Many of my friends are people I have known for over 25 years. Are we alike? Hell, no! But we hold space for one another — for our similarities and differences.
When we speak, we don’t curate conversations. We share raw thoughts, knowing fully well that no one will ever repeat them back. This level of bonding requires implicit trust and commitment. We challenge one another, but we just as easily have silly conversations. There is an openness — to be OK with not passing judgment or making suggestions just because we don’t understand the other person’s life choices. Truth is, we are all evolving and not necessarily at the same pace.
Even with friends I have made as an adult (especially in recent years), we all have one thing in common: we are all self-reliant people. We love each other’s company and will talk about a range of personal endurance to professional challenges. But we aren’t needy. We like people, but we are also picky with whom we let into our lives. There are no exaggerated expectations, and nothing feels forced. We all prefer intimate gatherings versus circus-style get-togethers. We leave ego and jealousy at the door.
But I haven’t always been wise. Growing up in a boarding school and living away from home for most of my life, I was always surrounded by a large group of people. Coming from an Indian culture, your worth was measured in the number of people you knew, and the party invites dominating your calendar.
I fell for it. I had multiple circles of friends and ongoing plans. Saturday nights were about party-hopping in my twenties. I was forever on and people were in and out of our home.
Was I happy? In retrospect, maybe not. Because when you have so much noise in your life, you don’t have the energy to make real connections. You do things in the moment and break your personal boundaries. You create a lifestyle where you don’t pause or check in with yourself. I felt depleted and disconnected, but couldn’t figure out the reason. I noticed that at some gatherings, I ate a little extra dessert, or drank an extra glass of wine – all to avoid a conversation or two. After even talking to certain friends on the phone, I felt a lingering heaviness from carrying their negative stories. But I didn’t break up the friendship, because I didn’t want to hurt anyone.
A very dear friend of mine, Day Singh, LCSW-R, a psychotherapist and holistic life coach who understands human behavior, motivations, and emotions on a very deep level, is someone I turn to when I need advice or seek tools to navigate difficult conversations. She once said to me, “Some friendships come with an expiration date.”
I trust Day implicitly. This sentence from her has helped shift my perspective. Day went on to reiterate that we sometimes outgrow people. Familiarity or history should not be the reason to keep the relationship going if we can’t find anything else in common. One needn’t feel guilty nor responsible for endings. One needn’t drag out a friendship when it no longer holds a meaning, or if you don’t feel compatible.
My mother’s untimely demise and my own health crisis changed me in ways I didn’t think was possible. They gave me the permission to prioritize myself and say NO to whatever didn’t add value to my life. Seeing my mother’s body in the morgue, and fighting for my own life in the ER, made me desire quietude and quality. I wanted deeper and meaningful relationships. I didn’t have the energy to care for a million people. I have never enjoyed drama, toxicity, lies, or secrets. But I finally felt OK voicing that view. I also felt burned out from holding space for one-sided friendships, where I became an emotional dumping ground.
I spoke with two women writers — Naomi Boshari and Priya Mulji — who write about human relationships, and asked them to share their experiences.
Boshari writes creative non-fiction, short stories, and spoken word poetry about love, loneliness, and the things that keep us living life on the surface.
“I’m lucky to still have the same girlfriends from childhood,” she says. “That’s not to say we’ve been close the entire time. We’ve had periods where we’ve fallen out or not spoken for months at a time, but we always find a way to come back together.
“The other day, my friend said it’s because we’re all friends with versions 2.0 of each other. (Though, by now, it’s probably more like 4 or 5.0.) The key element in these lasting friendships: we’ve all grown individually as people, but also together. On the other hand, I’ve also had friendships that are short-lived. I’ve had ‘friendship breakups,’ where I had to communicate to the other person that this wasn’t working. And I’ve had friendships where it was clear we weren’t compatible, but we were trying to force something. I’d often leave these interactions feeling drained and questioning whether I said or did the wrong thing. To me, this became a clear sign that I wasn’t spending time with the right people.
“Sometimes, people aren’t bad or toxic, but the relationship isn’t adding anything of value to our lives. Even now, with my childhood friends, there are moments where I wonder if we are still friends because of history and longevity. But I believe that as long as we keep nurturing these updated versions of ourselves, our friendships will endure, and for that, I am grateful.”
Mulji is a senior columnist for the UK’s largest Asian lifestyle newspaper, Eastern Eye. In her column she discusses topics such as love, dating, heartbreak, and relationships, as well as many other women’s issues. Alongside her column, Priya writes a blog at priyamulji.com and works in marketing.
“I have been in situations when friendships have changed, and they are constantly changing too, people evolve,” she says. “The people you were friends with at school, university, when you started your new job, moved to a new city, may only be around for that season of your life. You move with these friends, and sometimes you move on. I met my best friend at university, and we couldn’t be more different, yet that love remains because, regardless of the differences and distance, when we meet, it’s like we’re those 19-year-olds again.
“The friends I have met when I am older are the ones I have chosen to be friends with because we have connected, and not because we have been thrown together in the same class at school. It’s also OK to say this friendship isn’t working for me, we’re mature enough to understand where someone is coming from if you don’t ‘feel’ their energy. For most of us, we have a small tribe of friends. If you’re lucky enough to have those people that get you, hold on to them very tightly.”
Wisdom that comes with age is as delicious as aged wine, no? Over the years, I have lost friends. Aside from one friendship, which had a dramatic flair attached to it, all other endings were cordial and mutual. Both parties saw it coming. It was part of an unintentional cleansing process. The feeling: a little sadness, but mostly relief.
I am a big believer that every friend comes into our life for a reason. I have learned so much from each of my friendships. But I also see that when we let go of anyone or anything that feels forced, we make room for newer people. We all have our reasons for the choices we make. As August, which is National Wellness Month, comes to an end, I hope you continue to nurture your emotional and mental wellness as well and surround yourself with your tribe of supportive friends.
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” ~ Anais Nin