I can totally understand if, right when you saw this title, you wondered if this was meant to patronize you in some way. After all, on the surface, when it comes to whether or not you actually choose your own friends, it would seem like the answer would be "duh", right? Yeah, I'm not so sure about that. The more self-work that I do, the more coaching clients that I have, the more folks who email me about their relationships (or lack thereof) and even the more I just sit back and observe the world, I don't think we choose wisely when it comes to our friendships as much as we actually should be.
Just think about the word "choose". It means "to select from a number of possibilities". Choose also means "to pick by preference" and "to prefer or decide". Now take a moment to think about your friends and how the friendship initially came to be to begin with. Did you prefer them or did things just sorta happen? Why is it relevant? Well typically, whenever we decide to make a choice, we've put in some thought, we've processed why we want what we do and we've weighed out, at least on a surface-level, the pros and cons. That way, we have a good idea of what we're getting ourselves into—and why.
Now do you see why choosing your friends is paramount as it relates to the overall scope of your life? If you do, but you're not quite sure that you can answer, whether or not you chose your tribe or not, I'm hoping that the following six questions can offer up some real and lasting clarity.
Did You CHOOSE Your Tribe or Did You Just Go with the Flow?
In my opinion, one of the most important jobs that a parent has, as it relates to raising responsible and emotionally intelligent children, it's giving them the ability to make wise choices. In order to accomplish this, it requires being the type of mom or dad who isn't always trying to control any and everything all of the time—this includes when it comes to who your children's friends are. While I do personally think that up until, I'd say junior year in high school, parents should have a highly influential role in who their kids spend a significant amount of time with, many moms and dads make the grave mistake of putting their children together with the kids of their own friends. You know what I mean—if all of the adults are hanging out in one room, the children are sent off to go and play with each other in another. When this arrangement happens often enough, whether the parents realize it or not, the kids are "forced" to become friends, mostly by proxy, without really stopping to think if they would choose the people that they are spending so much time around.
I am speaking from very personal experience too. One of the worst people to ever come into my life, someone who was a horrible influence until well into my early college years, is a person who my parents put me around, simply because they hung out with her parents. When I tell you that this girl did more damage to my self-esteem and perception of what I should expect in my friendships…words cannot even begin to express.
And the reality is, I know a lot of people who have a similar story about their own childhood friendships. Again, they didn't really stop to choose who their friends were. It was more like they went with the flow of whoever came over to their house with their parents' friends and/or was in their Sabbath or Sunday school class at church and/or who sat next to them the most at school. And because they merely "went with the flow" when it came to their close interactions with others, they didn't really develop the skills that were needed to figure out who best complemented them, who had good intentions for them, and who had the character and values that they wanted and needed to be around.
I know all of this is kind of deep but if, like me, you have found yourself disappointed by some of your past friendships, it can never hurt to ask yourself if you ever developed the skill of actually choosing your friends. Or, have you always just kind of gone with the flow of your environment? The answer to this question alone can be quite revelatory, if you allow it to be.
What Do You Actually PREFER About the People You Call “Friend”?
I believe I've shared before that, a few years ago, I read an article that featured the video interview of a couple that had been married for over 60 years. When the journalist asked the wife for the key to her relationship, she looked at the woman like she was crazy and then said, "I have sex with him. I don't do that with the rest of my friends." Indeed. Well, when it comes to friendships, something that I wish folks would do more often is process what makes them prefer their friends over everyone else on this planet.
To prefer is "to set or hold before or above other persons or things in estimation; like better; choose rather than". There are a lot of awesome people out here. I run into folks who deserve that adjective fairly often. But my friends are those who I literally esteem highly, like better and choose to be a part of the intimate areas of my life.
If you wonder if you're choosing your friends, ponder what you prefer about them over the other individuals who revolve in and out of your world. It can reveal quite a bit.
How Many of Your Friendships Are About Shared Values, Not Just Common Interests?
It's very easy to find yourself spending time with other people, simply because you like the same things. You both enjoy chick flicks, so you hit the movie theatre together fairly often. You both like the same kind of music, so you've been to concerts together before. You enjoy the same cuisine, so you have lunch together from time to time. But just because someone enjoys doing some of the things you do, that doesn't automatically mean they are—or even should be—your friend. A friend should require a much higher standard than that.
Another way to discern whether or not you are actually choosing your friends is to think about if you both have similar value systems. I don't mean if you both share the same faith or you both desire the same type of future (that value system is more applicable to marriage). What I'm referring to here is if you both want the same things out of your friendships (check out "What A Supportive Friend Actually Does (It's Not Quite What You Think)" and "10 Things You Should Absolutely Expect From Your Friendships"). Do you both look for the same type of qualities in a friend and both define "friend" in a similar fashion?
One of the reasons why a lot of people constantly find themselves feeling disappointed in their friendships is because, while a "friend" may be fun, funny and familiar to them, they still aren't the most consistent, loyal or giving. But since they like their friend's personality so much, they don't really stop to process that a person's character is mad relevant too.
So yeah, choosing your friends should also consist of making sure that the type of friend you want is also the type of friend that they actually want to be—that it's mutually understood that you both will truly value one another for the long haul.
Do You Actually Take Inventory on Your Relationships?
Something else that comes with choosing your friendships is deciding when they are no longer serving you. One way to figure that out is by taking annual inventory on them. I already know that some of y'all are going to find this to be semi-extreme, but life has taught me that more than family or even romantic relationships, oftentimes the most impactful relational dynamics that we have is with our friends. Unless we live with a relative or we're married, we typically talk to them the most often. We factor in their perspectives quite heavily. And, they sometimes know things about us that absolutely no one else does. So, why wouldn't we need to make sure that our friends are a healthy addition to our life?
A couple of years ago, something that I did was process who I was initiating communication with more than they were doing the same. There were about five people who, when I stopped reaching out, I never heard from them. Matter of fact, there's one person, in particular, who I like a lot. But I'm always doing the work that's needed in order to keep us connected. The last time I saw her, I said, "You know I'm always calling you, right? You've got my number. The next time we chat, it'll be because you rang me." Yeah, that was almost a year ago. When I run into her again, she'll still be cool as hell in my eyes, but we're not friends. Friends mutually engage. Taking some personal inventory brought me to this revelation.
I think one of the reasons why people struggle so much with evaluating (and reevaluating) their friendships is because they act like folks either fall into the "friend" or "enemy" category when that doesn't have to be the case. Someone can be dope and still not deserve the time, effort and energy that your actual friends do. Figuring out what you need and if the people in your life are supplying it can help you to get to this point and place of choosing who goes where.
Is “All These Years”, All You’ve Got?
Did any of you catch when Yvonne Orji interviewed Molly Carter? It was actually pretty brilliant (you can watch it here). Anyway, while I watched it and laughed (Molly really is a trip, y'all), I thought about the fact that Issa and Molly met in school and have pretty much been hanging onto their friendship because of it. That's very similar to the "pre-Issa and Molly friendship", Joan and Toni fromGirlfriends; they were childhood friends. But man, did Toni suck at not being self-absorbed 85.9 percent of the time and boy, was Joan neurotic about the same amount. More times than not, Joan was doing all of the giving and then overthinking and resenting the fact, after the fact. But because they had so many childhood and adolescent tales in common, they kept trying to make work…what wasn't working.
Reminiscing is not a synonym for loyalty. Or healthy. Back when a very close friend of mine ghosted me after years of being in one another's lives, I recognized that a pattern I had created for myself in the dynamic was accepting that, while she had some really good qualities, I didn't really keep her in my life because of how awesome that I thought she was. It was more because I thought that a part of what comes with being a good friend is sticking around, simply because of all of the time, memories and secrets we had shared. As I continued to evolve as a person, though, I never really pondered that "all these years" isn't a good enough reason to remain in our particular dynamic.
I think the universe knew that so long as she remained, I'd stay stuck in "all those years" and so it allowed her to leave so that I could gain a better grasp of what I deserved/deserved in my friendships. Issa, Molly, Joan, Toni, that former friend and myself can all vouch for the fact that knowing someone for a really long time isn't really a good enough reason to keep them in your life. If they aren't benefiting the individual you are in the present and you aren't doing the same for them as well, sometimes it's best to lovingly and peacefully choose to move on. Without each other.
If You Got a Do-Over, Would You CHOOSE the Same Folks Again?
You know what they say, hindsight is sho 'nuf 20/20. So, when it comes to the friends who are currently in your life, be totally honest with yourself—when you think about the person you are now, the relational needs that you currently have and even the kind of influences you desire in order to move forward, do your friends complement those needs or not? Shoot, I'll even give you one better. Knowing what you know now, if you could go back in time to when you met your friends, all the while factoring in the realization that you probably were not as discerning as you should've been, would you have intentionally selected them?
Something that I find to be super revelatory about my own world is, when I got to the point and place of choosing the friends that I now have, there have been no issues, problems or drama. Aside from the fact that I am in a healthier space (which plays a very relevant role), I know the difference between folks who are cool to hang out with sometimes vs. folks who actually deserve the title of "friend" in my life.
It really is a trip. Just like you can choose who to follow in your social media feeds, you can choose who you want to affect your life in real and profound ways. Hmph. Not only can you choose them, you should choose them.
There's no time like the present to break out one of your journals and think about what you need/want in your friendships and if you have chosen people who are fitting that bill. Life is a sum of the choices we make, y'all. When it comes to some of the most important relationships that you will ever have in your life—your friendships—please choose wisely.
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