Question: I decided to set boundaries and stop spending time with some friends who didn’t reciprocate interest in me and my life. But, now I feel lonely. What should I do? (Irene B.)
Answer: I’m so glad you asked this question, because your situation is a common experience for many women who start setting new boundaries.
First, I want to commend the courage it takes to recognize one-way relationships, set a boundary, and move away from unhealthy friends. You deserve more.
As a result, you are now in a transitional season. You have left behind one kind of friendship and don’t yet know what your new friendships will look like. Transition can feel lonely and uncertain, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad place to be. Instead, this transitional season is an opportunity to learn more about what you need.
It’s an opportunity to get wise about who you bring into your life going forward.
You’ve said “No” to one-way relationships. That’s good. Now it’s time to learn how to say “Yes” to mutually nourishing relationships. And, as my mom used to say to me when I was struggling to make friends, “It only takes ONE to get started.”
Finding and investing in a good friend is a bit like dating. It can feel lonely and vulnerable while you are in the process of searching. You might get to know a lot of people before you find those one or two ladies who connect and show themselves loyal over time. But, if you commit to the process with care and intention, you will find new friendships that satisfy your needs and desires.
Here are four ways to pursue new healthy friendships:
1. Shared Activities
Think about the things you enjoy most: it could be a hobby, such as crafting; or a physical activity, such as jogging. Maybe you enjoy seeing the latest movies or talking about social issues. What are some ways you can pursue those interests in community? You might join a local book club, drawing class or running group. It takes courage to put yourself out there, especially on your own. But, by pursuing the activities you love, you just might find a kindred spirit.
2. Shared Faith
If your faith is important to you, consider a woman whose faith you admire. You might ask that woman to meet with you regularly to pray or read the Bible together. When I first moved to a new city, I met a woman at church whose faith I was drawn to. She was a busy mom who worked in full-time ministry. So, when I raised the possibility of spending time together, she was candid about her limitations: “I would love to pray together regularly with you. I want to be honest, that I don’t have time for much beyond that.” I respected her honesty and said “Yes” to bi-weekly prayer meetings. That friend and I have prayed together twice a month for 7 years. We’ve almost never gone out socially. Yet, we know each other inside and out. Being clear about what you need and about your limitations creates a healthy baseline for developing a new friendship.
3. Shared Family Dynamics
Whether you’re divorced, single, or married, look for support groups that cater to your unique family situation. Then, when you attend the group, prayerfully observe other participants. Get curious; don’t rush in. Notice the kind of women who stand out to you, ones who say things that resonate. Consider asking someone to coffee to get to know them a little bit. If it goes well, try it again.
4. Shared Vocation
Notice work colleagues whom you admire. Maybe you respect the way they lead or appreciate their work ethic. Don’t underestimate the value of such friendships, even if they don’t move outside of work. You might ask this person to meet for lunch weekly to encourage each other in your professional interests.
As you get to know potential friends, remember that trust is built over time. Proceed cautiously and beware of the following “red flags”:
- Does the person only talk about herself? Or, does she seem interested in you and your life?
- Are you able to laugh together and give each other grace? Or, does she seem critical or demanding?
- Does this person reach out to you? Or, are you the only one initiating? (You’ve already learned this lesson the hard way, so don’t be fooled twice!)
- Do you have shared interests, such as work, parenting, or hobbies that don’t center on gossip about other people or constant complaining?
No one friend will ever meet ALL your needs. You might find a friend with whom you love walking and another friend with whom you love praying. The important thing is that in each of these friendships, conversation is reciprocal and centered on encouraging each other to grow toward health and wholeness together.
Finally, if you’re in a transition and feel lonely, avoid trying to please the “in-crowd” just to get invited to the “popular” parties. Please hear me say: It’s better to take steps toward developing one or two meaningful, mutually nourishing relationships. You will be surprised how life-changing just one good friend can be…and how one healthy relationship can lead to more.
Join the conversation. Leave a comment below:
Have you wrestled with loneliness when setting boundaries with bad friends or one-way relationships? How did you find new friends you could trust?
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