How I Discovered Fulfilling Friendships

One day, I was listening to a podcast, and the speaker said, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.”

When I heard these words, I stopped. I thought about my life and the kind of future my friends represented. I thought about how I felt when I was with my friends. I thought about the things we did together, and how they’d respond when I would come to them with problems. Soon, I realized that none of my answers to these questions made me feel excited about my future. At that moment, I knew that I didn’t want my future to be based on the friends I had.

I set out to find better companions. I distanced myself from my old friends. It was lonely, but I soothed my discomfort by reminding myself that I’d rather have no friends than friends who made me unhappy. But, of course, that’s easier said than done. After a few months, I really thought that I was going to be friendless for the rest of my life.

I had a significant amount of time on my hands at that point. So I did a lot of reading and listening to podcasts. One day, I was listening to a sermon, and the pastor was preaching on being single. He told the crowd to, “Pray for your future spouse and become the person that you want to be with.” I already had a strong and healthy romantic relationship, but I thought that I might be able to apply this advice to friendships too.

I decided to pray for my future friend. (At that point, I had given up hope on having multiple friends, so I settled for one). I wanted her to be happy and close to God. I prayed for her heart and that she would be kind, patient, and accepting. I also prayed that I could begin to cultivate those qualities in myself. It all felt a little silly–kind of like I was placing an order for a customized friend. But, loneliness makes you do crazy things. I felt my heart aching for a female companion. While my boyfriend is basically my best friend, there’s something special about having a best girlfriend that no man can fulfill.

Throughout the year, I tried out a couple of new friendships, but nothing ever stuck. Slowly, I became even more discouraged. I felt like God wasn’t listening. I convinced myself that He didn’t care about the fact that I wouldn’t have bridesmaids or anyone to have a “girl’s night” with. Then, one day, I was reading the book Uninvited, by Lysa TerKeurst – a very fitting title for that season in my life. I posted a picture on Facebook that showed the book and my steaming cup of chamomile tea. I didn’t think anything of it, so when I was done reading, I went to bed.

The next morning, there was a comment on my photo. It was from a girl I went to high school with. She was a couple of years older than me, so we were never close when we went to school together, but I always liked her. She said that she loved Uninvited and asked me what I thought of it. I commented back. She commented back. Before I knew it, we were having an entire conversation in the comments section of my photo. Eventually, she invited me to a Bible study that she and a friend were starting. I surprised myself when I said yes. A year before that, I probably wouldn’t have committed to it. But, I was so eager for friends that I was willing to hang out with anyone.

I remember driving up to the house where Bible study was being hosted. I was so nervous. But, at the same time, I had low expectations since I basically didn’t know anyone who would be there. But, as soon as I walked in, I was welcomed with hugs and so many beautiful smiles. After grabbing some snacks, all of us girls gathered in the living room and opened up God’s word. Most of us had just met, but we ended up sharing our hearts for hours. I felt such a genuine sense of connection. It was exactly what I had been longing for.

Now, one year later, I have not one, but an entire group of magnificent best friends. We still do Bible study together on Friday nights. Other days, we’ll grab pizza or have a movie night or head to a baseball game with our boyfriends and husbands. What I love is that my friends are happy. They use that happiness to build me up and show me what real friendship looks like. All of them have a passionate love for God. Most importantly, they help me love God. They give me hope for the future.

What I hope you gain from this story is that it’s okay to be friendless for a while. It’s important to find friends who encourage you. I spent a long time participating in friendships that were not fulfilling and left me feeling drained and soggy. You don’t have to settle for mediocre because you’re afraid that you can’t find anything better. Find friends that set you up for a bright and hopeful future. It’s worth the wait.

Have you had a similar experience with friends? Let us know in the comments!

Written by Alana Chibas

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Don’t Have A Squad? You’re Not Alone

‘Loneliness is one of the most frightening certainties of the human experience. Very few people are immune, and those who claim never to have experienced it are most likely unwilling or unsure how to identify it.’

In her recent book, The Friendship Cure, Kate Leaver argues modern society is making us lonelier, putting stress on our mental health and separating us from real human connection. Moreover, we are ignoring our own loneliness. How could we possibly be lonely when global connectivity literally lies at our fingertips?

This is not a new line of argument; think pieces on the detrimental effect of social media on our health – somewhat ironically – manage to go viral more than almost any other topic. It is understandable, then, that in this climate of anxiety around loneliness we would want to combat being alone with having as many friendship connections as we can.

Female friendship groups have a long history. Modern slang and hashtags are simply new labels for an old phenomenon which can be traced back to the 17th Century; philosopher Mary Astell  wrote that connections between women were purer and more authentic than bonds between men because women were in general “less concern’d in the affairs of the World”. Wives, supposedly, formed friendships with neighbours to replace the bonds they had with mothers and sisters in the households of their childhood and adolescence.

In the late 20th and 21st centuries, modern female friendship is driven by image. Instagram snaps of club nights out are hash tagged with #squad and #tribe. These clichés arrive on t-shirts, making a commodity out of human connection. The iconic visual of Taylor Swift and her clique of supermodels helped to cement the image of the ideal squad – beautiful, badass girls who would walk, fashionably, through fire for each other – that is, until they fall out and go to war. What was that about building each other up?

Modern pop culture has been saturated by both good and bad representations of female friendship, although, disappointingly, these have all too often championed the lives of rich white women devoid of problems beyond extramarital affairs, sex and career progression. Almost every woman in their twenties has been asked which Sex and the City character they identify with and met with derision if they can’t identify themselves as either of the four. Younger millennials will perhaps be more familiar with inquiries into which character they are closest to out of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Broad City, Friends or Girls.

The problem with this is that it implies that a personality type of a fictional character can be easily mapped on to a woman in an attempt to understand her. Women, once again, are reduced to archetypes devoid of real complexity. I have been lonely in squads before simply because groups, whether they’re in fiction or the real world, often eschew individuality. In fact, if you’re a typical introvert, or like to keep things private from all but one or two close people, it’s often difficult to find yourself part of a tight-knit friendship group. This is particularly true if you come into a friendship group after it’s formed. As such, we might move between groups or stick to cultivating meaningful relationships with separate and unrelated people. Jilly Ganon of ELLE Magazine calls this person a ‘floater’ – never committing to a single group.

Social convention might label this behaviour as fickle or flighty, but, in reality, it can be healthy to diversify your friendship groups. In the same way that spending all your time with a partner and their friends can be limiting, it can be similarly limiting to spend your time with the same group of women. Your worldview narrows, you become closed off to making new friends and you can exclude other women from joining the group. It is the real-life version of an echo chamber.

Squads are, by nature, exclusive. Defined by inside jokes, shared experiences and old gossip, they’re not always easy to join, or indeed, be a part of. By nature, the terms ‘squad’ and ‘tribe’ imply an ‘us’ to a vague ‘them’. Squads are marketed as a place to simultaneously bitch about others while remaining ‘non-judgemental’ – a mindboggling contradiction plays into widely circulated stereotypes of womanhood. In reality, squads sometimes achieve little more than a friendship with one or two close friends, aside from cultivating an image of exclusivity.

This is not to attack female friendships which are, of course, incredibly important. There is perhaps nothing more cringe-worthy than hearing the claim “I’m only friends with guys because there’s less drama’ (a note to my past self). In a culture which so often tries to pit women against each other in terms of career success, image and dating, it is a triumph to see women supporting each other, building each other up, and offering comfort when things are hard. Where there are shared experiences of female life, it often feels necessary to talk to your female friends over wine, at the gym or during a cheeky visit to Five Guys.

Yet, hashtag culture, and the pop culture that drives it, is dissociative. It embeds in us an image of what female friendship should look like but misses the complex reality of making friendship last. This matters because the most engaged female consumers of hashtags and trending pop culture tend to be teenagers and women in their early twenties who often follow examples of how to be successful adults through the images they consume of success and happiness. The idea that we might not have a squad can be troubling when it seems everybody else does. As such, we can feel left out, strange, and unsuccessful; these feelings drive down our confidence when really, any attempt to connect to another person is a worthy one. While we choose to try to fit the cultural ideal, we only make ourselves lonelier.

So perhaps the lesson is to diversify – meet new women in different circumstances, and don’t be afraid if they don’t hang out with the other people you know. Look outside your group of Carries and Samanthas. Look to celebrate your individuality. I promise: you don’t need a squad for success.

Written by Ellen Macpherson

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!