What I Have Learned About Friendships

Mariel Witmond
Mariel Witmond

23 September, 2022

It’s always interesting to watch the behaviour of young children. Always confident of their worth, sure of who they are, children have yet to experience what makes them “different” to others. They move their bodies without inhibitions and speak their truths without considering the reaction of others. They have yet to know what words like strange, odd or weird even mean.

Then we start to have more experiences, we encounter more people, and our differences become more prevalent. With time we start to become increasingly conscious of our self, or self-conscious. Our tribal nature convinces us that in order to fit in, we need to mute or turn down the volume of our true selves and adapt to be more like everyone else. 

For so much of my life I wanted to fit in; to belong. I wanted to be liked – as though being liked was a direct reflection of my worth. In trying to be like everyone else, I kept losing sight of myself. And naturally I struggled with friendships, female ones in particular, as I strived to be liked by all, confused when traces of the real me clashed with those I wanted to fit in with. I lacked a lot of the things that in my mind helped people to assimilate – roots, years of being in the same place and knowing each other, families that grew up together and kids that went to school together. 

I also had a fractured relationship with my mother growing up. Without that key female influence, I gravitated towards the men in my life. To be honest, I just found men easier. Female friendships can be a lot more emotionally intimate, which can make them more rewarding, if albeit a tad more complicated! That said, I always knew I was lacking a deeper connection; a friendship so undeniably powerful it would be worth the struggle. I just never imagined I would need to find it with myself first. 

Here are some things I have learned about friendship by befriending myself first:

  • They take work. When we get busy, much like our personal wellbeing, friendships tend to be one of the first things we neglect. 
  • They change. Much like we do, friendships change – and that is ok. Sometimes that means leaving things that no longer serve us behind.
  • They crumble with jealousy. In the words of Baz Luhrmann “the race is long, but in the end it’s only with yourself.” Replace jealousy with inspiration and always be encouraging.
  • We have to disconnect to reconnect. Social media makes it feel like we are always in touch, but we are not. If you have time to scroll, you have time to connect.
  • They require honesty. Be open and honest, and listen in return. Bottling things up only creates bad feelings.
  • They need care. Find small ways to always express your appreciation.
  • They benefit from respect. Having healthy boundaries can help us to manage expectations and remain respectful.
  • They thrive on authenticity. Our ability to be ourselves encourages others to do the same.

Friends are essential in helping us determine our sense of self. They vastly contribute to the person we are today, but true belonging will always require us to know and unapologetically be who we are, so that we can in turn attract the right friendships for us. Respecting and valuing ourselves means that we can do the same for those closest to us.

Research shows that having good friends can increase our sense of belonging, build our confidence, and gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Though we are all wired for connection, the deepest connection we have to create is ultimately with ourselves, in order to create lasting bonds with others. Knowing ourselves impacts how we relate to and engage with others. The relationship we have with ourself is always going to be reflected back to us through the relationships we form, until we learn to release the things that are not serving us; until we learn to reconnect with our authentic truth. This is, in my opinion, a big reason why friendships help to shape our lives. 

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