"Can't We All Just--Get Along?" - Rodney King
I always like to tell my friends, I am “friendly,” but that doesn’t make me everyone’s friend. It’s a concept my siblings and I understand all too well. We spent most of our lives growing up surrounded by people but still keeping to ourselves.
For example, we would go to a family event full of people, only to make our own dance circle. I guess you could call us cliquey, but it came from being taught the importance of our relationship at an early age. My youngest brother has an autism diagnosis. As such, we were pretty isolated from most of our community growing up because people didn’t understand him.
We were all fighters. Someone would pick on my brother, and it would evolve into a hail storm they would never forget. Our early childhood experiences caused us to bond in a way that space and time cannot separate. We still genuinely enjoy each other’s company and it can get weird if you spend long periods of time around us.
Having 7 siblings made external friendships optional in my world. Every now and then, we would make a close friend who became an automatic family member and remained as long as they abided by the family rules. Ride or Die, that was the only rule. Over time, we started to grow up and develop our personalities.
Our friend groups began to look differently. I noticed I gravitated towards strong-willed women and generally only seemed to get along with them. I always perceived people who were gentle and kind as weak. This may have something to do with growing up in an abusive household where I saw kindness taken advantage of by people who seemed to be stronger, more outspoken, and aggressive.
It recently dropped in my spirit during my prayer time that if I wanted to be gentler, kinder, and less aggressive, then I would have to stop spending time with people who reminded me of the old me. Makes sense.
If you are a recovering addict, you probably don’t want to hang out with friends who use the drug you’re trying to give up. You probably don’t want to go to the same places; you probably want to find a new circle of friends in an environment more conducive to your recovery. God expects us to be patient, loving, and kind.
So how does a recovering aggressive, become kind? She hangs out with kind people. She hangs out with gentle people; people who don’t respond the way she does in various circumstances. She marries a man who embodies kindness, gentleness, and unconditional love. She learns that developing organic relationships are probably better than instant BFFs.
At this point in my life, I do not have or want a best friend. I am not sure if it’s because I do not believe in best friends, or if I’m wondering whether or not I should really have one at the age of 36. Whatever it is, I only have associates or sisters. We all in or we ain’t.
Nonetheless, I am really good at building connections with people. I can build an authentic connection with almost anyone. It may be a byproduct of always being surrounded by people who were different from me, or growing up in diverse environments where I was the one and only person who looked like me or came from where I came from.
I have learned to be friendly among a group of strangers--It’s just who I am at this point. It’s a gift that helps me navigate my public and personal relationships quite well.
I’m no guru, but I know a thing or two about human connection because I must do so to be good at my job. I want to offer some tips for any alpha women out there who may be struggling to develop organic relationships.
These are not exhaustive, but some things I have observed from years of working in student affairs, where we basically teach young people how to be social and get along with others in their community.
1. Take your time.
Like building a new home, establishing firm long-lasting friendships take time. Give people room to prove themselves. Give people room to make mistakes. Give people room to be messy before you make a decision regarding whether or not you want to hitch your wagon alongside someone in something as important as a friendship. I am not talking about associates.
Like a home, a solid friendship needs a solid foundation. Anything intended to stand the test of time will certainly take time and seasons to build. So don’t rush; think it through. You don’t need to overthink your social interactions, but truly reflect and see people for who they are and accept them for who they are the first time they show you exactly who they are.
2. Do not force your friendship on others.
You have to give people time to warm up to you. Everyone is not an open book. For example, I’m a pretty open book in writing, but if you meet me in person, you’ll quickly learn I value my personal boundaries. I’m only open to a certain extent.
When people try to push beyond my boundaries, I get very suspicious and wary of their motives. The same goes for other people you may meet. You have no idea what prior experiences they may be bringing to the table.
If you define friendship only by how you engage, you may miss out on an opportunity to get to know amazing people simply because they do not relate the way you do. Friendship is a dance; it is a give-and-take.
But first, you have to see if the other person wants to dance with you. If for whatever reason, you make attempts and the other person is unresponsive, perhaps it’s time to take a step back. Maybe it’s time to reconsider. It may take time, distance, or maybe acknowledging that it cannot be a friendship. Whatever it is, friendship is not by force. It must develop organically.
3. Be open.
Wooo, I’m almost scared to write this one down. I struggle with this very principle. The truth of the matter is, I don’t think I’m very open to new friendships. I think I’ve resigned myself to having my sisters, a few longstanding sister friends, and that’s it.
But of course, that comes from a place of hurt. Decisions to self-select and isolate are seldom driven from a healthy place. In my social work brain, I can acknowledge that. However, my subconscious mind is not connecting with why there is a lack of openness and making new friends.
The circle is big enough already, how could I possibly make room for MORE friendships? Now, this certainly is not the way you want to approach life and friendships. After all, Oprah met Gayle when she was in her 30s. I think we can all agree the two of them make a dynamic duo.
If Oprah would have shut down and closed the door when she met Gayle, I am sure her empire would not be what it is today. No tree stands alone. So I am working on being more open, and I highly recommend you work on it too.
Friendship is not by force. You cannot force connections where they do not exist. I do believe that one key to organic friendship is that interactions need not feel forced. You shouldn’t be struggling for things to talk about. You should not be struggling to identify the things you have in common. It just shouldn’t be that hard.
At this point in my life, I am too busy to engage in forced conversation. If I find that after two or three interactions, I’m struggling to make a conversation, I will likely come to the resolution that the other individual and I are probably not meant to be that close.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, we struggle to relate in social situations, but we have to take a deep breath, breathe, and interact. Friendships are not built if you choose to stay on the boat. Let’s just think about Jesus and Peter. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends. Yes, Peter was messy. Yes, Peter did betray Jesus. But Peter also jumped out of the boat to meet Jesus in the middle of a storm.
I think that was probably one of the moments that solidified Peter’s devotion and loyalty to Jesus. That being said, if you want to build meaningful, organic friendships, you are going to have to step out of the boat. It cannot happen in your comfort zone.
That’s all for now; I don’t like to overwhelm. But I will certainly share a part two on the how.
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