I want to free you from a popular misconception about how friendship is supposed to look. If we follow the hints we receive from social media and popular female authors, we should constantly be on the lookout for our “tribe,” a group of 3-9 other women who all effortlessly adore each other. Your tribe can be found through a sorority, a church small group, your workplace, a supper club or a group of girls you introduce to one another who instantly click. What’s even more amazing—all of our spouses will automatically fall in line and also be best friends!
I don’t know about you, but I'm 30 years old, I’ve never experienced this and I'm tired of looking for it. I’m not saying this kind of group doesn’t exist. Maybe it does, and I’m genuinely happy for people who can experience wonderful relationships among a group of women without battling jealousy, gossip and insecurity.
But honestly? What I’m really getting at is not all of us are built for this kind of friendship. Some of us cannot handle the stress of the group dynamic, and that’s OK. I can say with complete certainty that “finding your tribe” is not required to have rich, fulfilling friendships.
Believe me—I have tried. Since elementary school. I know some of you can relate. Were you always the girl on the outer orbit of all the groups? Tolerated, but not fully embraced? Never fully rejected, but never invited to the sleepovers? Even as an adult, feeling like you’re not part of “the pretty girls” group within your friend group (oh my God, yes this really exists, doesn’t it? I know I’m not the only one because I’ve had people describe this feeling to me! 🤪)
To be part of a group like this, some assimilation is required. People thrive on sharing similarities with others—that’s totally normal. But for those of us who (for whatever dang reason) march to the beat of our own drum, it’s excruciating to forfeit our individuality or our opinions for the sake of the group. In addition, the lack of inclusivity in friend groups has always made me uncomfortable. I’m generally always scanning the room, looking for the person who feels left out. And for better or worse, close friend groups usually thrive on exclusivity.
I want to tell you today it’s OK to stop trying to find your tribe. 🙀
Instead, find one friend. If you’re like me and need more than one friend at a time, find another friend. They don’t need to know each other. You don’t have to have a girls’ night so all your favorite people can meet. I did this once, wanting two close friends to meet each other. The night was so incredibly awkward—they did not connect, and I was anxious the entire evening. What if I had allowed those friendships to remain separate instead of trying to manufacture a tribe?
“So how do I find that one friend?” Part of the allure of meeting people within a group setting is how easy it is! It’s all set up for you. I think that might be part of the problem. It's super easy on the front end, but gets complicated when everyone isn't miraculously on the same page. In groups, when someone doesn’t fit, it's nearly impossible to be direct in "breaking up" or to let the friendship fade out naturally. Instead, that poor girl just keeps getting left out over and over until she realizes, “Oh! These people don’t like me!”
Deep, lasting friendships, much like dating relationships, eventually lead to some form of a Define The Relationship conversation. That sounds strange and terrifying, but stay with me.
I never experienced this magical friendship definition conversation until I met my friend Lydia two years ago. I saw her with her husband and baby at a park and realized by the way they were dressed they were not from the area—where we lived at the time was an incredibly homogenous place. I walked up to them, introduced myself and asked if they were new to town. They had moved earlier that day from another state (nailed it!). I got Lydia’s phone number and texted her some recommendations of things I loved around the city (turns out, I've been into giving unsolicited recommendations to people for a long time—see "Helpful Happies" 😆). We began communicating via text regularly, grabbed coffee, had them over for dinner and vice-versa. My husband and I connected with Lydia and her husband, but I honestly thought they were too cool to truly want to be close with us. They were great at making friends and seemed to be surrounded by the most interesting people. They didn’t need us, I told myself.
One evening, Lydia and I were on a walk and she point blank asked me if we wanted to be friends with them. “Sometimes it feels like we always ask you to hang out. We really like you and we want to be your friends, but only if you want to be our friends.” I was shocked. I explained I didn’t want to be overbearing or creepy and was trying not to ask them to hang out too much. We had a long conversation and defined the relationship. I never felt self-conscious around Lydia again. A few months later, we were texting and she told me “You are my best friend. I’m so grateful for you.” It was so refreshing not to have to guess how my friend felt about me. The friendship felt solid, concrete and incredibly real. I’m confident we’ll still know and love each other when we’re 95.
To get there, we HAD to have that conversation. (Full disclosure: I’m still terrified to initiate a DTR conversation like that, but I can see the value in it and I’m hoping I can be brave like Lydia the next time I’m unsure about how a friend feels about me!)
I’ve taken the "one friend at a time" mentality with me as we recently moved to a new city. I met a woman at my daughter’s school a few weeks ago, and I ran into her again at a church we’re visiting. I could tell just by limited interactions that she was my kind of person, and our kids are the same age! After I saw her a few more times, I said, “Hey, I like you and I think we should hang out. I just moved here, and I need a friend. Can I have your number?” Now, we’re friends and hang out all the time! The end.
The moral of these stories: be direct in your friendships. Be intentional. Be vulnerable. Tell people how you feel about them and what you need from them. If they don’t feel the same way, move on and find a new friend—how freeing to know you won’t be strung along for years, unsure of the status of your relationship.
You don’t need a “tribe” to have meaningful friendships, sister. Quality truly trumps quantity here. You’re worthy of having friends who adore you for who you are, flaws included. You should not have to guess how people really feel about you or feel insecure about being left out. You deserve friendships with depth, loyalty, commitment and longevity. Give that gift to yourself—and to your friends.