned to be more honest with people, and this has helped me be more honest with myself.
Honesty: It might seem like honesty is the same as what I was just referencing in the paragraph above. But I am talking about something different. I am talking about the kind of honesty that holds each other accountable for our actions. This means, if I see one of my friends doing or saying something that is harmful to themselves, or to another person, I must step up and say something. This type of honesty again helps to build trust. We all have blind spots, it is not our fault. We need our friends to help us see things about ourselves that we are not able to see. We can grow from feedback as much as it may be uncomfortable to hear in the moment.
I have struggled with this lesson most in my relationship with my wife. She is so good at seeing my blind spots, I am very thankful to her for that. But I am not going to lie, it hurts when she says certain things to me. But I have learned to embrace her feedback because it is coming from a place of love. She wants what is best for me, so she is going to push me to get me there. I know she will have a great hand in any success I have because it was her hand on my back pushing me to “get out there.” We must be honest with our friends, and we must allow them to be honest with us. This will set the platform for a rich friendship that will grow and allow both people to thrive in the process.
Vulnerability: I will say, for men, this will be one of the toughest hurdles to overcome. Men being vulnerable with one another is as uncommon as men having multiple orgasms in one sexual experience, it rarely happens. But I will make you a promise, the second you have an intimate, vulnerable conversation with another person, you will feel all of the weight you have been carrying be lifted off of your shoulders. I know because I have experienced it. I have a weekly conversation with my friend, Nate, and it is one of the highlights of my week. Why? Because I know I have one hour each week that I can be real with my friend. I can share with him all of my hurts, my disappointments, my frustrations, all of the things I don’t feel like sharing with my partner. Men need that space to talk in the manner we need, using the language we feel in order to accurately communicate our feelings. Guys can speak through swear words and with a high volume, without scaring or hurting other guys, we are used to it. Expressing this passion helps men to feel alive. Who knew the secret to accessing real masculinity is through sharing our feelings. Who cares, I’m in.
Holding Space for One Another: You may not believe me, but once men begin to feel comfortable talking and sharing their feelings, it will start to happen with greater frequency. This is a good and a bad thing. It is a good thing because it shows that the men are evolving and becoming more vulnerable. It can be bad when they become self-absorbed in “all the feelings.” I know this firsthand. When I first started counseling, I would be the biggest bulldozer to my partner when I got home. I would share and share and share, never giving her space to comment or share her thoughts. I did the same to Nate in our weekly calls. I know now, I need to hold the space for others to share as well. This is how we can learn more about one another.
We all have a unique story to tell. Some of us really love to tell ours. That’s great, but we can learn more about our community when we hold the space for others. This is also a good practice for times of stress or anxiety for our friends. There have been times in my life when people needed my presence more than my words. It is very liberating to know that you do not always have to have the answers to our friend’s problems. Sometimes the best thing we can do for them is to just hold the space for them to process. The next time one of your friends comes to you with a problem they are unable to solve, just invite them in to sit and think. Meet them at their favorite coffee shop or take a road trip and just listen to some great music. Be creative, you never know what might be the thing to help your friend at that moment.
Communicate: I saved this one for last because if you are unable to do any of the first four items, at the very least, do this. Communicate. With our friends, we are supposed to be able to be the most real, authentic versions of ourselves. If we cannot communicate like we are comfortable, we are unable to have any kind of deep connection with another person. The conversations will only be surface level. This is fine with co-workers or people you see on the bus or train, but not with your friends. You need to have deep communication with deep friendships.
Just like vulnerability, this will be a tough one for most men. We are not shown how to communicate our feelings. “Men don’t have feelings.” Isn’t that what we are taught? Spoiler alert, men have feelings, a lot of them. We don’t know how to communicate with them, so we don’t. But we can learn. We can also try. It has to be that simple. My advice is to allow yourself to practice. Pick one or two people and try new communication techniques with them. It sounds weird, but if you don’t try, you will never know what works. Learning how to communicate is part of the process of learning who you are. Take all the time you need. And like I said, if you can’t do any other item, do this and I promise the others will start to seem less intimidating.
These five items will not work for everyone. And I encourage you to find your own mix of items that work for you when you start making new friends of your own. But I think this is a good start. Sometimes we need a roadmap, a place to start so we can track our progress. My hope is that this will help you overcome any overdue trauma and begin to move forward in rebuilding your community.
The question does remain, however, where have all of my friends gone? Well, they have gone to a lot of places. They have moved further down their own paths, just like I have. Some relationships of my past are beyond repair. That is a hard fact for me to realize. It is also hard for me to think of the idea that sometimes people are just in our lives for a season, and then they are gone. How could this be? When I was a kid I thought friendships lasted forever. That was before I realized how fast people can change. Changes can be difficult but, I am starting to warm up to this idea more and more. I no longer desire to have a wake of broken relationships in my past. To remedy this, I need to get outside of my own comfort zone. I need to do the unthinkable; I need to learn how to make new friends.
It sounds silly to me even writing it. But it’s the truth. My therapist is currently writing a book about important life lessons we learn in Kindergarten. I think this is one of those lessons. If your life takes you on any unexpected twists and turns (and it will) learning how to make new friends can be a very valuable life skill. For example, where I live in LA, if you are without a core group of friends, your time in the city can feel very lonely and isolating. You can only imagine where that might lead a person if left unnoticed or untreated. So how does one even begin to make new friends? As a guy, I can’t imagine this will be easy. But I think we have reached a very special time in our culture where Men not only have the freedom but have been given the responsibility to make this world a more peaceful and inclusive place. So as a man I am stepping out and saying, “I need help making new friends.” I am declaring it proudly. But like I said, I need a map to help get me there.
I am so thankful for all of my friends today. I am thankful for them because they have allowed me to try, and fail, at all of the five items I just listed. But that is what makes us friends. I have learned to accept myself for who I am, and that is someone that is still learning. My friends and I learn together, and with this, we grow. The second half of my life is bound to be filled with more joy and happiness because of the people I have in my friend group. As they say, “The best is yet to come.”