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Turns out what they say about being lonely in your early 20s is true. And worst of all, it feels painful.
I have never given friendship much thought. I never saw it as something I needed to think about, that I needed or should work hard for. Given that, I’ve always been easygoing, friendly, helpful, and minded my own business. I found myself in multiple clicks during high school but never stuck to one, though I was everyone’s friend.
Toward the end of high school, however, I finally had my own small circle. That is the first and last time I remember feeling like I had my own people. We understood each other and looked out for each other.
Unfortunately, we are not as close anymore. We talk occasionally and meet up occasionally, but it’s with other people too.
Right now, I’m 21 and have just finished college, and I find myself purposely removing my college ’friends’ from my life.
I started college at 16, years younger than most people leaving high school. At 18, most people are learning more about themselves, leaving their old friends until they meet someone they connect with and who is good to them. At that time, I still had the teenage pack mentality, the need to have a community as long as you share something in common.
As I said earlier, I’m very friendly, and while I am introverted, I can be bold when I need to be. I was a lot of people’s first friend as I willingly offered help and took new people around to make them feel comfortable, and we just sort of stayed that way.
I parted ways with the people I had little in common with, but something I still needed to learn was that what matters in building friendships is not just having something in common. It’s having people that treat you well and who you can see yourself with in the future.
Unfortunately, a year into college, I started distancing myself from being treated poorly because I was going through something traumatic.
As the years passed, I distanced myself more mentally, even though physically we were together, until I realized certain toxic behaviors that were done to me and others around me.
I’ve always been one to stick up to bullies when they were being mean to others, but I never learned to do it for myself. And when I started, you can guess how that went.
As I reflected on my friendships, I realized I also had a part in them. I’m not one to place the blame on someone else; I know in most situations, it takes two.
I was/am a people pleaser and avoided hurting people’s feelings most of the time, meaning I didn’t stand up for myself and didn’t go after what I really wanted a lot of the time. Unfortunately, this mindset meant I allowed these behaviors to continue; if I had enough self-respect and self-esteem, I would have ended those relationships there.
So, as I navigate the loneliness that comes with having toxic close friends and distant true friends, I have prioritized 7 things in my friendships, and just as I want these for myself, I strive to embody these qualities as well.
Friendships should be fun; I do not believe in forcing connection or conversations. I would like someone I share interests with and can try new things with.
You know, someone to live, laugh and love with.
Someone empathetic and kind
I hope you never experience someone giving you a blank scare after you share something bad that happened to you or someone that minimizes your feelings and tells you to just get over it.
I want someone I can talk to about the little things and big things that cause me pain, and I want someone who will be kind in their speech to me.
I want someone who considers my feelings and needs when doing something. I don’t expect to be put first or second. If we’re friends, our lives will be intertwined at some point. I want someone who considers my feelings and state when making a hard decision.
Someone with a conscience
I want someone who feels bad when they do something wrong to me and obviously to everyone. It’s inevitable to fight and sometimes hurt someone, but if you do something to hurt me, I hope you feel guilty and take responsibility and try to fix it. That’s the only way forgiveness will have a place in our relationship.
Someone who reciprocates
Unfortunately, some girls expect to be treated ‘feminine’ in their female friendships. We both should initiate contact, plan meetups, give gifts, etc.
Someone who knows how to fight
Not physically (unless needed). Communication doesn’t quite cover it. I want us to be able to fight about things respectfully and prioritize solving the issue instead of being right. While we may come from different backgrounds and, therefore, different fighting styles, we need to learn how to fight each other without hurting each other.
Someone that gives great advice
Because of a lot of the things I’ve been through, I often hear ‘I don’t know what to say’ when I’m seeking advice. So, most of the time, I have no one to ask. Even when it comes to mundane, girly advice, some people give toxic advice, especially relating to relationships. I want someone who will call me out if I’m doing something wrong and point out if I’m too blind to see that I’m being treated badly.
I understand these qualities may be a ‘DUH’ for some of you; if so, consider yourself lucky. And if you think this is asking for too much, that no one is perfect, I do not seek perfection. I know the people closest to you will hurt you, too, which is why many of these qualities focus on what happens when the inevitable happens.
Plus, I know the value I have given in my relationships, and honestly, these qualities should be in any relationship you want to hold close to you–family, friend, co-worker, significant other, neighbor, etc.
Seeking these qualities will protect you. But they will also isolate you as you seek them. As you prioritize these qualities, you will become very lonely. At the start of my journey, I reached out to people I shouldn’t because I didn’t want to feel pain anymore.
Right now, I am learning to do things by myself and finding a connection in family. I’m trying out new activities where I can enjoy the company of strangers without committing to anything.
One day, I hope I will find a good friend, but I’m starting by opening myself up to good acquaintances that will hopefully bloom. It’s hard making friends in your twenties, but don’t make the mistake of settling for bad friendships just to combat loneliness.
If you want someone to talk to, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. I find myself crying at scenes where there are group hugs or girls coming together or family and friends standing up for each other.