Discussion of news topics with a point of view, including narratives by individuals regarding their own experiences

Ask Sahaj is a series from The Lily with Sahaj Kaur Kohli, a therapist-in-training and advice columnist. She answers questions about identity, relationships, mental health, work-life balance, family dynamics and more. If you have a question for Kohli, please send her an email.

Dear Sahaj,

I feel like I am coming out of the pandemic as a different person. I feel myself trying to reprioritize what is important to me, and because of all of this, I realize that my friends (most of whom live in different cities and states than me) also feel different.

For one, the pandemic has been really good to me and I feel a lot of guilt around growing and becoming successful over such a terrible time. I know everyone has been having a hard time, yet I have continuously felt unsupported by certain friends who I thought were my best friends. I find myself feeling like I have to hold back what’s going on with me when we talk.

I started a successful business, and I don’t feel like my friends recognize the hard work that it takes to be an entrepreneur, especially as a woman. I don’t feel like my friends are curious about my work or success because it’s not up their alley or they can’t relate.

I don’t think my friends have changed, but I do wonder if my needs are different. I also wonder if I am too sensitive or needy. I have often been told I have high expectations of my friends and I don’t how to lower these, especially as we all come out of a collectively tough time.

I feel like I am overreacting and I fear losing or causing a bigger rift with my friends if I speak up.

— What Do I Do?

Sahaj Kaur Kohli. (Sam Hall Media)
Sahaj Kaur Kohli. (Sam Hall Media)

Life is not the same as it was before, and it makes sense that you are reprioritizing what you want, who you want to invest in and what is important to you. The pandemic has caused a lot of grief and change for everyone to differing extents. It’s okay if you are not feeling like the same person (you are not alone), and it most definitely is okay to embrace this slower transient season of life as you move from one phase of the pandemic to the next.

I am hearing so much internalized guilt and shame in your question, and I want to help you reframe a few things you said: First, your success and growth were not at the expense of your loved ones’ success and growth. Your happiness can coexist with someone else’s grief. Second, you are not needy. You seem to have unmet needs.

Losing touch with people we care about is hard, and we don’t talk about it enough. Friendships can feel especially tricky because we spend so much time learning how to live within family systems, and how to find and be in healthy romantic partnerships. Yet friendships are often an afterthought despite being some of the most healing, important relationships we can have.

It sounds to me like you have been navigating many different levels of change in your life and the pandemic has been compounding the isolation you feel from working on a business and living far from important people in your support system. It sounds like you are developing a better sense of yourself and this has naturally nudged you to contemplate if your friendships can grow alongside you.

Change in friendships is not a sign that the friendship can no longer work, but like all other relationships, a friendship needs nurturance, honesty and effort. When we engage meaningfully and are fulfilled with others, we feel a sense of security. Yet you are feeling a present insecurity within some of your friendships and you are feeling unseen.

I wonder if you feel unheard, too? How much have you been able to communicate with your friends over the last year? How honest have you been? How well have you checked in and made space for them to share where they are, too? I’m hearing that a lot of this change you’ve been experiencing has been behind closed doors, and I wonder if any of these friends have gotten glimpses of it? For all we know, they may not recognize what you are feeling.

As humans, we have a tendency to rate our relationships based on our own security within them, how often we engage, placing these relationships on tiers with their own set of expectations. We expect our loved ones to know what we need or want, especially when there is a shared history. We assume they will know what we are struggling with or going through without our having to explicitly share. However, having these assumptions and relying on mindreading is the antithesis of healthy communication.

Holding your friendships (or any relationships, for that matter) in a tight container based on the past only reinforces assumptions and prohibits the relationship from growing and evolving in ways that are healthy. It’s stifling. Your needs are clearly not being met, and I hear you trying to justify that: “My friends’ lack of curiosity is because they cannot relate. My expectations are a turnoff.”

I recently had to broach a difficult conversation with a best friend because I felt hurt by something similar. I was seriously scared she was going to throw in the towel and declare that she has had enough. I powered through anyway, because I owed it to my relationship with her, and after I did, she acknowledged that she had no idea this was happening and that it was affecting me and our friendship. I was surprised at how well it went, underestimating her love for me while also placing so much pressure on myself to please people and be “easy,” so as to not rock the boat.

I hear this same fear and internalized shame in your question. That if you speak up, ask for more, or say anything that even remotely indicates tension, you will be too much work and lose your relationships. Tension is an indicator that something is off and something needs to change, but it may not be an indicator of the end but rather a new beginning.

Having high expectations of people is not a negative trait. It’s a sign of self-worth, and it can be a protective factor to avoid pain we may have previously felt. After all, we feel most fulfilled when we engage with others in a way that feels authentic to us. I encourage you to reflect on the values that are important to you that don’t currently feel reflected in your friendships (fairness, communication, loyalty, etc.), and to take the steps to model them. Reintroduce yourself and relearn who your friends are after a tough year and a half. See if there’s shared willingness to continue to invest in the relationship.

The fact that these friendships have been categorized as “best” in your question tells me that you have previously experienced love and safety within them. Trust in that. It’s not only okay to take up space in friendships, it’s okay to redefine the type of space you take up by asserting your needs and communicating your feelings. It’s not a bad thing if we have to teach our loved ones how to love us. Give yourself permission to share who you are today, and allow your friends the chance to step up and respond to it.

If they are not kind or willing to grow in this friendship with you, or you continue to feel like you cannot be your authentic self, then that will be a clear sign of where the friendship really stands. But until that happens, you’ll be living in this limbo that is silently pulling you away.

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