Women

BFF: Can you stay friends when you want different things? (Part 2)

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I’m now six months away from the big 3-0, and my fortune was told nearly six years ago. But in that time I’ve realised – through beating a crippling addiction to bridal magazines and a broken engagement – that the thing I thought I should prioritise (a relationship) has ended up running a distant second to my own professional and creative fulfilment. That has occasionally put my goals at odds with some of my close friends’ goals, who are still busy looking for “the one”.

It’s easy for people to assume, since they share so many other things, that their friends for a long time and come from similar backgrounds”, says life coach Lisa Phillips. “People often feel hurt when someone they care about ‘moves on’ without them, leaving them feeling left out.”

And adjusting to friends’ new situations can be a whole other reckoning. “Many of my oldest friends now have kids,” says Charlotte, 31, who works in the fashion industry. “It’s not as though it not part of my future; it’s something to look forward to. But the friends who have children don’t seem to understand that. Although I love them and their children, it’s not the stage I am at in my life right now, and every catch-up shouldn’t be at their homes just because they have kids. I guess you kind of give up and just accept that it’s the way it’s going to be with them for the next few years.”

Resentments can fester in these situations. Signing the deed on a stylish, inner-city terrace with your partner may send your share-house-dwelling friend, who is still paying off travel debts, into a green-eyed trance. A well-meaning bulk mail with an adorable photo of your baby could be poison for your mate whose eight-year relationship has just gone down the drain a week before her 35th birthday.

This tendency to subconsciously play yourself off against your friends’ achievements is something Phillips sees in a lot of women. “When situations like this come up, it can leave people questioning their own progress in life,” she says. “They often give themselves a hard time, believing they should be dong something different.”

It’s certainly something I’ve felt as I’ve grown up; youthful enthusiasm can make you feel invincible, as though you’ve got the whole world at your feet. When I began my career as a writer, I was just shy of 20. I’d seen Almost Famous and was convinced my destiny was laid out in front of me like tomorrow’s clothes. And while I’ve shifted my career focus from music to film and television, writing is still the biggest part of my life.

And yet, as the years passed, I would look at friends with “proper jobs” and wonder if I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere. I loved freelancing, but sometimes I’d find myself wondering if I wouldn’t love a bit more job security and stability in my life just as much.

But growing up and heading in different directions doesn’t have to be the death knell of a friendship – the bonds we form in the throes of youth can often weather all manner of difference. “I feel that when things go wrong, my old schoolfriends are the best to be around,” says Mia. “They’ve known me forever and, in that way, watched it all from my side. It’s a security that you don’t find in many places.”

 

 

The more I thought about my friends and my divergent paths through life, the more I started to see it as something beautiful. After all, surely it would be boring if, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers-style, we all locked down a great job, great husbands and nice houses all the time?

Phillips agrees, encouraging me to see difference as a positive thing.

“We are all different and our lives will take different directions. Accept where you are at the moment – that’s OK,” she explains. “Your path may be completely different from other people. But remember, just because other people are doing it, it doesn’t mean you have to.”

That’s something Mahalia, 28, realised when she moved from her country town to Melbourne. “I’ve realised that putting time frames on things is ridiculous,” she says. “You don’t have that much control of the universe. I think that’s a part of growing: not putting the pressure on yourself to have everything done in life by the time you’re 30.”

Indeed, if you have friends who you see as having reached certain life goals before you, and that’s a direction you want to travel in, see it as a chance for mentorship, rather than a competition.

“If a friend is in a situation where you aspire to be, talk to them and find out how they did it,” suggests Phillips. “Learn from their mistakes. Try not to feel jealous or resentful towards them but celebrate their successes and learn from them. Alsom think of all the exciting new situations you may find yourself in with friends in different circumstances.”

The thing is, it’s easy to idealise your friends’ circumstances from a distance – which means you choose to ignore the fact that those marriages, babies, career successes and home ownerships might have also come part and parcel with nightmare in-laws, pregnancy troubles, working long hours or stressful mortgage repayment schedules.

Because of that, it’s possible that they mgith look upon your life with a wistful envy, too. For example, maybe you’re still single, something you see as a fault, but your attached friends might see it as offering a precious freedom to travel and explore new career options.

“I never really feel like I’m not fitting in because I find the beauty in difference,” says Mia, 29. “And if others don’t, they’re probably not worth being around. Often when you’re feeling insecure, it means looking within. I’ve done a bit of that this year. Look within, talk it out: something will come out of it.”

So from here on in, I’m going to relax. Just because some of my friends have reached certain life goals before I have, and vice versa, it doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong: I’m just doing itd differently to them.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I’m not going to chase down Tara the fortune teller for a refund – after all, a lot can happen in six months, right?

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