As humans, we are defined by the individual experiences in our lives – we differ from each other and become who we are because of them. Despite how much our experiences vary, there are things that all of us will inevitably experience in our lives as we change and grow. One of these is the loss of a friendship, which can happen at any point in our lives. Depending on the situation, it can leave us feeling pain and loss to varying degrees. Although this experience is largely negative, it can also lead to tremendous growth and has the power to redefine our life in various ways.
In September 2017, I began my year abroad in Amsterdam – a year which redefined my life, shifted my friendships, and forced me to grow in ways that I never thought possible. During my time abroad, I went through life-altering experiences, some of which tested the friendships in my life. Over the course of the year, it became abundantly clear that there were numerous close friends in my life who were not a good match for me, who I could not depend on, and who lacked qualities that I consider important in a friendship. I chose to distance myself from them, but losing so many people I considered close at once was extremely painful.
After returning from my time abroad, I was forced to be alone in an environment in which I previously had many people to talk to and spend time with. Initially, this experience was negative for me, and it saddened me to feel so alone. But this time alone also gave me an opportunity to think, feel, and analyze what was going on inside me, and how I was going to be forced to redefine myself and my idea of friendship as a result.
I ultimately realized that the blossoming and shrivelling of friendships is as natural as the sunrise and sundown that determine the beginning and end of each day. These experiences occur to all of us, and we often take the wrong approach when dealing with our pain. We blame others, we blame ourselves, we allow the loss of a friendship to define us, and we forget the most important part of any experience; we forget to grow.
We live and we learn. Let me tell you why I now believe that losing friends can actually be a very positive thing:
You have a chance to redefine your idea of friendship
Losing friends means you are given an opportunity to think about what’s important for you in a friendship. Whatever caused your friendship to go south in the first place is likely something you wish to avoid in the future. Did you fail to keep in touch? Did a friend lie to you? Did you feel abandoned in a time of need? All of these issues have solutions. You can change your own behaviour and you can also keep in mind which qualities are important for you when forming future friendships. If dependability is important for you in a friendship, don’t form relationships with people who are not dependable. Continuing a relationship with this person would be unfair if you expect them to change for you, and would inevitably lead to disappointment. Start by being real with yourself and being careful with who you allow deep into your life. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting someone to behave differently for you. Accept others as they are, be true to who you are, and be confident in your idea of friendship. Reserve your heart for people who deserve it.
There is time to step back and analyze yourself
Remember that it takes two to tango, and it is easy to blame others when things go wrong. But sometimes we are also to blame, and our self-serving bias often affects our perception, meaning we see our strengths clearly while making it difficult to admit our faults and flaws. After losing a friend, I suggest taking a step back and giving yourself time to analyze the situation. Take an honest look at yourself and see if you can find points of growth that will help you become a better friend, and more importantly, a better version of yourself. As a personal example; after my experience, I realized that I was not as dependable as I expected others to be, and I was awful at keeping in touch while I was away. Once I accepted that these were qualities that I wanted to improve on, it was easier to prioritize and incorporate my growth into my daily life. Find what isn’t working for you currently and see how you can set a small goal to work toward in order to become a better friend. What you give, you will receive.
Feeling alone is an opportunity for growth
Feeling alone can be quite discouraging. Losing friends can affect your self-perception, and you may find yourself defining who you are through your experience. You may see yourself as a bad friend, a loser, or you may even feel that no one likes you. I believe that people are often left feeling alone because they are not surrounding themselves with the right people. In truth, you will feel like you belong when you are at ease with who you are, when you are living authentically, and when you present your true self to the world. Doing this will inevitably draw you to people who are similar to you and who will like what you have to offer. If you don’t take the time to grow, you may continue a pattern of creating friendships out of fear of being alone, and you will continue facing painful situations. Get comfortable being alone with yourself, take the time to figure out who you want to be, live as you truly are, and the rest will fall into place effortlessly. When I feel alone, I remind myself that there are 7.6 billion people in the world. You may be alone right now, but somewhere, somehow, life will inevitably connect you to others who are looking for a friend just like you.
You can reinvest your energy into other relationships
It’s easy to neglect other relationships when you get sucked in by the drama of losing a friend. Feeling sad and disoriented is normal, but don’t allow it to take over your life. Remember that you now have energy to spend on the healthy friendships in your life, or on creating new ones. Use your energy wisely, invest it in the people who matter most to you, and continue nourishing your other relationships. I personally found that losing one group of friends meant that I was no longer spreading myself too thin – I now had extra energy and love to give to people in my life who give me endless love and support. In my initial pain and confusion, I alienated these friends too because I was spending my energy on feeling alone and sorry for myself. But I bounced back – I chose to call my friends more often, to ask them about their lives in more detail, and to be vulnerable with them. I expressed love and gratefulness and verbalized how blessed I felt to have them in my life. This made our friendship stronger and has been truly therapeutic in my process. I’ve never felt closer to my true friends. But I had to consciously allow myself to get to that point, and I had to be open and vulnerable at a time when I was most scared to do so. The love and friendship that has resulted is priceless.
In truth, losing a friend is not always a loss
Yes, losing a friend is extremely painful and yes, it’s fair to grieve. But once that phase is over and you have a chance to step back, ask yourself honestly: is this truly a loss? Is it possible that you’re better off without this person in your life? Is it possible that they’re better off without you in theirs? Can something good come out of this experience? Although the experience itself may be painful, it can also be rewarding, and you are ultimately gaining something as well. Allow yourself to grow, to become who you want to be, to lead by example and be a positive friend to the people in your life. Life will go on, friends will continue to come and go, and your life and perception will change. This is all a part of the process, and how you choose to view it will define how you experience the results.
I have found that losing friends has allowed me to focus on my relationships with my best friends, which have flourished. I chose to be true to myself, I have learned to forgive and forget, and I have learned a lot about myself. Not all friendships are meant to last for life. I realize now that I come out stronger when I look back at lost friendships positively. Life is good, friendships are good, and love can illuminate us when we let it in. Perhaps this would be less obvious if I hadn’t lost some friends along the way. Perhaps some friendships are temporary. Perhaps, after all, losing friends can be a good thing.