Most of us don’t talk to our best friend from kindergarten all that much anymore. There isn’t anything wrong with that, it’s totally normal. Maybe one of you enrolled in a different middle school. Maybe, as time went on, you both pursued different interests and time slowly dissolved the connection you both found on the monkey bars all those years ago. Those former friendships that we can vaguely recall from days-gone-by are early but applicable examples of a rather common event. People grow apart and social circles shift.
It’s a commonplace, even healthy aspect of social interaction. However, as we get older, friendships become more complex. The criteria we set for possible compatriots becomes more thoughtful than a simple ‘our parents set up a play-date for us… I guess we’re friends now’. The increasing complexity of our relationships is important because the people we hold in our company influence us a great deal- and vice versa. I’ve seen my social circles shift countless times over the years. Through this, I’ve come to realize that friendships need to be built upon a foundation of trust and admiration- not only fun. Sometimes friendships fail to rest on that foundation. Then what do we do? When navigating shifting social circles, I’ve found that it is important to remember a few things: 1) Surround yourself with those who make you better, not just comfortable 2) There are tiers of friendships, shifted doesn’t mean gone 3) You have just as much responsibility to your friends as they do to you.
Surround Yourself With Those Who Better You
Surround yourself with those who better you, not just those who make you comfortable. This is most definitely not my idea. It’s an age old one, perpetuated by thinkers and parents alike. I’m willing to bet that at some point, one of your parents said something akin to, “I don’t want you hanging around them, they seem like a bad influence.” I didn’t hear this often as a child but when I did my eyes rolled back something fierce. My parents weren’t being wet blankets, though. I had a friend my freshman year of high school, we’ll call him Jack, and he wasn’t the best influence on me. I had just switched schools and did not really know anyone. Along came Jack, with hand outstretched and I latched onto it for dear life. Despite what others said, I couldn’t see the negative path that friendship was leading me down. I had been tunnel visioned by my shortsighted need for connection, whatever the cost. Next thing you know, I found myself wearing a belt chain while my GPA gradually slide into the abyss. I go on that tangent to try and express that the people we spend our time with and confide in have very tangible affects on our own personalities and aspirations. Like everything else we surround ourselves with, be it books or films or educators, we absorb their influence. This is why, I believe, it is important to make friends with people who you admire and have your best interest at heart.
These aspects relate to the two foundations I mentioned earlier. Of course, friendships should also be woven together by common interests, shared senses of humor, etc. I believe these things to be a given, integral part of any friendship. Beyond that, however, is admiration and aspiration. Keeping the company of people we admire is important because, if we admire them, it means that they have a trait that we would like to emulate. Maybe they’re incredibly kind. Maybe they’re hardworking. Inevitably, this will rub off on you to some degree. If you surround yourself with people who consistently make choices that you feel are wrong, damaging, or less than acceptable-you need to take stock of your social circles and if they’re right for you. This may not always be the most comfortable thing in the world, either. Keeping the company of those who you admire will force you to change and grow in positive ways. If you find yourself sticking around a group of friends solely because they make you feel better about yourself by comparison- you need to cast a wider net.
Additionally, you want to befriend people who want the best for you. These people are your support net and your well being rests on their bulwark friendship, just as theirs rests on yours. Find people who will actively celebrate in your successes (and be sure to actively celebrate in theirs). If you tell a friend about an internship that you just landed and their first response is to talk about how great their own internship is- maybe they aren’t all that happy for you. If you’ve had a rough day and turn to a friend for support and they reply with “that sucks, but guess what happened to me today…” maybe they aren’t the sturdy friend you assumed them to be. These are generalizations, of course, and good friends are bound to do something like this every once in awhile but the point is still there. Find people who you admire, people who can lift you up with their company, and find people who genuinely care for you. In actuality, most people are lucky to have two or three friends at any given time that they can truly lean on. It’s easy to assume that the social net is wider and stronger than it actually is. This isn’t a bad thing, just know who you can really count on. More so, the friends that turn out to be ‘fair weather’ aren’t suddenly not friends, they just fall into a different tier of friendship.
Tiers of Friendship
When times are good, it is easy to assume that everyone has your back to a similar degree. When the weather gets stormy, however, it is easier to see where people fall. If you aren’t as close with someone as you thought you were, or you’ve concluded that they aren’t the best influence on you, it can be easy to assume that they should not or are not true friends. That isn’t the case. They’re still friends, they just fall into a different category. There are tiers of friendships and each type of friendship is important to our social well being. In my experience, there are three or so tiers (with some variance in-between): acquaintances, friends, best friends.
Acquaintances are the people we interact with through common activities (school, work, etc) but our interactions with these people tend not to expand beyond that space. It is a friendly interaction but likely not one that consists of conversations about hopes, dreams, and wants.
Friends tend to spend time with us outside of these spaces. We have fun with them, talk with them frequently, and likely confide in them sometimes. However, they may not be there through thick and thin, most of the relationship being built on a foundation of pleasure and convenient fun. This is where most people fall, if we’re being honest.
Best Friends share many of the same attributes as friends, however, their relationship to you goes deeper. In times of trial, they are there. They drove two hours in the middle of the night to pick you up when your tire blew. They support you in your hardest times and you support them as well, regardless of it being fun or not. They know your hopes, secrets, and aspirations and they want to see you succeed more than anything.
If you find yourself questioning a friend’s influence on you- don’t cut them out. Maybe just keep them an arm’s length away, move them from the ‘best friend’ tier to the ‘friends’ tier. This may seem harsh (although not nearly as harsh as cutting someone out entirely) but odds are if the friend in question is a bad influence, they likely weren’t looking out for your best interest to begin with. If you assumed that someone was closer to you than they actually were, don’t stress on it. Just be more careful about what you share. That doesn’t mean you have to stop seeing them in a fit of spiteful revenge or self preservation. I’m a firm believer in being kind to everyone I meet, but if someone isn’t going to value my contributions, thoughts, or successes- there is no reason to continue sharing them. Continuing to do so only devalues what I have to say. Recognizing who you can depend on, while being kind to everyone is a good rule of thumb for navigating shifting social circles. These things have an ebb and flow to them as well. Just because someone is an acquaintance now doesn’t mean they couldn’t become your must trusted confidant later.
It’s a two way street. The idea of friendship is an interesting one. In a way, it’s a beautiful (but unspoken) agreement to lift one another up and to face the chaotic world together, instead of alone. As such, there is a responsibility to help each other bear their proverbial cross. If you expect something from a friend, you should be willing to offer that back (and not just on your terms). Say I expect a degree of connection from a friend. For me, this may mean wanting a phone call every so often. To them, connection might mean something entirely different. For example, maybe they feel connection through getting lunch or sharing memes over Instagram. If I’m not receptive to their form of connection, I’m not playing my part. This is the inherent responsibility of friendship.
It is important to surround ourselves with good company. It is also just as important to be there for said company. Sometimes people change and so does the relationship. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean they aren’t a friend or that they haven’t dropped off the face of the earth. They may just fit into a different tier than initially assumed. Like with anything, everything in this post comes from my own personal experience- as such none of it is set in stone. It’s malleable. Still, in my own life I’ve found these ideas to be helpful, consoling, and guiding. I hope they can do the same for y’all.
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Category: AdviceTags: A Guide To Friendship: Navigating Shifting Social Circles, Advice, am I a bad friend, Are my friends a bad influence, Aris Federman, change, dealing with change, friend advice, Friendship, Good influence, how to be a good friend, making friends, Memphattan, outgrowing a friend, self help, self improvement, social advice, social circles, social network, tiers of friendship