How to Reset Close Friendships

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Whether a relationship is solid or already changing, many of us have found that our social circles, like just about every other aspect of our lives, have been altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What came to the fore was, ‘Which of my relationships was superficial?'” notes Brittainy Noel, licensed therapist and trusted coach. “Often when we go out for brunch or shopping with people in our lives, we can enjoy the experience even though we don’t have communications that increase intimacy. But when life gets tough , as has been the case during the pandemic, only certain types of friendships are capable of sustaining a true connection – and it is these friendships that require us to share a deeper level of vulnerability, of transparency.

During the shutdowns, dating has dropped dramatically, as has basic communication – and relationships that were more challenged by social distancing mandates are now left in a state of flux. But friendships in transition are always beneficial, says Sybil Amuti, co-founder of The Great Girlfriends podcast. You just have to change your expectations. “It lightens the load on each of us when we start taking the value of what’s out there and leveraging it, instead of thinking that everyone has to be everything at all times,” she explains. “It takes away any pressure we’ve put on our friends.”

Think of the new year as a new beginning, one that offers the opportunity to press the reset button on our friendships, whether we hope to fix them, create boundaries within them, or leave them altogether. ESSENCE spoke with experts and women like you to determine how to take the next steps.

Make amends

New Yorker Andrea Fernandes and her best friend, from -Charlotte, North Carolina, have a bond that has survived everything from their college days to a long distance apart. Then COVID-19 arrived. -Fernandes wanted to talk to her best friend about everything they were going through, but her friend wasn’t giving her that energy back. Fernandes often reached out to try and keep the connection going, but the favor was not reciprocated.

“I talked to him about it, but I feel like nothing has really changed,” she says. “It can be exhausting when you feel like you’re spilling out but you’re not being reinjected by people close to you. I was like, ‘I’m done with this. That’s not how you are. ‘a best friend behaves.’” Still, despite his frustration, Fernandes didn’t really want the relationship to end.

When you’re dealing with lulls in a friendship, it’s important to get out of yourself. “Try to consider and understand that your friend’s world is bigger than you,” Amuti says. “You are a very important piece, but a fractional piece. I think it’s so important for us as friends to be able to say to each other, “How is this pandemic affecting you?” Or, “How has this pandemic changed the way you view friendships?”

From there, honesty is needed to get to a place of understanding. When Fernandes and her best friend finally spoke, Fernandes discovered that her friend was battling depression. Their long history of openness and vulnerability has helped them move forward. “We just had to sit down and talk and figure out what was going on,” she says. “We’re both going to go through a lot of challenges, and we’re going to change, and we’re going to have times when we just need a hint on how to support each other. All it takes is a little communication.

Accept change

As you enter the new season and try to salvage some friendships or distance yourself from others, be generous when discussing what both parties need. “One of the biggest questions you can ask and get asked is, ‘How can I support you?'” Amuti says. “And I think the best thing we can offer all of our relationships is the vulnerability and the assurance that we all need each other.”

Noel advises us not to throw anyone away. Instead, prioritize people you can go further with. “Ask yourself, is this someone I still feel connected to? Can I talk to this person about my vision, my hopes, my dreams and come out of this interaction feeling motivated, seen and heard When you learn to value connection over companionship, you naturally gravitate towards people who want to see you do well,” she says. the purpose of your relationship is so much greater.”

Choose an exit

Deyzire Christopher, a model, was living and working in New York when the pandemic lockdown began. Suddenly, she found herself out of work. She returned to her hometown of Atlanta in search of emotional support, including her closest friend. Instead, she received judgment – on the way she dressed, how she spoke, even the handbags she carried. “I was already stressed and drinking a lot,” she says. “And I felt like I had to meet someone else’s needs and standards – who you thought was your friend and there to lift you up.”

She did her best to defend herself, but her depression became a point of contention. “My friend wouldn’t ask me out on a date anymore,” Christopher recalls. “She let me know, ‘You’re embarrassing me. For Christopher, the relationship began to take a toll on her mental health and she often felt attacked.

When you choose to leave an unhealthy friendship, Amuti says, the withdrawal doesn’t have to be ugly. “You can never control anyone else, but you can control how you move forward,” she advises. “You can control your ability to bless someone. You can control your ability to extend love and light when you see the person. And you control your actions towards this person who is advancing. Christopher has since returned to New York and is mentally in a better place. She is now back at work and has chosen to peacefully leave this toxic relationship behind.

Create boundaries

“We’ve always had a non-judgmental relationship,” 9-1-1 dispatcher Samantha Hawkins of Powder Springs, Georgia says of her relationship with her best friend. “That’s why we connected so well.” As a black woman and white man in a platonic friendship, they managed to converse often and productively on burning political issues. This remained true until his COVID fatigue changed everything. “Initially, we were both on the same page that this was a real problem,” Hawkins recalled. “As a firefighter, he saw the cases up close and I took the calls. But around September 2020, he started to get tired of it.

While her good friend has grown more lax with COVID-19 safety precautions and skeptical of vaccines, Hawkins has remained vigilant about protecting herself and those close to her. When he invited her to his wedding, she felt that security measures would not be a priority and she did not attend. From there, she set new boundaries within their friendship, choosing not to meet in person again.

Noel points out that it’s possible to continue a friendship while setting up new expectations. The key is to be honest and stand firm. “We have to take ownership of our boundaries, without becoming uncertain or afraid of how the other person is going to receive it,” she says. Although months have passed since Hawkins and her pal were in each other’s presence, they still communicate through texts and phone calls. Recently, he started to think about getting vaccinated, but for now, they remain long-distance friends. “We know our friendship is strong enough that we can always reach out to each other,” Hawkins says. “While I’m not going to talk to him about some issues, because I know where he’s at, I won’t completely cut him off, as I still appreciate our five years of friendship and the memories we’ve made.”

Make the most of your connections

Experts say it’s important to compartmentalize friendships, rather than sever them when they change. Here are tips on how to have healthier, happier relationships with close, less close, and for now friends.

Hold people loose
“Give people the grace to come into your life at this time and respond to whatever you both might need at this time, knowing that this time may come to an end,” explains the registered therapist Brittainy Noel. “And when it ends, stay open to graciously allow this moment to evolve into what it needs to be.”

Appreciate what your friend brings
“If you both love fashion, then go to the fashion show together,” says Sybil Amuti, host of The Great Girlfriends podcast. “If you both like business, then talk about entrepreneurship. Find the points of intersection and build from there.

When things change, communicate
“Allow people to grow in the ebb and flow of life — and understand that this can be a season of closeness in your connection, and it can be a season of distance,” Noel says. “By keeping the lines of communication open, you’ll be better able to navigate these seasons.”

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of ESSENCE magazine, available on digital newsstands.

TOPICS: friendship

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