A few months ago I wrote a blog called “Let’s Talk about Our Failures” about the importance of sharing not just our triumphs but also our stumbling blocks. But I realized over the past few months since I wrote it that I missed something hugely important. And that piece is something that I’ve come to learn throughout my 20s.
More and more throughout my 20s, I’ve realized that it’s not just about sharing your failures, but as Dr. Brené Brown has put it, sharing it with people who have earned the right to hear your story. I know this is true in my life, especially in my early 20s. If you’re like me, you’ve told something important to a “friend” that took a lot for you to say, and in the end, you didn’t quite get the response you hoped for. Maybe it was your friend’s discomfort with their own emotions; maybe you didn’t communicate effectively; or maybe they just didn’t know how to help. Or maybe, they simply couldn’t be there with you and for you.
Regardless of the difficulty of these moments or the reason behind it, I’ve learned that not everyone will be who I want them to be nor act in the way that I want them to act. I’ve learned that I need to accept people for who they are. This led me to two options:
- I need to accept them for who they are and embrace that as a boundary of our relationship
- I need to accept them for who they are and realize that I don’t need to invest in this relationship any longer.
Although I’ve taken both paths, the former option has been my more common response. I’ve learned the value of having many people in my life who offer different things at different levels. Some friends are there to help me laugh and let go. Some friends are there to help me get through the difficult times. Some friends are there for a short period to help me get through a period in my life (e.g. college). And every once in a while, I’ll come across a friend who infuses all of those areas.
I’ve learned that people come into our lives for a season, a reason, or a lifetime. As I’ve heard T.D. Jakes say so perfectly, sometimes people come into our lives like scaffolding. They help erect us into the person we are to become and when we reach that place, they are no longer needed. Not everyone will stay for a lifetime. Maybe a friend turns into someone I just have dinner with once a week or maybe it’s someone I see every once in a while at a party.
I’ve learned that not everyone is going to be around for a lifetime. And that’s ok. We change and so will our surroundings. This is something I continually relearned throughout college. I know so many college students or teenagers go through this as they navigate their own social networks trying to gauge their true friends. To those of you out there reading, I would say you don’t need to have 20 friends, you just need that one close friend. That friend you can trust with your stories.
In fear of contradicting myself, I do want to offer a word of caution because having one close friend doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly with others and have other friends / acquaintances at other levels you see or talk to less frequently. It also doesn’t mean that it’s bad to have 20 friends. That’s great if you do and that works for you! All I’m saying is having friends at other levels may be useful for expanding your social circle. Maybe you meet someone through an acquaintance that ends up becoming someone you keep in your inner circle. Maybe you meet someone who you eventually get married to. Maybe you go to that party even though you aren’t a party person and met someone else who also reluctantly went and you end up hitting it off.
Researchers at University of Maine have even found support for this point of view, which emphasizes the importance of having mutual friendships that extend beyond that one best friendship (Nangle et al., 2003). They state that having friends and acquaintances outside your best friend can help protect against feelings of loneliness and even depression. Furthermore, their findings support a continuous view of friendship with varying levels of intensity where acquantiances, good friends, and best friends all serve a function in one’s sense of companionship, nurturance, belogingingness, and sense of worthiness.
Just because someone isn’t the person you confide in, doesn’t mean that they can’t still be an important part of your life. Maybe they offer you something different than everyone else in your cicle. Maybe they are someone who provides a fun social outlet. Or maybe they grow into that person you confide in. Some people are lucky enough to have that one-stop friend who is everything for them and others have a mix of friends that satisfy different needs. You just have to find your own flow. But remember it takes time. Especially for teenagers and twenty-something’s, your dealing with peers who are going through the same physical and psychological growing pains that you are.
So when I said that it’s time to talk about your failures, I was really saying don’t be afraid to share your struggles with someone you trust. And realize that not everyone can or will be there for you as much as you need. It’s equally important to have that one close friend you can confide in as it is to have good friends and acquaintances you see less frequently. Friends at other levels can help fuel your sense of connection and belongingness. Your 20s is a period of self-discovery and having friends at different levels will reflect to you different ways of being that may ultimately influence your own sense of beingness in this world.
Rubin Khoddam is a PhD student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Southern California whose research and clinical work focuses on substance use issues and resilience. He founded a website, Psych Connection, with the goal of connecting ideas, people, research, and self-help to better connect you to yourself and those around you. You can follow Rubin on Twitter by clicking here!
Citation in article: Nangle, D. W., et al. (2003). Popularity, friendship quantity, and friendship quality: Interactive influences on children’s loneliness and depression. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 32, 546-555.