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Friendships and me

I’ve recently recognized a cycle in my life regarding friendship: inward focus, outward focus, inward focus, outward focus.

Allow me to explain.

When I was little, I was wholeheartedly who I was, and I didn’t worry about what other people thought of me. I had friends and loved life.

Then, around third grade, I became fully aware of who my friends were and I tried really hard to fit in with the people I wanted to be friends with (ignoring the people who enjoyed being with me already).

I changed myself, and became aware of how my actions affected others and how to get people to like me. I focused on how to be a “good friend” (whatever that means).

In 11th grade, I transferred high schools and saw it as an opportunity to change who I was--again--but this time, be unapologetically who I thought I was.

I was loud, boisterous, cliquey, and kind of full-of-myself. I wasn’t always kind. There are definitely people who I treated poorly (though I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time). I sucked up to teachers and the dorm moms, followed rules (for the most part), and was, admittedly, somewhat emotionally abusive towards my boyfriend (by the way, deprecating humor, whether of self or of others, is NOT funny and can cause emotional harm).

College came around and I started to balance out. I was much more quiet and observant than I had been, but I was still determined to be myself. This was easy to do at my first college, an extraordinarily progressive place where everyone did whatever they wanted and didn’t care what other people thought about them. But this was tougher at my second college, because I didn’t feel like I belonged there--I felt like a bit of an intruder and didn’t feel true to myself.

I started caring more about what people thought about me and what their judgments might be.

I graduated from college with painful feelings of inadequacy and friendlessness (which seems ridiculous now but was very real at the time). I shut down and started being very picky about letting friends in. I formed my own definition of what it means to be a “good friend,” focusing on how other people could be good friends to me.

The other day, I realized that I’ve been so focused on how others are treating me, I’ve forgotten to pay attention to how I’m treating my friends (especially my close friends). The core issue, I believe, is that instead of being grateful for and celebrating the relationships I have in my life, I’ve been focusing on the relationships I’m lacking in my life. I’ve been a terrible friend to some of my closest pals; I've been self-absorbed, selfish, and inwardly focused. Yes, I’ve also been a good friend at times, but overall, I haven’t appreciated my closest friends as much as I would have liked. I haven’t shown my appreciation. I haven’t asked them how to be a good friend to them.

(I will admit, I tend to be overly-critical of myself and haven’t polled those closest to me to see what they’d say. Maybe they don’t see me as being as bad of a friend as I think I’ve been? But still--I know I could do better.)

As the years have passed since college, I’ve continuously worked on finding balance and being myself while still being aware of how my actions affect others. But I have also worked to understand that people bring their own experiences, opinions, and feelings into each situation, and that I don’t have control over how someone might act. I try to always be thoughtful about what I’m saying and how I’m saying it.

I’ll be honest, though; it’s exhausting. I realized recently that I’m still trying really hard to be who I think the people around me need me to be and that I walk on eggshells, not always being true to who I am out of fear of offending people, or hurting them, or being hated. I’m less balanced than I thought I am and need to restart my search for balance.

To the people in my life who have put in the effort to get to know me and have stuck around through the bad times, thank you. I love you. I cherish and am working to truly value you (instead of just saying or thinking that I do). I’m working now to be better because many problems in my life would be unsolved without you, many tears would not have been wiped, many deep discussions would not have happened, and everything I’ve faced in life would’ve been a little bit harder to handle.

And so, I embark today on yet another journey of self-actualization, working to eliminate the fear of being myself, working to be less caught up in the world of Karlin (aka my thoughts, feelings, and--most significantly--moods), and be the person I love to be around so that those around me love to be around that, too.

On Twitter, Hannah Camet (@hmcamet) shared a quote from her psychology professor. Her professor said, “You fall in love with the people who make you love the person you are when you’re around them.” I love this idea and want to add my thoughts: love who you are; love who you’re around. And if you don’t love who you’re around (or who you are around the people you spend time with), change your situation and make new friends, instead of trying to force those around you to change. It’s not fair to them, and, frankly, it’s not worth your time. The only person you truly can change is you.