Sometimes it's like middle school hasn't ended, but the truth will help you keep good friends into your golden years.
By the time we’ve grown up — held down a job, paid rent, perhaps gotten married and had a child or two — we all like to imagine we’ve left any friendship drama buried safely away in our middle-school years. Because we don’t have time for nonsense like that anymore! We’ve lived through enough trials in life — love, heartbreak, success, disappointment, huge gains, big losses — to know how to value our true friendships and navigate new ones. We know we can have more than one bestie, and we can meet up with friends without fretting about who is included, who isn’t, or worrying if others say things about us behind our backs. That’s firmly the stuff of being 13 and a drama queen, right? Right. Or, maybe … a few old habits die hard.
Because every now and again, it seems like even the best, most mature of friends can hit a snag. Sometimes it’s just a minor pull, and sometimes it can lead to a total unraveling of a friendship.
Lisa-Jo Baker, the community manager for incourage.me and author of the new book Never Unfriended, blames these adult friendship breakups on what she calls “friendship lies.” And, yes, they’re the same little untruths we told ourselves back in middle school. Even after all that growing up, friendship lies can rear their ugly heads and threaten to undo even the best of friendships.
But there is hope: When we can identify these lies for what they are — BIG, HUGE LIES! — we can combat them with the truth, and keep the knots of friendship good and tight.
Here are Lisa-Jo’s three friendship lies you need to be on the lookout for:
1. ‘This is all about me’
“How many times have you opened Facebook or your Instagram account only to catch a glimpse of an event you didn’t know was happening and that you weren’t invited to?” Lisa-Jo asks. “Or that a friend was in the area and didn’t ever reach out to you? How many times have you translated those images into the assumption that it was done on purpose? That the failure to connect or invite or include was because you were somehow found lacking? How often have you jumped from a photograph to creating a full-page mental story that stars you as the excluded victim?”
Uh, that might sound more familiar than I’d like to admit. And I bet it does for you, too. It’s easy to feel hurt and left out — and jump to conclusions that our friends are intentionally ignoring us or don’t want us around. All it takes is a few moments of indulging these feelings to bring us back to the middle school cafeteria in a hurry. Because more often than an actual diss, the trouble is caused by a perceived one, in which we take a friend’s posts or actions to be more about us, than them.
Even expert Lisa-Jo admits to this behavior: “There’s a voice in my head that assumes every social media mention or exclusion or slight is always about me. I have mastered the fine and terrible art of having entire extended, multi-part arguments with friends that take place only inside my own head. But these shadow-boxing matches leave real bruises because they affect how we act around those friends next time we’re sharing air on the actual time-space continuum.”
“Especially,” she says, “if there’s been a whiff of disagreement or misunderstanding that is real, we can easily blow it out of proportion in our own minds. Like a dog with a bone, it’s so hard to drop a perceived conflict, analyzing it from every angle and reading dissatisfaction, discontent and drama into every nuance. Sometimes there’s an actual conflict brewing, but sometimes we’re the ones stirring it up by our overreaction to a perceived slight.”
However, Lisa-Jo says, we have options in these situations that can help rather than hurt:
“Instead of bursting into a conversation with both guns blazing,” Lisa-Jo says, “sometimes simply giving a friend the benefit of the doubt is a powerful way to defuse the situation. It takes courage and a ton of self-control to assume a friend is thinking and talking the best about us instead of presuming she needs to be confronted.”
This advice applies whether we feel slighted in real life — or in our virtual ones. The moral of the story, according to Lisa-Jo? “When in doubt, believe the best about your friends.”
2. ‘I stink compared to her’
“Nothing is as terrifying,” Lisa-Jo says, “as thinking you don’t matter because you can’t do ‘it’ like her.”
Yup, that inner voice whispering about comparison and inadequacy sounds familiar, too, doesn’t it? Especially with new friends, it’s all too easy to fall into the old trap of feeling like we need to keep up — or be “like” our seemingly perfect friends. It’s a fine line between a little twinge of envy and a lot of self doubt.
But of course, Lisa-Jo says, it’s a total lie we tell ourselves — that we have to be similar to someone to matter to them, or, conversely, that “the lives we’ve been gifted are somehow diminished by the successes, joys, opportunities, or accomplishments of others.” This, Lisa-Jo says, gets us thinking that if we can’t do the same things or be like our friends, it’s better to just give up, because “if I can’t do it just like her, then it’s not worth doing it at all.”
But when you catch yourself comparing your life to those of your friends, Lisa-Jo advises you to “look up, look away from what you wish you had. If you would pay attention to right where you are, where God has purposefully, tenderly placed you,” Lisa-Jo says, “you might see the hand painted, one-of-a-kind life art crafted just for you.”
And indeed this is the goal we have for others, isn’t it? We want our loved ones to know we love them for who they are. So why wouldn’t our friends to want the same for us? It’s best of course, when we are all our unique selves, each with something slightly different to contribute to the world.
3. ‘A real friend wouldn’t let me down’
This is a lie that many, many people love to tell themselves, Lisa-Jo says: The lie that we can rely on our friends to be all things, and to never let us down. Even though if you stop and think about it, you’ll realize that those high standards are “impossible for any human being to live up to!”
“Being human, by definition, means we’re surrounded by other humans. And because we’re not simply clones, we’re going to get offended, frustrated, and wish we could change the way other people do friendship,” Lisa-Jo says. But a good friendship doesn’t require perfection. And the sooner we can all come to terms with that, the better.
Lisa-Jo encourages people to remember that we need to accept our friends for the fallible people they are and give each other “room to breathe and be ourselves — baggage and all. This is the key to becoming women who don’t depend on the schedules or generosity or the emotional roller coasters of others to fill us up.”
Learning to love our friends for who they are and not expect them to be more than they are or do more than they’re able “will be the greatest relief of your life,” Lisa-Jo says.
And stopping these three friendship lies in their tracks, Lisa-Jo says, “will remake you and liberate you.”