May 2022 Newsletter

The “Friendship” issue – You can’t pick your family but you can pick your friends. When your family is going through a major upheaval, such as divorce or a custody battle, friends can help you stay sane or fuel the flames of destruction. This issue opens with How Can You Define a Friend? followed by Who Gets the Friends in Divorce? and concludes with Why Making Friends in Midlife is So Hard.

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How Can You Define a Friend?

By Marie Miguel|Updated December 1, 2021

How can you define a friend? Many of us have these relationships without often thinking about them. A friend can be someone you've been close for years, or they're someone fairly new in your life. They could be someone you bond with over a favorite sport or TV show, or perhaps a new friendship you formed at school or work. A friend can come from all aspects of our lives and it's important to reflect on what characteristics are important in friendships, how friends shape our lives, and what true friends look like.

What Is Friendship?

The definition of a friend for most of us is someone who is there for us throughout our daily lives. We are here to make sense of all things friends. What makes a good friend? What makes a bad friend? Let's first look at the definition of a friend, and what aspects of that definition are the most important for a friend to have.

What's A Friend?

A friend is someone that you share close affection with. You share some common beliefs and values with friends. Friends can be in person or online, your next door neighbor friend or a friend 1,000 miles away. Often, a friend is someone you trust or enjoy being around.

Some friends are casual; you may talk sometimes. You're more close to other friends. Once you start talking, it's like no time has passed. This friendship just feels secure, and this friend may make it easy to pick up where you left off.

Then there is the social media definition of a friend, in which the two of you have your accounts linked together on social media, but maybe you don't talk much. You should not consider social media 'friends' to automatically be real-life friends, as being a friend is more of a verb than a passive act.

Friend Vs Acquaintance

What is the difference between a friend and an acquaintance? An acquaintance is a person who you talk to on occasion, but the bond of a friend is just not there. Some people are friends waiting to happen. An acquaintance likely won't be the person you talk to when problems are happening, as you would a friend. Alternatively, some acquaintances become friends, if we only give them a chance. The main characteristic of a friend in this case is someone you share more time and trust with.

Signs Of A Good Friend

Here are some ways to know that you have a true friend and a quality, healthy friendship:

A Friend Is Always There For You

A good friend will always be there for you. A friend isn't going to run away because you lost money, or because you moved further away. Friends know that life throws many trials, and friends will stick through those trials to the end. A good friend stays by your side.

A Friend Listens

A good friend is someone you can be vulnerable and open with. This is because friends trust friends, and are there to support you.

You Feel Good With Them

A good friend will be one who you enjoy spending time with, and most importantly, a good friend makes you feel good about yourself when you're around them.

They Are Empathetic

A good friend is empathetic to your struggles or what you're going through, and shows that they care by validating your feelings.

They Bury the Hatchet

In a long term friendship, there are likely to be arguments. A good friend knows this. Good friends can forgive each other and move on.

Signs of A Bad Ones

If you've been questioning your friendship with someone, there are a few sings that someone may not be a good friend to you. Here are some signs that someone might not be a great friend:

The User Friend

Some "friends" only want you when they need something. They became friends conveniently, and when you've given them what they need, they stop acting like a friend. Friends should help each other, but if the help is one-sided, this may be a sign that you're being used by a friend.

The Trash Talker Friend

If your friend is always talking trash about their other friends to you, then they could be saying bad things about you to their friends. If this friend is always speaking badly about others, they may be a bad friend. 

The Friend Who Can't Take Criticism

Friends should help each other, and sometimes we let friends know when they're wrong. A good friend will take criticism as a well-meaning tool for growth, while a bad friend may feel attacked when you say something they don't want to hear.

The Friend Who Can't Tolerate Differences

Friends are going to have some differences, be it hobbies, outlooks on life, or perhaps even some values. If your friend is always putting you down for what you believe, they weren't much of a good friend, were they? 

The Flakey Friend

The flaky friend is one who is difficult to be friends with. If you're the friend who is always making plans and they're the friend who never hangs with you despite always saying how much they miss you, they may not be a good friend. Some friends may have social anxiety and find it difficult to commit to plans. If it seems they’re having trouble committing to plans, try talking with them about it. Let your friend know you’re not trying to judge or guilt them, but just want to better understand what might be going on. 

The Pushy Friend

If you have obligations such as work, school, or family, and your friend gets angry whenever you're busy, then this can be a sign of a bad friendship A good friend knows that life is busy. Be patient, and wait for a good chance to see your friend.

Many friends may have a problem or two, but if these happen often, it may be a sign that you should part ways.

Look at your friends and see who is a friend, who is an acquaintance, and who may be a bad friend. Don’t be afraid to have open and candid conversations with friends to help figure this out.

Seek Help!

If you're having trouble with your friendships, want to figure out who your real friends are, or need help making friends, there is no shame in visiting a professional for help. Seeking counseling can help improve your interpersonal relationships and strengthen your friendships. You only have one life, so fill it with friends who will care about you.

Who Gets the Friends in the Divorce?

Posted on www.happilyevaafter.com July 15, 2021

I was inspired to write today’s blog post because of the many messages I get asking for advice, and about my experience surrounding the ancillary changes that happen with divorce. Everyone knows that getting divorced is a really trying and heartbreaking experience…but not many people expect the subtle and strange issues or changes that can come up while you’re going through it. A common thread that I’ve seen appear recently is questions about navigating friend groups post-divorce. When you’re married to somebody, you most likely have developed quite a community of friends, acquaintances, friends of your family, and even work friends that you socialize with as a couple. One of the more awkward things to navigate as you disentangle your personal lives can be how you make sense of those shared relationships…separately. 

Divorce is traumatizing enough without having to make sense of changing friendships as well! I have some experience with all of this, and I think it’s a really important conversation to start having…for couples navigating divorce AND for their friend groups. The more we can normalize this process, the better. Divorce is common, unfortunately, and knowing what to expect or how to support those going through it can only improve our community experience. 

I’ll start with a little anecdote. When I was getting divorced, a therapist said to me: “The thing nobody tells you is how triggered some of your friends and acquaintances are going to be by your divorce. Don’t take it personally. Take notes, but don’t take it personally.”

She went on to tell me how divorce within a person’s circle can stir up a lot of buried feelings and fears, and sometimes it makes it hard for some friends to truly be there for you when you’re getting divorced. At best, it makes things kind of awkward. It can be pretty sad to feel unsupported or to feel that kind of distance with people you were close to while you were married. Sometimes these friends come around, realize they weren’t supportive, do work on themselves, and readjust. At worst, it can make people pull away from you or turn away from your friendship. Period. 

Divorce makes people uncomfortable. It’s disorienting for everyone around a divorcing couple, and it’s hard to know how to support people individually who you used to support together. It’s also challenging to figure out how to socialize with divorcing friends…especially if you were friends with both people in the couple. So, how do we know what to do, how to approach it all, and to stay true enough to ourselves in the process that we don’t run away from our divorcing friends just because everything feels so awkward and upsetting? I actually don’t have the answer to this question. LOL. All I know is what I’ve learned from my own experience, as well as what I’ve learned from being the “friend” on the other side. I’m putting some of my main takeaways below. Let me know if you have anything to add from your own experiences! 

The Cream Rises to the Top

A crisis of any kind is when you’ll truly figure out who’s there for you, and who simply…isn’t. A divorce qualifies for this. I was so lucky to solidify a really fantastic group of girlfriends during my divorce. A group that was there for me every step of the way and made me feel supported, seen, and heard. I also had a few who did the other thing…who seemed to pull away, and even ones that outwardly expressed discomfort or anger about our decision. I’ll tell you it’s extremely ridiculous to hear other people’s opinions about your divorce. I can’t say that these friend interactions weren’t heartbreaking while they were happening. I was confused, hurt, and angry. But in retrospect, they proved to me that everything in life happens for a reason, and people come in and out of your life for a reason, too!

Don’t Choose Anybody Who Makes You “Choose”

Barring a serious moral transgression that permeates your boundary of right and wrong, kindness goes a long way for people who are already riding the waves of a divorce. And for the divorcing people: no matter how angry you may feel at your former partner, communicating to your friend group that you want them to all “choose” you really won’t get you what you want in the end. Life is long, everyone needs support, and trust me when I say that you want friends in your life who will offer kindness to somebody you used to encourage them to have a relationship with. 

There Are No Rules

One of the things I appreciated the most during my divorce was how much of an effort some of our couple friends made to make both Kyle and I feel loved. We obviously share small kids together, and we obviously spend a ton of time together. It meant a lot to me that some of my friends would make a point of asking about Kyle and reaching out, and some of his friends did the same to me. To me, that showed that while Kyle and I are no longer together as a couple, that those people respect the fact that we will always be a family because of our kids. It means a lot to me that our kids are surrounded by people who support all five of us, and who know that ultimately our biggest effort goes towards making sure our kids are healthy, happy, and well-adjusted. 

Your Friends Shouldn’t Be Angrier Than You Are

Beware the friends who want to keep you mad, sad, and toxic. While divorce is VERY hard, and strenuous, and confusing, it is possible to move through it and to keep moving forward with introspection, grace, and growth. In fact, divorce is a really great time to work on your powers of forgiveness, to re-humble yourself, and to let go of whatever isn’t serving you. If you find yourself spending time with friends– and they make you feel worse about your ex or your divorce than you felt before you got there, something is wrong. Friends who rile you up to make you descend into more toxicity with your ex-partner, instead of helping you along your journey of growth and release, are not the kind of friends you need. No matter what happened in your marriage, if a friend of yours is angrier about it than you are, that’s weird. Isn’t it?

If You’re An Adult, Grow Up

If you have kids with your ex, and you’re part of a friend group with other couples who have kids that are friends with your kids, it is absolutely possible to deal with the awkwardness and allow all those kids to happily keep their friendships. If you aren’t able to peacefully hang out at a park or birthday party altogether for the sake of a group of kids, please pick up the nearest telephone and dial a good therapist immediately. Kids should also NEVER have to hear details about their parents’ divorce from their friends, so make sure you don’t share details with or within earshot of children who are friends with a divorcing couple. This should be common sense, but shockingly, isn’t. 

Awkwardness Is Ok!

Navigating your friendships after divorce can be awkward. It’s kind of awkward to run into people you knew through your ex and not know how to navigate the greeting. It’s definitely awkward to run into friends who ask you about your ex without knowing you’ve separated and to have to break the news in person. 

I’ll go on record and say that it is extremely awkward and surreal to introduce a new boyfriend to the couple friends that you had when you were married. This weird mix of emotions happens…you’re really happy with a new person, and you want to share that happiness with the people you love and enjoy…but you also feel a little guilty. There’s something about being with the same people with a different partner that makes you feel for the first twenty minutes or so like you’re doing something wrong. And your friends can feel really awkward at first, too. It’s ok! Push through! It’s natural to feel weird in those types of new dynamics, and once you get through the initial discomfort, things do even out. 

At the end of the day, we can all survive a little bit of awkwardness. 

Why Making Friends in Midlife Is So Hard

By Katharine Smyth, posted in www.theatlantic.com January 12, 2022

I thought I was done dating. But after moving across the country, I had to start again—this time, in search of platonic love.

Thirty-seven minutes after sitting down to lunch, Francesca and I hugged goodbye in a strip-mall parking lot. We were both fairly certain, I think, that we would not be seeing each other again. The high-school classmate of a friend’s friend’s husband, she’d been such a promising friendship prospect: She was a professional violinist and fellow New Yorker who was writing her dissertation on pollen. But I was awkward, smiling too much and saying things like “That’s so funny” in lieu of actual laughter, while Francesca (not her real name) was overworked and seemed full of derision for Bozeman, Montana, the town to which I had just moved, and from which she and her husband were determined to flee.

As I drove home, the distant mountains laid out like a postcard I might have mailed back to Brooklyn, I was beset by an acute and familiar emptiness: an echo, I suddenly realized, of my many years of online dating, and of the disappointment that arises when the person on whom you had pinned your hopes for the future turns out to be a total mismatch. Indeed, I’d thought that I was finally done with dating, having moved across the country for Ben, a literature professor at Montana State University. But I saw now that I would have to start that dispiriting process over again, this time in search not of love but of friendship—and at the age of 40, no less, a decidedly late time in life to be seeking new soulmates.

According to “The Friendship Report,” a global study commissioned by Snapchat in 2019, the average age at which we meet our best friends is 21—a stage when we’re not only bonding over formative new experiences such as first love and first heartbreak, but also growing more discerning about whom we befriend. Even more important, young adulthood is a time when many of us have time. The average American spends just 41 minutes a day socializing, but Jeffrey A. Hall, a communication-studies professor at the University of Kansas, estimates that it typically takes more than 200 hours, ideally over six weeks, for a stranger to grow into a close friend. As we get older, the space we used to fill with laughter, gossip, and staying up until the sky grew light can get consumed by more “adult” concerns, such as marriage, procreation, and fully developed careers—and we tend to end up with less of ourselves to give.

Over the course of nearly two decades in New York, I had prided myself on resisting this pull away from platonic love. My friends had gotten me through the death of my father, a traumatic divorce, and a near-fatal car accident, and I was as devoted to them as they were to their own children (proliferating now at an almost exponential rate). Even before I met Ben, however, I’d begun to grasp the difficulty in planning my future around those relationships. I remember huddling beside a propane heater in the early days of the pandemic, drinking to-go cocktails with my two most adamantly social friends and lamenting the latest couple in our circle to announce that they were leaving Brooklyn. “Don’t they care about friendship?” we cried, stunned that this pair would, by virtue of moving to the hinterlands, effectively renounce the bonds we held so dear.

But just one year later, Ben called to say he’d been offered a tenure-track position, and I made the decision to join him in Bozeman—a college town some 2,000 miles away, where I knew literally no one. As so many in my cohort had chosen Good Schools and Fly-Fishing, I had chosen Love and Mountains, and now I had no friends.

If our 30s are “the decade where friendship goes to die,” as the science journalist Lydia Denworth notes in her book Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond, then it’s no wonder that making friends at 40 is more akin to dating than I had anticipated: It’s dependent not only on chemistry and common interests, but also on a shared vision of what your new relationship could provide. Half the struggle is finding someone who wants the same thing you do, and at the exact same time. Here I’m reminded of Miranda on Sex and the City: “Men are like cabs,” she says. “They wake up one day, and they decide they’re ready to settle down, have babies, whatever. And they turn their light on.” In Montana, I’d need to find people who were not just delightful and committed to friendship generally, but also willing to expand beyond those best friends they made at 21—people who, for whatever reason, still had their light on.

I arrived in Bozeman with a long list of people whom my friends, and friends of friends, had suggested that I meet. In addition to the pollen scholar, it included an Iraq War veteran who ran a ceramics studio out of his garage, an equine healer who focused on empowering women, an adventure-loving dad who worked in renewable energy, a retired couple who had been neighbors to my mother’s friends in Australia, a famous writer who was married to an even more famous writer, and a local politician.

Unfortunately, these contacts weren’t as eager as I was about the prospect of new friendship. I passed a pleasant afternoon talking conspiracy theories with the veteran, and a pleasant evening talking snowmobiles with the retired couple. But the adventure dad never returned my email, and the equine healer suggested a date many weeks in the future. Thus far I’ve found the famous writers too intimidating; when I asked the politician if she wanted to get coffee, she sent back a formulaic message suggesting I reach out to her campaign manager. A French professor with purple dreadlocks who took me skinny-dipping at far-flung hot springs had recently fallen in love with a snowboarding instructor in Jackson, Wyoming, and would soon be moving herself.

Meanwhile, Ben introduced me to two great women who were already old friends, one a librarian and the other a comedy writer. When the comedy writer invited us over for enchiladas and a game of euchre, I thought that I had finally found my squad. But then I heard through the grapevine that they had gone to a Halloween party without me, and then they invited me to the town’s Christmas Stroll by accident. “You got included on this thread by mistake, but we’re happy to be chatting!” the librarian texted, followed by an emoji that looked to me to be chortling. Only then did I realize that I had greatly underestimated the difficulty of breaking into a long-established group. I get it: I, too, used to think that I had all the friends I needed.

Shortly after the Halloween party, or lack thereof, I did something I still find embarrassing: I downloaded Bumble for the second time, selecting the mode that matches you with friends rather than romantic partners. “Make new friends at every stage of your life,” the app promised me cheerfully. I tried to ignore both the bad memories unearthed by its jaunty yellow interface and my hypocritical presumption that anyone who went online to find friends wasn’t someone I wanted to befriend in the first place. But as I waded through a sea of women who shared in my basic predicament—“The struggle to make new friends in your thirties is real yo,” lamented a brunette in a fur coat—I grew more and more fascinated by this brave new world, and the larger questions that it prompted about friendship. (Which pictures, words, and “Basic Info Badges” would you include if you were trying to woo a kindred spirit?)

And although I noticed some interesting differences between dating and friend-dating—the slight suspiciousness with which I had addressed the men on Bumble had vanished, replaced by a kind of manic geniality—more often I felt appalled by all their similarities. I found myself swiping right on some women just because they were pretty, for instance, and swiping left on others just because they had children. (My best friend has three children!)

I matched with only one person who actually intrigued me: Steph, a blond woman with tattoos and a lovely smile who had recently moved to Bozeman from Salt Lake City. “Very into good conversation, progressive thinking, flexibility, and genuine connection,” she wrote in her profile, though what really got me were her two sphynx cats, perched like adorable aliens upon a truly exceptional leather couch. When we met for drinks a few days later, we talked fathers, divorce, and our ambivalence about motherhood, exchanging vulnerabilities and laughing like we’d known each other for months. This—the shock of recognition and affection, the giddy attraction, the spreading sense of possibility—was what I had been missing.

I’ve seen Steph only twice since then, but my guess is that we’ll be great friends, not just because of that ineffable connection—as integral to friendship, I’m now convinced, as it is to love—but also because, unlike the other 30- and 40-somethings I’ve met in Montana who are understandably enmeshed in their own lives, we’re both transplants who see making friends as an imperative, as important to us at this particular moment as our partners or careers. At our last dinner, we both confessed that we’d rather hang out just the two of us than plan a double date.

I spent the holidays in New York, visiting old friends and reconnecting with a world that had continued without me in a way that felt both sad and comforting. On New Year’s Day we stopped in a used-book store, where I bought a little volume of quotations about friendship that I finally opened on the airplane back to Bozeman. Some were sentimental, others humorous—Samuel Johnson compared the feeling of friendship to being full of roast beef—but there was only one, from a letter by Emily Dickinson, that spoke of the sense of fulfillment that I sometimes suspect our friendships alone can provide. “My only sketch, profile, of Heaven,” Dickinson wrote, “is a large, blue sky, bluer and larger than the biggest I have seen in June, and in it are my friends—all of them—every one of them.”

Looking out the airplane window at the great blue sky, I thought about how making friends in midlife, while challenging, might also be a gift, a chance to enlarge one’s world and one’s self. It sometimes feels at 40 as if our lives have assumed their final shape, entrenched as we so often are in our careers and cities and relationships. But to meet new people like Steph—who has already taught me about the Mountain West and what it’s like to grow up in a Mormon community, and who sees me as I am right now, not as who I used to be—is to acknowledge the growing that we all have left to do. When I imagine my life in another 40 years’ time—full of old friends, yes, but also friends that I have yet to meet—it looks like a sketch of heaven indeed.

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