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What This Year Has (Probably) Taught You About Friendships

Each year, we learn something new. Hopefully.

What About Your Friends?

I’m gonna tell you what. This time last year, while everyone was out here talking about how much 2021 was going to be the anti-2020, I was like, “I think it’s gonna be more like 2021 2.0." Why did I feel that way? Because I wholeheartedly believe in the sowing and reaping process in all things and the seeds of 2020 had to “sprout up” somewhere. That’s why, with all that has been a trip about this year, on pretty much every level that there is, very rarely have I been surprised, let alone shocked. Disappointed (especially in how dysfunctional and cyclic this country has the tendency to be)? Sure. Shocked? Nah.


I’m thankful too because when you learn — and I mean, really learn — that the only person you can (and should) fully control is yourself, it prevents you from letting humans shake you too much. This includes your relationships which includes your friendships. Besides, it’s usually in times of great testing that the cream really does rise to the top — that we really do get to see who in our life is genuine and who, well, has other plans in mind.

So, as we’re in the last month of the calendar year (which is when a lot of us tend to do a significant amount of reflecting), when it comes to your own friendships, what have you learned? What (or who) will you leave behind and what (or who) will enter into this new season of another year with you — and why? From what I’ve personally experienced and also observed, here are the five greatest friendship-related takeaways that I’ve gathered that came from a year like 20-freakin’-21.

2021 Probably Taught You: Who Your True Friends Are

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You know what? It’s easy to have a ton of friends when you don’t need anything or, more importantly, when you are the main one who’s doing most of the giving. Oh, but let you be going through some ish and that’s when you really get to see what’s going on. If this year caused you to lose a job, go through some real financial strain, experience a heart-wrenching break-up, experience a health issue or scare, have some mental health issues or anything else that really challenged you, who were the people who really had your back?

It's “funny” because I have one friend, in particular, who I was catching up with not too long ago who said to me, “I used to think you were ridiculous for being like ‘I don’t call a lot of people my friend; that word is serious to me’ until I went through some stuff this year and I saw who was suddenly unavailable or who didn’t even really hear me out. Sometimes, you need tough times for folks to reveal themselves.”

Truer words have never been spoken, y’all. A true friend is going to be loyal. A true friend is going to be giving. A true friend is going to be committed. A true friend believes in reciprocity. A true friend is a safe space.

The folks who have proven to be a good friend, be a good friend back (check out “5 Things You Can Do Today To Be A Better Friend”) and let them know that they are appreciated. The ones who haven’t? Well, before deciding what to do with those jokers — I mean, people — check out my next point first.

2021 Probably Taught You: Friendships Have Levels

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The older I get, the more I’m resigned to the fact that there is a lot of space in between certain things. What I mean by that, in the context of this article is, just because someone isn’t a friend, that doesn’t always or automatically make them an enemy. Or just because you don’t love someone, that doesn’t always or automatically mean you should hate them. That’s a part of the reason why I wrote the article, “Always Remember That Friendships Have ‘Levels’ To Them” for the site last year and “According To Aristotle, We Need ‘Utility’, ‘Pleasure’ & ‘Good’ Friends” the year before that.

This year, something that I intentionally did was get quiet around some of the people who, while they are cool ‘n all, I know that we pretty much only interact when I put in the effort. Some of them stepped up and started initiating communication more. Others, I haven’t spoken to, literally, all year long.

One of the people behind Door #2, I ran into, not too long ago. Back in the day, I would’ve dished out an attitude or mini-sermon about their communication patterns (or lack thereof). This round, I greeted them, we caught up and I kept it moving. Oh, and when they said, “I’ll call you,” I simply say, “OK” because I don’t hold them in the same space as some of the other people in my life. They’re fun. They’re funny. And I’m sure (if we can ever get COVID under control) that we’ve got a couple of more lunches in our future. But are they my inner circle tribe? Heck no. Do I dislike them because they aren’t? That’s not accurate either. They are in the in-between space.

I’m willing to bet you’ve got some folks who have revealed themselves to be this way too. Y’all aren’t in a bad place it’s just…they aren’t really who you rely on or who you will allow to rely on you. And you know what? That’s OK. Some people should just be someone you can have lunch with at work or someone you can catch a movie with on the weekends from time to time. Like an onion, the word “friend” sometimes has layers and levels. Making peace with that can only benefit you in the long run.

2021 Probably Taught You: A Lot of People Don’t Want to Be “Inconvenienced”

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Back in my 20s, financially, I was all over the place. Because I wasn’t really taught any type of financial savviness (at school, at home or at church), I had to learn the really (REALLY) hard way. During that pretty tumultuous time, I had a girlfriend who used to just randomly send me checks from time to time. No special occasion or reason. Just because. And I never forgot it. Fast forward to our 40s and she’s been going through some challenges (singles, PLEASE go through thorough premarital counseling before jumping the broom; it’s never a waste of time). When she shared with me some of what was going on, I set aside a few hundred bucks, just in case she needed it. It’s not because I’ve “got it like that”; it’s because she’s my friend, she has proven to consistently be that way and when you’ve got those kinds of people in your life, you’ve got to be open to being inconvenienced sometimes (check out “Life Taught Me That True Friendships Are ‘Inconvenient’”).

Boy oh boy. In the context of relationships, to be inconvenienced is to be contacted or needed at an inopportune time or when it doesn’t really benefit you one bit. Sadly, a lot of folks are so self-consumed that they think relationships should never inconvenience them. Those of us with emotional intelligence and maturity know that this couldn’t be further from the truth. My tribe knows they can call me whenever; that if they are in distress, I’m gonna try and help them find a solution. And if they have a need, I am going to be open to being inconvenienced at times to meet it…because they have done all of these things for me.

If something that you learned this year is a lot of people who you call “friend” only wanted to hold you down when it was convenient for them, please rethink the place that they hold in your world. Life is too…shoot, much right through here for you to think that you’ve got people in your corner who are only willing to be there when it suits them. Straight up.

2021 Probably Taught You: There Is a Huge Difference Between Fun, a Distraction and Being Dependable

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The flip side to the friend I just mentioned is a guy I know. Our journey is a long and semi-complex one. Yet all these years later, what I do know is he’s not my “inner circle”; he doesn’t deserve to be. Still, we do have a lot in common and when we hang out, it’s usually a good time. He’s just not really all that dependable and so, I’ve stopped expecting him to be.

Y’all, there are some people who are pure fun. There are some people who we like having in our life because they are welcome distractions (like, you might be really stressed from work and talking to them on the phone about absolutely nothing for an hour once you get home is something that you look forward to). Then there are those who, you know that you know that if you called them at 2 a.m., for whatever the reason, they would be there. If there is one thing that I hope 2021 taught — or confirmed for — you it’s that you shouldn’t automatically merge all three of these things together.

The guy who I just mentioned? The last time we met up for lunch, we talked for a good three hours. However, something recently happened in my world where I needed some assistance and when I tell you that he didn’t even cross my mind? Again, he’s not dependable like that. That doesn’t make him a bad person; that just means he’s not who I rely on. That also doesn’t mean he should be punished for that. I just simply know his place in my life — and I keep him there.

Sometimes, we fall out with folks, unnecessarily so, because we try and make them be either what they don’t want to be or are incapable of being to us. When that is the case, it’s important to step back and assess if they do indeed hold some value and, if so, how? When you know where someone stands, it’s easier to know where to lean. Know what I’m sayin’? I’m sure that you do.

2021 Probably Taught You: You Deserve the Kind of Friendships That You Need — and Your Needs May Have Changed

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This. One. Right. Here. Sooner than later, I’ll touch on how, I think, we all should approach outgrowing someone. For now, what I will say is — trying times not only test us, they oftentimes change us too. And when we shift on some level, sometimes the needs that we have become different. Through open and honest communication, some friendships are able to swiftly adjust and still move forward. Then there are those where either one or both people have no interest in making necessary transitions which ultimately results in them growing apart.

If your needs have changed, don’t feel bad about that. At the same time, if some of your friends have different needs now, they shouldn’t be blamed either. It happens and it really can’t be said enough that the root word for relationship is “relate” which means (among other things) “to establish a connection.” A connection is a bond and a bond is something that holds two things — or in this case, two people — together. If nothing is holding you with someone else but time and memories at this point, it really is OK to “loosen the reins” or even release one another (check out “Why I Don't "Cut People Off" Anymore, I Release Them Instead”) — not because you’re now enemies but so you won’t become that as you both keep trying to give each other what neither of you are succeeding at doing.

Besides, giving your heart room to receive what you need at this time in your life while doing the same for a friend is one of the “friendliest” things you can do. It’s selfless. It’s loving. And it’s how we avoid letting resentment and bitterness set in.

2021 was a doozy. There is no way around that fact. Here’s to learning the relational lessons that you needed to, so that you can step into next year knowing who belongs where in your life — and why. Feel me? Sis, I know that you do.

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