Who’s at fault when friendships flop

I am not the first person to fail at friendship nor will I be the last. This is despite an inborn drive to be best friends with everyone I meet. Everyone. I’m not joking. I was born with a friendship bone and my friendship ambition, friendbition, has befuddled me a few times, namely, when it flops. What I have learned is that not every friendship will win, some friendships will last and others will flop and maybe even fail.

So who is at fault when friendships flop? This question sailed right into my mind today as I popped one too many M&M’s. I bit into a flop M&M, you know, one of the ones that are misshapen or have two centers. This one was a Siamese. Before I knew it, I was contemplating the nature of friendship making and breaking.

Strange leap of thought or not, if you’re anything like me, you want less guilt, more honesty, less comparison, more laughter, less misunderstanding and more freedom to be you in your friendships. And you probably want to figure out how to flop-proof the ones you have.

I have news.

Flops are inevitable. The causes are innumerable. But the way you handle it, well, that’s most compelling. So let’s talk flop. Who’s at fault?

Sometimes YOU.  

Facepalm. Friendship was on my mind 24/7 in my early thirties. I couldn’t make heads or tails when it came to being a friend, finding a friend, saying no to being a friend–or even recognizing a friend! It was friendsanity. (I know that was terribly corny) But really, bear with me a second.

You see, I got married at 27 (to the best person in the world mind you…no really, he’s the best!) but I truly”forsook all others, including all friendships” in the transition. It wasn’t intentional, or even something I was aware of, but looking back I realized that is when I stopped using my free after 9 pm minutes to talk to my friends. The friends I’d made from 18 and after. And some of the ones I’d made before too. Perhaps if I hadn’t been working a full time job, I would have made time for friendship. Or maybe if I hadn’t entered the have-as-many-kids-as-you-can-in-three-years-contest, it’d have been easier. Alas, getting hitched, combined with having kids back to back to back—and oh, let’s not forget creating a Facebook account–all of these jointly satisfied my friendship need while making me feel that I had plenty friends and that I was in a great relationship with all of them.

It wasn’t until I moved out of state and left my job at 31 that I realized I had not been investing myself in others. It wasn’t until then that I felt that longing for true friends. It wasn’t until then that I started trying again.

(And it was soooo hard! Making friends in your 30s is way harder than in your teens or even 20s. But that’s for another blog……)

So to all those lovely people who were intricately woven into the fabric of my life before I married, I feel sorry! I would instantly rekindle those friendships (and some of them I have) and pick up where we left off.  I realize that time plus geographic distance plus life differences have created points of relatability that will keep us coming back together or keep us from coming together. And that that’s okay.

…So sometimes you are at fault. But other times…

It’s THEM. 

It’s no secret that dumping a female friend can feel a million times harder than dumping an ex. Females feel EVERYTHING. Females risk everything for each other, often without counting the cost, many times without recognizing warning signs that a friendship here or there won’t be healthy, sometimes, realizing it only too late, and then even other times, getting outright rejected, unfriended, blasted out of every zone of friendship at once!

No matter what your situation, being dumped by a friend hurts. Sometimes you get no explanation. You just wind up finding yourself alone, unanswered, unwanted, unneeded. What’s worse than being unneeded as a woman? I know some women may feel that it’s weak or somehow inferior to feel this way, but I actually think the opposite. I think that women have a unique ability to feel through life. I relate to you who have felt rejected, and all the pain you’ve gone through as a result of a friend who has left you. It’s certainly happened to me!

But let me add something before we commiserate over shared rejection experiences. Many times, most of the time, a friendship flop is two-way. So always look for the angle of where you might have made a mistake. Be honest about it.

The second thing is recognize that although you might wish a friendship would last forever, not all of them will. Someone once told me that friendships are sometimes born for the moment, sometimes born for the season and sometimes born for a lifetime. I used to pride myself on the idea that all my friendships were lifetime friendships, but that’s not reality. (I am one to sometimes struggle with living in my ideals over reality!) So consider whether or not the friendship is meant to be over. This may even lead you to realize and celebrate some awesome things you gained and learned from that friend while helping you relinquish guilt over its end or change.

Thirdly, if you do realize that you still value and desire restoration in a friendship that has flopped or seems to be on the path to failure, and you’ve been honest with yourself about the friendship and whether it’s healthy for you, then it might be time to reach out and seek restoration.

One more thing on that restoration bit. Re-engaging with someone from yore can be much like engaging with someone new–you have to establish mutual liking/trust, mutual wanting to hang out, and mutual desire for a relationship.

A good friend of mine (who met me during my exceedingly needy early thirties) gave me one of the best set of friendship rules for this very thing. She called it the “three strikes rule.” Her rule taught me the meaning of reciprocation and healthy balance in relationships, whether with old or new friendships.

Here’s how it goes. As you form new relationships or engage with others from the past, practice give and take with extending invitations to others. Essentially, you invite someone to spend time with you. If they decline, that’s okay! Try again. Did you get another no? Well, give it one more chance. Pay attention to whether or not the other person offers to spend time another day or if they reach out to you in between. Look for back and forth, give and take. If you invite someone three times and don’t sense that the other really wants to spend time with you at all, then you might just need to move on to someone else. Don’t take it personally, just seek elsewhere! This rule has helped me navigate the friendship waters plenty of times! Thank you friend who helped me during my needy moments!

Now we know sometimes it’s us. Sometimes it’s them. And finally, sometimes….

It’s NO ONE.

That’s because it just happens.

We have established that not all friendships can last forever, so we should be able to understand that there isn’t always someone to blame. You can point fingers at circumstances, places and stages of life, job changes, church decisions, and more when a friendship fizzles. If it’s not clear to you why a friendship flopped and you have reached out and used the three strikes rule and you still aren’t getting a bite, you simply might have outlived the relationship and you might need to say goodbye and God bless you both as you go your separate ways.

We women, moms, professionals, people in ministry, leaders–whatever combination we are, we know we need friends. Weeding out unnecessary guilt-ridden feelings or finger pointing (oh the friendsanity!) can help us be better friends to those people we are called to befriend. And all this from a few M&M flops.

I suppose that’s what I get for trying to go on a sugar detox, right!?

Tell me what you think! Are you struggling to come to grips with a friendship on the fritz? Are you on the exceedingly needy side of the friendship spectrum like I’ve been? I want to know!

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

Dale Carnegie


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