One day in mid-June before school was out for summer, I took the afternoon off from work and went to the community pool with my daughter, Poppy.
The pool is less than a block from our house, just down the slightly graded hill on the other side of the grassy park and basketball court that we overlook from our perch just up the hill. Although the pool was close to home, a perk of living in our HOA neighborhood, I rarely went. I seemed to always have other things I’d rather do, but on this day, the seasonal delight of the pool in summer felt like a great idea.
I had been managing my nerves over the past two weeks, anticipating an upcoming trip to France that would take me away from home just as the kids were finishing their fifth and seventh-grade school years. I wanted to be home for them, to witness their joy as they entered the season of shave ice and floating the river with their friends, but I’d made a plan to take a trip away from the family and work, a respite from my responsibilities that I felt I needed and had earned.
My emotions were a churning cyclone leaving me feeling high and low within quick intervals, but I knew I couldn’t miss my trip. Mindful to make the most of the few days I had left at home, I filled the creeping resistance to my departure with quality time with each child. This day was for me and Poppy.
The pool was busy but plenty of lawn chairs remained open. Within seconds of arriving, we dropped our bags on two lawn chairs. I unpacked and shimmied out of my shorts, and I noticed Poppy’s head and shoulders turn toward the pool where the four girls her age giggled and splashed about. I recognized two of them as her friends but had never seen the other two. Her movements slowed as she appeared to be deciding what to do next as she kicked her Birkenstocks off onto the grass. The adolescent social radar scan is sensitive at 13 years old.
The fear of being excluded by a group is an experience that seems to come with adolescence as a means of transition into this dark, unknown wood. It’s likely we all know something about it. I remember in fourth grade playing hide and seek with my friends, who began the game by naming me it. My three friends (I had lower standards then) left me to count with my eyes closed as they ran away, never to come back. I was ditched and it stung. I felt exposed, vulnerable, and embarassed. Now I watched my daughter and wondered if she left the same.
I wondered, was she fretting about what to do next, seeing her good friend, Annie (an alias) among the group of four? Did she feel scared, left out, hurt? I was looking for the signs, feeling protective of my daughter knowing all too well how it feels to be left out. Why didn't they call Poppy to invite her, I wondered.
Whether we are 13 or 43, you never outgrow the desire to belong---it is a primordial yearning to be connected, protected, and nourished by a collective whether that be a friend, your family, a group, or a wider community.
As much as we yearn to belong to others, participating in relationships that inspire, empower, and support us to be our bold, outspoken selves, our friendships (especially our earliest ones) allow us greater access to understanding ourselves. We learn who we admire, who makes us laugh and why, when we feel vulnerable, and what choices fill us with joy and pleasure as we dance in the ocean rhythms of our evolving relationships.
Wisdom from experience has offered me the perspective to appreciate that my friendships have helped me know the boundaries of my self-awareness. By learning to name what I feel, what I hope for and desire, as well as the limits of what I can offer, I have learned the value of being honest with myself and others, as a means to honor who I am (and who I am not), acknowledging what I stand for (and what I do not) as I make choices for myself and my part of the relationships in which I'm invested.
Moments later when I looked up over my toes, I watched Poppy standing at the edge of the pool in her bathing suit. Her shoulders curled forward toward them as she spoke to the four wet heads bobbing like apples on the turquoise surface. Pressing her arms along the sides of her legs, she took a deep breath and then jumped in feet first. She was in there for only a few minutes before all but one of the group of four girls left the pool, leaving Poppy and Annie to talk alone. I would learn later that Annie stayed only long enough to tell her, apologetically, that she was leaving and going with her other friends.
Is that wrong? No, but I admit, hated watching my 13-year-old face rejection as she stood in the middle of the pool alone.
Deciding not to linger alone for long, Poppy returned to me with quick steps, grabbing the towel off her lawn chair with a kind of urgency that caused me a flash of concern for what transpired in the pool that I couldn’t hear.
I glanced over to the four girls who gathered in a center huddle making a kind of lawn chair flower arrangement, their backs to the world as they whispered, bending over phones, each on occasion lifting their head to straighten their hunched backs as if coming up for air and a bit of perspective.
I turned to take in my daughter's figure as she lay next to me staring into the sky through white-framed sunglasses. She looked elegant, like a young Audrey Hepburn. I knew the shades helped her hide her emotions. I guessed she was managing a rising tide of emotion, and I said we can go if she wants, but she chose to stay. We lay side by side in silence as I read my book and she closed her eyes from the world. She was a young woman now at thirteen. Her body was maturing, but her heart remained young.
She and the girls her age were learning to navigate the labyrinth of friendships at an age where they were still too young to appreciate or anticipate the impact of their actions. Each seemed to fall in and out of circumstances that helped them grow by testing their courage to reveal their true nature and heart while discovering their own boundaries and tolerance for the behaviors of others.
I sat there observing the group of girls with my daughter sitting beside me ten feet away considering what lessons this episode will hold for her in time.
The transition into adolescence is when we begin to integrate our earliest insights about friendship, and through the lessons of our friendships, we glean powerful insights about ourselves.
As we cross the threshold into adulthood at 12 and 13 years old, we eagerly embrace our independence, while still learning to listen to our inner voice for the first time, no longer looking to Mom and Dad to direct our thinking or actions. It's the time in our lives that we unfurl our courage to embrace what makes us unique by learning how to trust our gut to make choices based on what we hold to be important, good, and true for ourselves. It is here that we enter a age of becoming that lasts our entire lives.
Over the days as we talked through the feelings that surfaced, I reflected on my own experience of rejection and abandonment on the playground at 8 years old. I wanted so badly to protect her from the hurt that comes with caring for others when the feelings are no longer mutual, but I knew that this experience would afford her a powerful perspective of insight in time, and that was more valuable than staying safe from exposure altogether.
I yearned for her to live in a world where her friends stayed kind, loving, and true to her. But that wasn’t the real world. Above all I wanted her to know, as I know now, that she has the strength to rebound from her setbacks, that she deserves respect and love, and that she gets to co-create and enjoy friendships that give her life sense of richness and joy that she cannot have alone.
Sometimes it’s in the fracturing of our friendships, when we feel most vulnerable, that we find the inner strength to discover who we truly are at the core and learn to trust that we are enough just as we are.
As we grow and heal, we strengthen our self-awareness and our resolve. Soon we find ourselves steeped in the joy of deeply resonant friendships that we recognize and appreciate immediately as if seeing ourselves in a mirror. It is the love of our friends that bring us to our zenith where we feel overjoyed just to be alive.
So let's zoom out a bit and look at the topic of friendship by asking a few questions designed to give you pause to consider what is true for you.
What have we learned about what friendship teaches us about ourselves and each other?
Here are 12 questions to consider and take to your journal for a deeper dive—
What is your story of friendship?
Where did it begin?
What were the early encounters, heartbreaks, thrills, and favorite memories?
How much of that early version of you still exists in the relationships you carried on and built anew as you grew older and wiser?
What are 2-3 key stories that define your understanding of what friendship is to you?
What values are we honoring by being in specific relationships with friends?
How are we showing up in our friendships?
What boundaries have we created to protect ourselves from being hurt, or from hurting others?
Who do we tend to spend our time with?
What is missing in our relationships with friends? How safe do we feel in being vulnerable, honest, open, weird (#weirdbarbie), and wild?
What is your vision for how you want your friendships to evolve and hold space in your life from now into the future?
What do you want more of or less of?
I am inspired to think of the cultures and communities that exist in Blue Zones, these areas of the world that produce the highest number of centenarians. One key factor to the longevity of their population is that friendships continue to thrive and appear as active components of daily life for each person through the decades.
I love imagining myself walking with a friend and stopping for a morning coffee on the beach as we continue our conversation and laugh about the things that used to make us cry.
What would you like to experience in your friendships at 50, 60, 70, 100 years old? What do you offer your friends in your friendships?
I hope this personal narrative and the inquiry questions about friendship have stirred up ideas and inspiration to boost your thinking and engagement in your own friendships. I would love to hear what you think and how you have experienced the shifting landscape of friendships in your own life. Send me an email at Katie@co-elevate.com or connect with me on Instagram at @katie_post_coaching.
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