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What I Learned From Failed Friendships In My Twenties

Growing up I was a self-titled doormat – of course, truthfully, this wasn’t admitted to until very recently. I was the person in the group that others typically relied on for favours and counsel, but when it was my turn, the favour was seldom returned. My mam blamed it on my inability to say ‘no’; a fault which many young women adopt in modern times.

I grew up with 90s American television culture which, being an impressionable teenager at the time, created a false template for the type of friendships I ought to have. I was filled with grand ideas that friendships were supposed to be sturdy, unchanging structures. The girls from The Sleepover Club showed me that it’s possible to ignite an unbreakable sisterhood no matter how different you or your interests are. And that boys were a no-go zone (sisters before misters etc.). Zach Morris and his gang in Saved By The Bell; a radical racial mix of boys and girls going against social struggles of young adulthood, each time triumphing through each trial effortlessly. Even Sabrina Spellman the teenage witch had a normal makeup of friends regardless of her magical secrets.

I became obsessed with this unrealistic culture and so my brain became programmed to think that this is what friendships should be and, ultimately, impractical: I ought to always have a best friend by my side – one who never erred or argued with me. She (no boys etc. See above) would be faithful, heroic, supportive, and life would be rosy in the garden.

With that, I entered teenagehood expecting to be joined at the hip for life with the first person I shared lunch with. What 90s television culture failed to project is that friendships are fluid and fragile and require an abundance of care and emotional nourishment, regardless of what my adolescent subconscious wanted to believe.

I’m now 24, and until very recently I seemed to fall in and out of friendships at an alarming rate. This pattern of in-and-out friends started somewhere during the black abyss of secondary school: I was befriended by someone and we would be inseparable for a few months until the person adopted an updated version and I would become the third wheel. This repeated four or five times before my mother’s words hit home: two is company and three is a crowd. I was the person booted out of the conversations and the plans, and ultimately, I was the person that got hurt. 

By the time I hit my late teens the pre-adolescent euphoric ideas of friendship had rapidly diminished and I was left adrift; completely lost. Physically, I was always surrounded by plenty OF peers but mentally I found little or no connection with them. I often felt a sense of displacement, un-relatability, and loneliness.

Soon I began to recognise all of my relationships were changing – with my parents, peers, siblings, even teachers. Peership and friendships built on assumptions (we assume we’ll be in one another’s lives forever) and passivity changed to ones based on honesty, loyalty, mutual respect, happiness, and love.

Was this what real human connection was like? A give-and-take exchange of ideas and emotions rather than a side-kick cameo?

This year saw the separation of life-long friendships and the creation of new ones. Loss of friendship is frightening and sad, and the feelings I felt were similar to the ones I experienced while grieving a death. I clung onto my old friendships with hope. I used to feel guilty for parting ways with childhood friends and regularly I question the choices I made. “Maybe they’ll change, maybe I’ll change”, I thought. But that was the thing; we have changed.

I’m coming to the realisation that as we grow, it’s okay to be picky-and-choosy about how we spend our time, and who we spend it with.

Having various health problems have – aside from dulled my social life – taught me that I won’t have a connection with every person I meet and not everyone I meet will like me. When that connection does happen, it will be deep, meaningful, and lasting.

Now that I’m in my twenties – and having experienced more than most adults twice my age – I can start to fully understand the meaning behind those words. I’m learning the difference between being alone and loneliness, and that you can surround yourself with groups of people and still feel like the most isolated person on the planet.

A wise woman told that the people you meet in your twenties will be in your life forever. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

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