Each week in “Your Other Dad Says,” I answer questions from young people about navigating life in a very modern world.
Friendships can be amazing and amazingly tricky all at once. And, like everything else, they tend to evolve over time: what might feel like a safety net at one moment in your life feels more like a tightrope at another point. The younger you are, the harder it is to accept that most friendships don’t actually last a lifetime — and that that’s ok.
This week, I look at two seemingly opposing situations (one writer can’t keep friends and one wants to let them go) based on the same core question: Am I the problem?
Dear Other Dad —
How do I make friendships that actually last? I try so hard but I feel like they always get bored/annoyed with me.
When you crave the predictability of a steady friendship, it’s hard if they do not last. One thing to do is to adjust your expectations in the moment. Yes, it would be great to know that you will have the same friend (or friend group) for a long time, but the nature of life is that we are promised only change. Instead of trying to figure out how to make a friendship last longer, think about how to enjoy it in the moment and how to make it rewarding right now.
One way to do that is stop trying so hard and just go with the interactions that feel most natural to you. By not “trying,” I mean resist the urge to deliver what you think others will want from you. Don’t feign interest in — or pretend to be knowledgeable about — topics they care about but that you don’t. Don’t try to win people over with treats or gifts. And don’t change your looks, your personality, or your values to be more appealing, all of which could come back to haunt you later when your truer self emerges.
Instead, be as authentically yourself as possible now. If you love anime, for instance, but not everyone at your school does, don’t hide it; others on your wavelength will never find you if you do. You don’t have to run around announcing “this is my thing!” but you should be comfortable being you.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be open to others’ passions or interests. If you make a new friend who’s really into, say, hockey or fashion or Black history, be open to hearing why they care and what they know. You can support their specific interest without trying to adopt it or to master knowledge of it; hopefully, as they see you model this kind of support, they can return the favor.
In general, when a new friendship seems possible, just enjoy each interaction, and try not to overthink it. If you have a good laugh with a biology classmate over how much you hate the smell of formaldehyde one day in class, you can joke about that the next time you see them — but don’t make formaldehyde jokes every day and expect the same result. Let any moment be a good moment in itself, which might organically pave the way for more to come.
There will be periods in your life that friendships seem to form easily — and when groups coalesce to help sustain those friendships — and other times when this all feels like more work. Focus on making the kind of good moments I mentioned above until longer-lasting bonds will come.
Dear Other Dad —
I feel sad that I don’t talk to a lot of my friends ’cause I feel like I’m not good enough to be friends with them.
The most damaging critic will always be the little voice in one’s own head that whispers “I’m not good enough.” No matter how much anyone else praises you (or, for that matter, how much they condemn you), you will always be able to push your own buttons better than anyone else. It can be hard to resist that impulse, but you need to try.
Don’t limit yourself or others by deciding these friendships aren’t of value. When you decide that you’re not as good as your friends or are unworthy of their time and attention, it costs both you and them. You take away their ability to decide for themselves that they want to have you in their lives. For yourself, you remove the possibility of being open to validation and support. From everyone involved, you steal the pleasure of time together.
If you’re feeling low, don’t skip out on all contact just because it’s hard to contribute. You can be present in quiet ways when you join group texts/chats or get together. If you’re gathering in person, you can be a good listener, signaling interest with your body language. If you’re online or virtual, quick emoji reactions can be enough to show that you’re engaged. You don’t have to “keep up” with the way others communicate in order to be welcome.
Here’s an exercise: Make a list of the friends who would be most surprised to hear that you feel “not good enough” and then write down what they would reply back to you. Hold those things in your heart as you spend time with them — and hopefully someday you’ll come to realize they’re right.
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This post was previously published on Your Other Dad Says.
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