I don't think anyone can escape their twenties without some relationship woes. My twenties were definitely wrought with emotional ties and severances. But as each year rolls by, I find that my most impacting relationships didn't come from any man I was dating, they came from my girlfriends.
I don't think I could've survived this last decade if it weren't for my friends. These women, both past and present, have seen me at my lowest, most vulnerable, most lost moments. Still, I can't say each friendship was without difficulty.
In fact, I believe my most heartbreaking and confusing relationships of my twenties are the ones I had with my girlfriends.
I wish I could say I had strong, unbreakable lasting friendships all throughout my twenties. I wish I could say my girls and I went through our growing pains together and now we have lifelong memories of our wild young days. But that wouldn't be true. As appealing as female friendship ensembles are, I'm a true introvert who can only handle a few friends at a time.
Plus, the downside about cliques is the clique behavior — the groupthink. It's not always all-for-one-and-one-for-all; it's usually a majority rules situation. Like, if you're the newbie in the group and one of the senior squad members decides they don't f-ck with you anymore, then they all don't f-ck with you anymore. Your relationship with one person in the group can determine and/or affect your relationship with the others.
I figured out pretty early that this kind of friendship wasn't for me.
When I was 21, fresh out of college and a long-term relationship, I was ready to blossom into the carefree, badass grown-ass woman I imagined myself to be, and the friends I had at the time helped me (attempt to) do so.
We partied, we bar-hopped, we talked about sex openly and honestly, we took all the youthful wild photos you'd imagine any group of 20-somethings would take. On the surface we looked like "squad goals", but in reality, I was only close to a few of the girls. I'm not the type to recruit a girl gang, I'm usually inducted into an existing one, and that was the case here. They were my friend's friends, but I quickly formed my own friendships within the group.
Even though we had good times, there was really no real substance beyond the laughs. I was about 23 or 24 when life started to get more serious and my depression began to take a toll. I started to feel insecure in all aspects of my life and I desperately yearned for safe spaces. Me being an add-on to the group, I started to feel like an outsider. The cattiness and shady jabs (which usually come along with young girl groups) got tired and I got tired of defending myself against frenemies. I started to isolate myself and ended up with fewer, yet more authentic friendships. And I was fine with that.
By 25, I fell into a self-discovery journey.
I spent the first half of my twenties obsessing over who I should become and decided for my last half, I should dig deep into who I already am — 25 was definitely an eye-opening year. I was finding my voice, shedding away the passive and submission persona I've worn for so long. In the midst of this change, the dynamics in some of my relationships shifted. In short, gaining a sense of self helped me build on fruitful friendships and also helped me say goodbye to ones that no longer served me in a positive way. During this time, I had two close girlfriends, but it felt like I was in some weird friendship triangle.This was probably unbeknownst to them and most likely all in my head, but I digress. I was straddling between a long-term friendship that understood me in the ways I used to be and another that was understanding the woman I was becoming.
I felt conflicted between the two, like I had to choose. As I was growing into myself and into this new friendship, I felt like I was growing apart from my old one, and that scared me. She too had grown into a new stage and new friendships, and the space between us grew further apart.
No one ever prepares you for a friendship breakup. To me, those are the worst of its kind and the hardest to get over. Even to this day, I find myself itching to send an ex-friend a funny meme that only she would get, or a text about a random memory from our glory days. The bond between girlfriends is sacred. It's the most intimate and profound connection that doesn't require anything more than you just being yourselves. So when my best girlfriend and I ended our friendship, I was distraught.
It felt like a divorce.
This person who I confided in, who has seen me at my lowest, who I loved so dearly just suddenly vanished from my life. I felt like a piece of me was wiped away.
Hindsight is 20/20 and as I look back on those two young women crying to be heard and understood by one another, I see that our issue was a lack of honesty. We were very close but we failed at communicating. We avoided the hard stuff. The relationships we have with our girlfriends require and deserve just as much work and dedication as any of our other relationships. I learned that the hard way.
This wasn't the only friendship that ended for me. My mid-to-late twenties were a tumultuous and lonely time. The woman who was like my sister became a stranger, I felt insecure about where I stood with other friends, I got rid of some toxic friendships (but not without some betrayal and a whole heap of drama), and I found myself becoming antisocial to any new connections. It's been both a peaceful and lonesome few years. But I think this was meant to happen to me. I had to learn the consequences of my passivity and unwillingness to open up about my feelings. I also needed to be alone to evaluate my own journey and what I need to do to continue onwards in a positive and healthy way.
It's not always fun but, alone time can be good. It can give you perspective and help you start over again. In the last couple of years, I've cultivated solid, beautiful, and loving relationships with some inspiring and genuine women. In my lonely, I reflected on what went wrong in my previous friendships and am continuing to learn how to be a better friend. Sometimes we operate from a "self-ish" (not necessarily selfish) place — we worry over what we are receiving and how others affect us, forgetting that we also affect others.
Now, as I enter my thirties, I have a better grasp of my boundaries and an acceptance of my shortcomings.
These days, I am not the most emotionally available person, due to many reasons I won't get into now. Instead of overcompensating for my limited emotional bandwidth by trying to fulfill the expectations and desires of every person in my life, I communicate my boundaries and reserve my deepest efforts for more significant friendships. I won't please everybody and I'm OK with that.
Adult friendships have taught me that not every connection has to evolve into a close friendship.
Womanhood is nothing without connecting with other women, pouring into each other with wisdom, love, or affirmations. These moments can happen even in passing. Especially as a black woman, it's incredibly important for me to engage with my sisters — women who share my same reality — even in the slightest ways. When I was 25, I worried over whether or not a new friendship would threaten an old one but now I appreciate the many offerings, both big and small, a friendship can bring.
Friendship doesn't take away, it adds.
Even though I never achieved the whole squad goals thing, I found sisterhood through individual connections. And through all these connections I've found something, which for me, feels deeper than a squad. I found my tribe — women from all walks of life who vibe with me on different levels and who help heal and uplift various sides of me. We may not always share the same circle of friends, but we share a powerful connection.
As I embark on my 30s, I'm making more space for healthy connections, forgiveness, patience, and understanding — both with myself and for my friends.
Featured image by Shutterstock
Originally published on May 22, 2018
Our culture's growing willingness to discuss mental wellness with such openness has inspired the popular concept of self-care, which basically means "treat yourself". But consciously caring for oneself isn't just spa-days and long naps. It's also cutting "negative energies" out of your life. It's turning off your phone and going M.I.A. for days. It's ghosting without having to deal with confrontation. It's a lot of things that are considered selfish if anyone were to do it to you.
Before I go any further, I want to make it clear I'm not critiquing what self-care actually is, which literally means taking care of your emotional and mental wellbeing. Nor am I making light of those real moments when self-preservation is truly the only remedy for mental distress. I'm challenging pop culture's version of the practice.
The internet be like...
When I flake on people: It's OK to cancel last minute. It's OK to not explain why. It's self-care. :-)
When others flake on me: How toxic! How selfish! I DON'T NEED THAT KIND OF NEGATIVE ENERGY!
If you let social media tell it, self-care is all about the "You". Concern and regard for anyone else be damned.
Now, when I say "you", I'm not actually talking about you. "You" in this sense is an entity, a singular unique being whose importance ranks higher than anyone else's. Yet, somehow we are all this "You" and we expect everyone to recognize that we are the one and only "You" who matters.
Hop onto Instagram and you'll find countless memes that encourage people to drop friends who don't support them but hardly any messages that encourage people to support their friends. Your energy is ~sacred~ and anyone who disturbs Your energy (or just isn't fun to be around, tbh) is toxic. By this logic, we're all pure and toxic at the same time, we are all right and wrong, and we all undoubtedly deserve the love and support we believe others should earn from us.
We demand the very things we don't think we need to give back.
There's this message that suggests we're all living in a world where only Your existence is valid and everyone else is some sort of simulation whose sole purpose is to affect Your life. If we're all operating from such a self-serving point of view, how can we expect anyone to serve us or our needs? Social media's version of self-care is me-centered in all the wrong ways.
If I'm starting to sound all preachy, allow me to step off the soapbox and give a full disclaimer:
Self-care is one of my favorite excuses for whenever I don't want to deal with shit.
Adult responsibilities too hard and confusing to accomplish right now? I'll take a bunch of BuzzFeed quizzes instead, in the name of self-care.
Weird vibes in my sorta hopeful situationship? Cut all ties and move on without a word, in the name of self-care.
My fitness and health goals staring me in the face, begging me to just learn some discipline? Order some greasy Chinese takeout, in the name of self-care.
Need to address a pressing issue with a friend that could possibly lead to an uncomfortable conversation? Ignore the phone call, in the name of self-care. I can go on, but I think I've dragged myself enough.
As a person who struggles with anxiety and depression, checking-out is my way of checking-in. I can disappear for days, cutting off all communication with the world, if I'm really going through it. This coping mechanism is a result of me being a people pleaser and constantly spreading myself too thin. It feels good to take a break. It even feels good to ignore everyone else and focus on my issues. As I learn to be kinder to myself and set aside some me-time every now and then, I'm realizing the purpose of self-care should not be self-indulgent.
The whole reason behind taking care of yourself is to make sure you're the best version of yourself to help and serve others in the world.
There is a fine line between self-care and selfishness, and that line is defined by perspective.
I've straddled this line, sometimes falling on either side. I usually figure out which side I am on by how my self-care affects people in my life. Of course, we all know not everyone will appreciate our self-care. Not everyone will understand why you can't be available for them whenever they want you to be. But the way to gauge whether or not your self-care is selfish is to ask yourself if your actions are actually hurting anyone, or rather (if you want to keep it really real) if your actions are just rooted in resentment.
I think the whole "me-first, me-only" kind of self-care is steeped in bitterness. It's usually done in spite or to provoke a reaction from someone; and it definitely doesn't serve our best selves. I've experienced this on both sides — one side being the one doing selfish shit, and the other being on the receiving end of selfishness.
I've had someone I was really close with walk out of my life without explanation. Things had gotten weird between us — chemistry was off, unspoken tension. I addressed the awkwardness, which led to more awkwardness and just like that, I was cut off. No texts or calls. Not even a "Happy Birthday" for when the time came around.
A year later, I heard from the person who finally chalked up the friendship exile as misplaced anger disguised as self-care. Whatever they were going through, they felt as if I was a reason or reminder of their issues — those issues still existed without me by the way. (As they say, it's never really about you and it's never really about them. Our issues are our issues alone.) According to their words, they felt like hurting me would heal them — it didn't.
I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that I've also done something similar to others. Sometimes when we are under a lot of stress, we find blame in spaces it does not exist. Example: I'm unhappy because my loved one's life is going great and mine isn't. It's not fair. I suddenly don't like them.
Cutting your folks off or being rude to them will never fix your issues — at least, it can't be the only fix.
Self-care requires self-evaluation and self-work.
On the flip side, we also can't take the distance personally. Even if it's rooted in resentment, it could possibly be best for the person as they navigate their own healing. What if every time we felt someone was being a unsupportive or absent from our lives, it was really just them practicing self-care? What if the reason your mate was being distant and weird wasn't because of toxic energy but because they're dealing with heavy stuff they are unable to share? Imagine if every time your friend flaked on you or didn't call to check-in, they were busy caring for themselves (and maybe even hoping you'd check in on them). Why is it only self-care when You do it?
This world can feel very lonely and it's very easy to focus on our own problems in a way that makes it seem like they're the only ones that exist. But the truth is, everyone has stuff going on, everyone feels pain.
We're always going to be the protagonist in our story and we can only view life through our own perspective. Most of us probably believe we're on the right side of all situations. Most of us probably even believe we're the only ones who put the needs of others before our own.
But generally speaking, we are all givers and takers in some way or another, and I think it's worth evaluating what exactly are we giving too much of and then set boundaries from there.
Of course, no one needs permission to practice self-care; this isn't what this article is about. However, there should be a way of managing our relationship with the people in our lives and with our self without compromising either. For me, it comes down to communication, consideration, and checking my intentions. Am I ghosting this person because they truly are toxic to my mental health or am I trying to prove a point? Does my friend actually know why I'm pissed? Am I communicating my issues or am I unfairly assuming they already know? Is this self-care practice making me a better person? Are my actions burdening someone else?
I believe that recognizing that everyone has their own perspective elevates emotional intelligence and helps us better understand our relationships. No matter what you do, even if it's something as wonderful as catering to your own needs, there will be a consequence. For example, deciding to turn off your phone and skip an important meeting can be a great day for you but an awful and stressful day for your team. Being good to yourself doesn't have to mean being shitty to others. It would be ironic otherwise.
Why not grant each other the same peace we desire? Your boundaries, your "no's", your "me-times" are meant to make you a better, happier, healthier human being who can then have the capacity to deal with other human beings.
Your self-care shouldn't have to come at the expense of another's.
xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at email@example.com.
Originally published May 27, 2018
Featured image by Shutterstock