I was out to dinner recently with two new friends, and suddenly felt a wave of guilt. While I love spending time with these women, I wondered if it made sense to pursue new friendships when I barely had time to keep up with my old pals.
“There are certain friends that you have for certain phases of your life,” said Elizabeth Lombardo, a clinical psychologist and author of “Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies To Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love” (Seal Press). “When you were a kid, there were certain toys you played with that you don’t play with now, and that’s OK. Sometimes it’s the same with friends – one person cannot be everything to you, so it’s important to have more than one social outlet.”
While many relationships are inherited (say, through our families), friendships should be a choice based on shared values, said Sarah Jenks, founder of the online group-coaching program “Live More, Weigh Less,” based in San Francisco.
“The people you should spend most of your time with are those who really get who you are right now,” Jenks said. “I’m a new mom, so I’ve been spending a lot more time with my new mom friends because they’re the medicine that I need right now. When I was starting a business, I was spending a lot more time with entrepreneurs.”
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As we mature and evolve, newer friendships are often easier to maintain, added Rha Goddess, a founder and CEO of Move the Crowd, a coaching and entrepreneurial training company.
“Sometimes we think we have to work hard (with friendships) but the truth is, when you’re in alignment with your vision, your mission and your purpose, you’re attracting the relationships that are in alignment with that, and those that are not in alignment with that are falling away,” Goddess said.
That said, nobody knows you like your lifelong buddies. Here are tips to balance new and old friendships:
Be honest about what’s important to you now. “It’s not about wanting those old friends to be where you are or insisting, ‘I really need you to read this book by Marianne Williamson because I can’t be your friend if you can’t speak my language,’” Jenks said. “But if they want you to be your old self, you can say, ‘I’m operating differently now and this is the way I’m currently doing things. I love you and want to spend time with you but this is just the way it is for me.’ They may fight it or they may join you, but they can make that choice when you are honest with them.”
Let go of guilt. “The reason why people may feel guilty when they make time for one person and not another is because they think they can only care for one,” Lombardo said. “They need to change that ‘all or nothing’ mentality. You can care for all of them.”
Make plans with your old friends, and follow through. Jenks said that every year, she and a group of friends from high school plan one trip together each year; she does the same with her college friends. “Setting one epic weekend a year or one meal a season and having that quality time is really important,” Jenks said. “When you spread it out over time, it’s more likely to actually happen.”
Combine the old and the new. “I’m a huge fan of integration,” Goddess said. “I tend to spa with a lot of the women in my life, especially when it’s hard to get together. We meet at the spa so you can tackle your health and well-being and then be together.”
Lombardo agreed. “If you love two people, chances are they will like each other, too,” she said. “When friends become friends, that’s an amazing thing.”
Appreciate what each friend brings to the table. “The beauty of a really old friend is they see the average parts of you,” Jenks said. “They see how you’ve changed, but they can identify the thing that has stayed the same. It’s so nice to have these friends who see your true essence and don’t really care about all the new and shiny things that are going on in your life, which is so humbling and important.
“With the new friends, they are really supportive of what’s happening in your life right now and I feel like they give you fuel to continue to evolve and grow and the super important day-to-day connection that a lot of women need.”
Know when to let go. “We say that in relationships there are reasons, seasons and lifetimes,” said Goddess. “I’m a firm believer of spring cleaning. Sometimes I do it in winter or at the end of the year, but I reflect on my relationships – ‘Who brought me joy this year and who worked my nerves?’ – and that’s part of my taking-stock process.”
Make your friendships – old and new – a priority. “We are social beings, and while we don’t know why people get depressed, one of the theories of depression is social isolation,” Lombardo said. “Friendship is a very powerful thing we can do for our psychological health as well as our physical health and there’s all kinds of research that shows the benefits of friendships – from having a stronger immune system to living longer.”