Words by LaKay Cornell
Many of us have friends who are friends of circumstance – the person who sits next to you at work, the mother who always arrives at child pick-up the same time as you, the girl in yoga class who hangs out near the back where you are. And due to the necessity of social convention, we keep those friends at arm’s length. As my daughter once said, "Imagine if you really tried to become true, deep friends with your neighbor and it turns out you don't like them - and then you live next to them for 25 years. It's so much easier to just smile and wave and invite them over for a birthday party." How right she is.
And these friends, they really are good friends. They show up when the going is tough. I could tell 100 stories of amazing friends who showed up when support seemed impossible. Friends who took my mom to chemo, babysat my daughter while I was in grad school, and held my head in their lap when I had three miscarriages in as many years. Everyone has those stories. You don’t have to truly know someone to want to ease their suffering.
But what I'm intrigued by now is the idea of people who support and give when life is not tragic. How do we build a group of friends who really know us and who will love us and support us on our journeys to change? How do we find people who will allow us to be open and honest even if it's uncomfortable?
When you are in school, you migrate towards people who share your interests and you grow together. When you go to college, you connect to people in your classes or other things you give your time to. You grow into adults together. You still have those "circumstantial" friends who live in your dorm or ride your bus, but you have the other people too, the ones who share your world more and your interests more, and you can really connect to them. You use them as a sounding board to figure out who you are becoming. No one expects you to have it figured out by then... so you are raw and real with them. You wear your heart on your sleeve. Perhaps vulnerability is the luxury of youth?
But then something shifts. People start to expect us to "grow up" and we are more and more ashamed to have questions or change our minds or wonder what it's all about. Society gives us expectations for how to behave and how to look and where to live... and we start to hide the parts of us that were once open and raw and vulnerable.
With new friends, we share only what helps people like us but doesn’t encourage digging in or asking the hard questions. We start to invite people to parties that we know only superficial things about. We ask them how their kids are doing in school and we comment on how lovely their garden looks. For many of us, a day comes when we look around the room and, no matter how many people are there, we feel completely disconnected and alone.
On my quest for true connection, I’ve started friend-dating. Most of us would never be in a romantic relationship with someone we hadn’t spent some time getting to know. When you are actively dating, there are plenty of people you get to know and decide not to pursue a relationship with. Why don’t we give as much thought and selection to our friends? It’s time to give ourselves permission to spend time with a potential friend, acknowledge that we don’t connect the way we had hoped, and decide to move on.
As part of this process, I'm opening myself up to people who share my interests - even if it's only one interest - and seeing where we have common ground and shared goals. I’m avoiding the tendency to judge people based on how they look or dress and completely squashing my inner mean girl. I'm showing up authentically and not bullshitting about who I am or where I want to go. I'm admitting that I'm learning and changing - sometimes my outfit and many times my career plans! I'm saying yes (at least once) to every person who wants to hang out and seeing what that feels like. I’m showing up in our conversations and putting it all out there. And I’m operating from a place of abundance – remembering that there are many, many people who are potential friends, and I don’t have to latch on to everyone who pays attention to me.
Possibly even more groundbreaking for a true extrovert like me, I'm also going it alone - attending events on my own instead of walking in with my "tribe" already in place. And I’m talking to everyone I can, and I’m listening and learning who is in my world and asking myself, “What can I do to serve this person? To love this person? To truly know this person?”
I'm testing the following hypothesis: if we show up as who we really are - our authentic selves - can we cut through some of the BS and more quickly attract people who we will want to be in deep meaningful relationships with? And will we be able to create a truly giving support system more quickly? Because the scary thing about being YOU from the very beginning is that someone won't like you, right?
For me, it’s always that I'll be "too much" - but isn't it the case that if you are too much for someone (or not enough), they just aren't your people?
It’s not easy. I spend many nights at home alone reading or watching TV. When those feelings of disconnect creep in, and I find myself wanting to just walk down the street to the pub and strike up a conversation with anyone who is listening, I remind myself that I am choosing to live consciously and intentionally. I remind my soul that semi-shouting over loud music and a double IPA won’t bring me true connection – it will only temporarily fill a void. I remind my heart that I’ll still wake up tomorrow lonely and looking for good friends to share my life with.
Instead, I stop and express my gratitude for the wonderful friends I do have. I reach out to someone and invite them to an event or send them an encouraging or funny text. I call a long-time bestie and ask them about their life. I become the friend I want to find.
About the Author:
LaKay is a goddess, a #spiritjunkie, a single mom, a serial entrepreneur, a finance guru, and a full-on mistake-making human. Her passion is local economy, and she truly believes the world will be changed by socially good business and conscious consumerism. Her life goal is to make people's dreams come true - including those of herself and her 16-year-old superhero of a daughter.
At the intersection of these things, she created Champagne Hippies to work with, and spread the word about, values-based businesses (what they are + why they matter + how to have one).