Along with vaccines and some beautiful weather, this summer has brought most of us opportunities to step outside of our quarantine bubbles and get reacquainted with some people we haven’t seen in a while—or even meet some new faces. The pandemic is still a very real factor in the ways we navigate public life, and with all the changes we have been through as a society and as individuals, it’s increasingly common to feel a bit lost and disconnected from our old relationships and social rituals. If you’re feeling this, rest assured that you are definitely not the only one!
The good news is that we all have a little more wiggle room to get out and find the people we want in our lives. Fall is coming, and even if you are not part of the back-to-school crowd, there are plenty of meetup groups and recreational activities that ramp up this time of year. It may take a little courage to get outside your comfort zone and meet new people, but now is actually a great time to think about what kinds of social and emotional support you need. Once you’ve done this work, you’ll be more prepared to recognize opportunities for relationship building when they present themselves and open up to let supportive people into your life.
Start with Awareness
The first step is to check in with yourself and get honest about the feelings that come up when you think about your relationships: both existing ones and the idea of creating new ones. Are any of your close friends or family members draining your energy? Who do you love to spend time with, and why? Is there one issue in your life that no one else seems to understand? Is anything holding you back from branching out? It may be easier to begin by nourishing the relationships you already have and filling in the gaps. However, as we will touch on later in this blog, you may determine that some of these relationships need to change. Don’t forget that self-care is a significant part of a strong support system, too!
Once you have a good sense of where you are with your relationships, you can be very intentional about the steps you take to create and maintain a support system that’s fulfilling and respectful of everyone’s boundaries. When we find ourselves feeling pulled in multiple directions, drained by energy vampires or lonely even though we’re surrounded by people, it’s often because we have let those relationships happen to us. It’s easy to do, and it doesn’t always mean that the other people in the situation are being selfish or using you. Communicating about our needs and boundaries is a skill that many of us don’t learn until later in life, and it doesn’t come easily.
There’s another culprit feeding us unhealthy ideas about what our supportive relationships should look like: it’s our favorite movies and TV shows. After a few episodes of any given sitcom, it might seem like friendship is all about finding that person who will listen to you “vent” about whatever is going on in your life. We all need this from time to time, but the reality is that it can’t define our entire relationship with any one person. There’s also a very slim chance that the same individual who “gets” you on a personal level will also want to hear about all of your workplace drama. This is why we need a support system, not a support sidekick. It goes in both directions: if you have become an emotional dumpster for someone in your life, you’ll need to get a bit clearer about your boundaries.
Have the Tough Conversations
Every relationship is a two-way street. We’ve been over some things you need to be mindful of on your side, but before you can make changes and move forward, it’s important to check in and see how the other person is feeling. Instead of diving right in and asking how your mother-in-law (or anyone else) feels about you, it might be easier to start with an observation to open up a dialogue. For example, “I’ve noticed that we always seem to talk about bad news when we get together. What do you think?” Maybe setting boundaries is a challenge for you, or maybe it’s getting vulnerable and letting people get closer to you. It’s fair game to let the other person know that you might need a little grace. If anything, it will likely show them that you care enough to take a chance on enduring a little awkwardness in order to make things right.
You’ve probably heard some variation on the saying that “relationships are all about give and take,” but that’s not as logical or true as it might sound. While it’s important to feel like both people are bringing an equal amount of “work” to the relationship, you can spend plenty of time just coexisting with each other in an affirming way. It might be a little more accurate to say that relationships are all about awareness, respect and communication. Remember, we all need to take care of ourselves first before we can be there for others. If there’s someone in your life that you just can’t say “no” to, it’s probably time to dig a little deeper and find out why.
Once you have pinpointed a couple of support people you need in your life, you can put yourself in the right place at the right time to make those connections. If you’re sticking to virtual meetups, check out Eventbrite and meetup.com to find some groups with similar interests. And if there’s a specific situation in you’re life that you need some extra support with, don’t underestimate the power of support groups! There are groups for everything from grief to gender and sexuality, trauma recovery, eating disorders, relationship struggles and everything in between. It’s a great way to see that you’re truly not alone!
We are gearing up to start our Mindful Mama’s and Create Your Calm teen groups this fall. These are both great places to work on your self-care game while getting to know other people who probably have a few things in common with you! Learn more about both events here and scroll down to sign up for our email list and receive more news about The Centered Life groups directly in your inbox.