Conflict Does Not Mean Something Is Broken

Dear Mommy,

Lately I’ve had a weird sense of resentment towards two of my best friends. I love them dearly, and they’ve never done me wrong, but I find I am irritated with them a lot for no good reason. Like, little things are making me more annoyed than they should. I’m starting to feel a sense of distance from them because of this. How can I spend time with them with this irritation at the back of my mind?

Friendship is kind of a funny thing. “Our bodies force us to have physical reactions that involve making sounds and expelling air when we hear the same joke. Let’s put our bodies in the same place sometimes!” There are lots of different kinds of friendships: true soulmate friends, friend with benefits, friendships of convenience, friends who feel like family. Sometimes you connect with people for no discernible reason, sometimes you share the same interests, sometimes you don’t really like each other but you have years of accumulated shared experience that sort of makes you friends by default. Sometimes you choose your friends. Sometimes you don’t. Friends are crucial. Friends are fun. Friends are supportive. And, sometimes, friends are annoying.

It could be useful for you to try to pinpoint where your irritation with your friends is coming from. Try to notice patterns or specific things that annoy you. Is it a particular thing these friends are doing, a particular way they interact with you? A specific subject they want to talk about a lot that just doesn’t jive with you? Is is it environment specific? Do they annoy you when you’re around certain people? Try to answer these questions as honestly as possible, and then figure out if it’s something you can talk to them about. If it is, sit ’em down and be real. I don’t recommend starting with, “Hey you’re annoying the fuck out of me lately!” But do be honest, and tell them what’s bothering you. I know confrontation can be extremely hard, and I think it’s easy to assume if there is conflict that something is broken. With romantic relationships and family members, there seems to be an understanding that you’re going to be mad at or annoyed with each other some of the time. With platonic friends, conflict feels scarier for some reason. Maybe it’s because there is less of an explicit commitment. I’ve been in a few situations lately where I’ve confronted friends. Everything worked out fine, but it sent me into something of a personal crisis. “Am I a good friend? Should I be 100% okay with everything my friends do, even if they upset me? If their actions bother me, is it my job to be ~chill~ and try to stuff that annoyance/hurt/anger down?” After many nights of tortured soul searching, I realized the answer to all of those questions is a resounding HELL NO. I want my friendships to be strong, and they can’t be strong if I’m over here with daggers in my eyes because Sheryl just told a group of strangers at the bar the story where I peed my pants at the mall, AGAIN. Cut it out, Sheryl! That is MY story to tell and I WILL NOT push my feelings down inside! Look at it this way: your confrontation is your explicit commitment. It’s your way of saying, “I care enough about this friendship to bring this up, to explore this painful and scary uncharted territory with you, and try to find a solution. You are worth it.” If you let it all sit within you, the annoyance might grow until the friendship can’t be saved.

But what if you can’t pinpoint what’s annoying you? What if there is no pattern? What if you’re being annoyed by things that you recognize you shouldn’t really be annoyed by, AKA it’s more of a problem with YOU than THEM? What if you’re getting annoyed by little things that trigger you for reasons you can’t name and it would make you sound and feel like an uptight ASSHOLE if you ever brought them up? There is a pretty clear-cut path to peace here. You need space, my friend. You are spending entirely too much time with these people! Get away from them for a little while! Cut down on your hangout time, or impose a two-week or three-week or month-long break from them. This is a perfectly normal and acceptable thing to do! Tell them you’ve been feeling anti-social lately, or just be real and say you need some space. This will allow you some breathing room and time to think about what is getting you down. When everything is up close, it’s hard to see the problems clearly. With space and time away from your friends, you might gain some clarity on what exactly is annoying you and where it’s coming from. Maybe you’ll see that you’ve grown in many different ways since your friendships started and some of your friends’ values no longer align with your own. Maybe you’ll see that it’s your friends that have changed and certain parts of your personality just aren’t that compatible anymore. If that’s the case, and this is something you want to do, it is totally and completely okay to decide not to be friends with people anymore. Friendship is not compulsory, and you never have to be friends with anyone that doesn’t bring you joy. This doesn’t mean you can be an asshole to whoever you want, but you do have every right to stop being friends with people you don’t want to be friends with anymore. You don’t have to keep people in your life just because they’ve been there for a long time.

That said, let me re-iterate that conflict does not mean something is broken. Just because you don’t see eye to eye right now doesn’t mean you never will. Just because you are growing apart doesn’t mean you will never grow back together. Just because things aren’t perfect doesn’t mean you need to cut off any ties. Certain friends play certain roles in your life, and it is okay for those friends’ roles to change over time. It’s really important for us to see that friendship is fluid. It is completely normal to feel like you don’t connect with someone anymore, even when nothing has happened. It is totally okay to be irritated and annoyed with people you love, even for petty ass reasons. It is completely normal to feel distant with your best friends. If you stick with it, you may find that you start connecting again or that the distance between you closes naturally on its own. You and your friends are just humans, flawed and beautiful like all of us. Relationships ebb and flow, closeness becomes distance and then closeness again. There is pain and beauty in every wave. Ride it out. Or don’t.

Love, Mommy

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