On friendship, and why it’s okay to walk away

As a true introvert, making friends is and always has been hard for me.

From an early age, I have dealt with what I now know is social anxiety, but for many years I figured was just my own awkwardness.

The first time I can remember noticing this feeling was around age 9. That year, my family moved from Tennessee to Pennsylvania. I was excited for a new adventure, but as any 9 year old would be, sad to leave my friends behind — some of the first friends I had ever made.

I remember walking into my new classroom on the first day of fourth grade, and being incredibly overwhelmed. Everyone already seemed to have their own friend groups defined, and I was the odd one out.

Looking back, however, I crave the same innocence and naivety of that 9 year old girl. She, while awkward as can be, soon enough befriended a few friends and began to acclimate.

As I got older, I would develop a very close-knit, core group of friends. I’d teeter on the edge of the bigger social circles, with enough acquaintances to seem a part of the “popular groups”, but deep down I knew I never fully fit in. I was always most comfortable in an intimate setting with my closest confidants.

It was an inner battle I’d fight for the greater part of my coming of age years. The need to have deep, meaningful friendships, while also craving a sense of belonging; developing this facade that gave off the perception that I was one of “them” — one of the cool kids.

This would follow me into my college years. Similar to that 9 year old girl, only twice her age, I found myself in a new place, surrounded by a ton of strangers. Leaving my best friends from home, the ones that had become like sisters to me, was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. How could I find friendships like those again? They were too special to recreate.

I spent my first year of college longing for the connections I left behind in Pennsylvania. My high school friends and I still talked all the time, but it’s not the same as having them beside you. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t tried to recreate those friendships, but instead opened myself up to new kinds of friendships.

My second year of college, I joined a sorority. I thought that would be my shoe-in to finding friends. It would solve all my problems: I would meet a few close friends, and also belong to a larger, exclusive group on campus.

At first, I was right. I felt as though I finally found a group of people that were similar to me and understood me. I connected instantly with many people and felt a sense of belonging.

But that didn’t last. A year or so after joining the sorority, the friendships I had made began to fade. The “best friends” I thought would stay with me well past my college years began to turn on each other, resulting in a ton of drama. I was confused — I thought these were my “people.” Where did I go wrong?

Now here I am, 25 years old, navigating my professional life and the “real world”, but my idea of friendship is still being challenged. I’ve tried to make sense for a long time the trajectories of my friendships over the years. And I think it boils down to this: you can’t build true friendships if you are not honoring your truest self.

For a long time I tried to build the friendships I thought I wanted, without taking the time to think about what type of friendships would be best for me. And as I watched those friendships fall apart, I couldn’t help but feel guilty, wondering where I went wrong or what caused me to feel the need to push these people away.

In the last couple of years, I’ve learned so much about who I am. I’ve also learned who I’m not. This has helped me to recognize the kinds of people I want in my life. People that bring me joy, replenish my energy, help me along my journey toward being my best self. And I’ve been able to identify the people that take more energy than they give, leaving me feeling less than I am.

Reevaluating the people you have in your life is a really hard thing to do. It forces you to look at people you love and question why they are there. It makes you look deep into yourself, at all of your flaws, to understand who you are and what you need.

But if I have learned anything, it’s that having friends for the sole sake of having friends will never bring you the true happiness and companionship you are seeking.

Once I made that realization, it was much easier for me to understand why making, and keeping, certain friends was so difficult. Sure, my social anxieties and general awkwardness played a role, but it was in seeking friends for the wrong reasons that I found the true root of the problem.

This realization finally made me see that it is okay to move on from friendships that no longer serve you. We get older, we evolve, we grow — and not all relationships grow with us. But we should not feel guilty for moving on or bringing new people into our lives to fill the role that an old friend once filled. People are in our lives for very specific reasons, but not everyone is meant to stay forever.

As this post has sat in my drafts over the last few weeks, while I’ve been contemplating what exactly I’m trying to say and also a bit nervous to share these intimate details of my life, my friend May posted on her blog about a very similar experience. She wrote:

“But that’s what growing up is all about. Realizing that people come into your life for a reason. Understanding that when things don’t work out, it’s most likely for the best. Learning from every experience and modifying your behavior in the future.”

She summed up what I have been feeling, and we discussed how we shouldn’t feel guilty for choosing the friendships that truly make us happy, and letting go of those that do not. Life can be hard. But we often make it harder by putting so much pressure on ourselves to keep a big circle of friends around — even if those people, the ones that are supposed to be lifting us up, have begun to wear us down.

At the end of the day, the choice of who we surround ourselves with is 100% ours. Sometimes we just need to make space for the right people to walk into our lives, and that can mean letting go of someone who once meant a whole lot to us. But there should be no shame in growth, and recognizing that with growth comes changes in who we choose to spend our time with.

We are beings with a finite amount of energy to give; we have to prioritize who we exert that energy on, balancing our output of energy with receiving the energy of those who will fill us back up. The balance will never be perfect, but we must not be afraid to claim the power to curate a circle of friends that grows as we grow, changes as we change, and fuels us as we continue on this journey of life.

I’m linking below a few articles that inspired this post, and have given me some clarity into what friendship means and specifically how to handle female adult friendships. I’d love to hear any of your experiences, and please feel free to share any resources you may have on this topic!


Boundaries are the key to lasting friendships

Wit and Whimsy: On Friendship

I was ghosted by a best female friend and it’s a terrible kind of heartbreak

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