It’s pretty commonly accepted that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Not to put any pressure on you here, but that’s kind of a big deal: if the people you spend most of your time with are negative, underwhelming, critical, or deadbeats with no direction in general, this does not bode well for you. Ouch, right? Sorry toots, the truth hurts sometimes. So knowing that, how do you call in “your people?” How do you find your tribe? In a world that feels increasingly busy, with fewer in-person interactions, how the hell do you find the top five people who will lift you up, and who in turn you will lift up, to do all the cool shit this life has to offer? (And no, they’re not available on Amazon Prime. Trust me, I’ve looked.)
Each of us needs people in our lives who are there simply to have our backs. No matter how strong, independent, capable, driven, accomplished, and confident we are, no one is an island. This is true when we’re kids, and it’s true when we’re adults…because let’s be honest: adults are pretty much over-sized children playing one extended, director’s cut game of house. We need people who are capable of meeting our emotional needs, and with whom we feel comfortable both getting super real, and also sometimes acting like total idiots.
Your tribe, which is just a millennial-ized way of saying “inner circle,” is crucial to your well-being, and who you let in, matters. Who are the people you’d call your tribe? Think about that on your way to work, or over coffee this morning. We sometimes have these preconceived notions of what our tribe, our social circle should look like. You know, dozens of the beautiful people standing around chatting, reminiscing, drinking at BBQ’s. A few bro dudes who have been tight since school days, and still connect over beers or basketball. One alpha player, one loveably dorky beta, and the occasional steady Eddie, Jason Batemen-esque responsibility guy thrown in for good measure. Weekends away with four quirky and gorgeous girlfriends who all get along famously and have work/life/family schedules that are all in balance with one another. Ha. In reality, our friendships as adults look nothing like this. (Unless perhaps you live in a place where a Netflix Originals production crew follows you around for 22 minutes, in which case yeah, this is exactly what your life looks like.)
Real friendship is the art of true connection, and is rooted in understanding, empathy, acceptance, respect, and unconditional love. Which is why it’s less common than we are lead to believe. Real friendship goes beyond the surface level chatter of social interactions, and goes to a deep place where you can strip away all the bullshit and be your weird, authentic, true, flawed, imperfectly perfect self. It’s a place of ebb and flow, give and receive, trial and error, support and being supported. And it’s not easy, it’s demanding. Joyfully demanding, don’t get me wrong, but like any great relationship, it requires intention and attention. Which is why if you’re lucky, you likely have only one or maybe two really great friends.
When it comes to your inner circle of friendship, are you choosing quality…or quantity? That’s a legit question. I hear so many people talk about their friends as burdens, how they don’t feel understood, how they feel pressured or obligated to stay in a relationship that by their own account, doesn’t serve them.
Sometimes we feel lonely, and we fill that perceived empty space with whomever we can find, even if they aren’t a healthy choice for us. It’s like the feeling of being really freaking hungry: you feel that despair and look frantically around your kitchen for something, anything to eat. “Ooooh, Lucky Charms!” You know very well that it’s not a great choice, and won’t fill you up with anything of substance, but hey – it sure as hell does the trick right now. Also, marshmallows.
Sometimes we feel indebted, and we feel chained to the tie that binds us to a certain person, even if that relationship doesn’t have the same nurturing quality it used to. This analogy would be the jacket you’ve had forever, and it was really expensive, and it doesn’t fit you very well, and one button popped off nowhere to be found…but you’ve had it forever, so how could you let it go? You HAVE to hang on to it…right?
Sometimes we feel bored, and we just want to hide, bury, suppress that boredom, and so we grab a quick fix of something flashy and stimulating that pulls us out of that rut. This is basically anything you’ve ever bought at the Dollar Store: you know it won’t last long, but it’s quick and convenient, and doesn’t demand a lot from you in return. Truthfully, this is a different side of the same coin of loneliness.
None of these are necessarily wrong, and can often be integrated to occupy their own time and place in your life – but they cannot be your core friendships. They will not feed the part of you that is hungry for connection, and activity, and drive, and push, and stimulation. Little crumbs of love never properly feed you – they leave you starving. And when you get that starving feeling, even in the company of others, it’s time to examine what’s really happening.
A great strategy is to start asking yourself how you feel before and after every interaction. For example, when Suzy calls you to hang out, does the idea lift you up? Make you excited? Add levity? Or do you get that pit feeling? Anticipate dread or obligation? Add stress and logistics to your life? When you leave Timmy’s place, do you feel revved up with energy? Like a weight has been lifted? Like you’ve had a mutual exchange of awesome? Or do you feel drained? Tired? Insecure? Like you’re running out of time?
These are real feelings, and your body alllllways knows before your brain does. If any interaction leaves you feeling less than great, consistently, it’s time to take a step back and spend less energy on that relationship. Because here’s the crazy thing: spending less energy on the bad relationships makes space to spend time on the good ones.
The more you cull, trim the fat, raise the bar, set your standards, your circle will get smaller, and simultaneously richer. This is effectively the act of setting healthy and loving boundaries, stemming from a deep love of self. And when you’re in that place, you won’t have time or patience for the relationships, for the people who can’t meet you there. Does it mean you’ll never hang out again? Nope, just less frequently, and with less weight attached. Does it mean you need to be an asshole to them? Gawd no. Kindness still trumps all, regardless of what your relationship status is. It just means that by valuing yourself, your needs, your time, you are creating a place for authentically awesome friendships to grow and develop. Even if that means just one or two.
So give that a think, and over the next week or so, really do pay attention to how you feel, and with whom. Start to ask yourself why that is, and follow the thread down to where you can answer honestly. Know that you deserve and are worthy of people who see you, hear you, appreciate you, get you, and love you. No matter what. Don’t be afraid to hold out for that, and get ready for a whole lot of great memories to be made when it shows up. FInd your tribe, and love them hard.