It’s been months since I wrote a Hey Lyle advice column piece. I’d love to do more of them. So please, write me a letter to ask about a burning question you have by clicking on the big blue button below. It’s totally anonymous. 👇
Okay, let’s get to today’s letter.
Lately, I find myself doubting how good of a friend I am. I’m a fiercely loyal person, and always have been. This quality has served me well as my closest friends to date are a group of amazing women I met in high school. These girlfriends often tell me that my loyalty to our group is the glue that has kept us together for over a decade, and made them more loyal too.
But these days, I feel that their loyalty is shifting, as we prioritize the demands of our new stages in life: partners/marriages, careers, higher education, etc. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt when these girlfriends chose other people/commitments over me, but I try to accept that this is just life/growth.
What I struggle with is when these friends make me feel bad for putting myself/my new priorities first. How is that fair? I feel like because my loyalty has been such a key part of the fabric of our friendship, they expect me to think about them first even when they don’t necessarily do the same.
How do I navigate this shift, that is obviously a natural part of life? I love my girlfriends. They are like sisters to me, but I feel like I’m always filling up their cups and they rarely stop to fill up mine.
Would love your wisdom,
Ever since you wrote to me months ago, I think about your question frequently. Nearly every week, as I sit down to write my next post, I find myself rereading it over and over, trying to figure out how I might write you back. And every week, I decide to write about something else instead.
Your question brings up too many things for me when I reflect on my own friendships. I could be one of the least qualified people to give you advice on this topic. But you know what? I’ve left you hanging for too long, so here goes.
I wonder how many people think of me like their version of you—their very own Loyal Lyle, if you will. When it comes to my romantic relationships over the years, I’ve mostly been fiercely loyal, just as you describe yourself. Yet the majority of my platonic friendships have rarely been very deep. And I can’t help but wonder if it’s my fault. I mean, I’m the common denominator in all these equations, right?
Maybe it’s because I’ve met most of my friends in the workplace. Even the guys in my old band ended up becoming coworkers, in a sense. And just like coworkers, once I left the band, we hardly stayed in touch. I have several friends that go back decades and I know if we hung out again tomorrow it wouldn’t be awkward and we’d be laughing and swapping stories within minutes. The problem is, they all live too far away from me. Or, rather, I moved too far away from them.
It’s not that I don’t have any friends at all. As I wrote in my post Once Upon a Time… On the Internet last year:
Nowadays, I have so many friends. But I also feel like I don’t have any friends at all.
I went on to explain how I’ve met a lot of new friends since writing this newsletter, despite, y’know, the whole pandemic thing. But still, these online friends can’t come over to my house to just sit and talk about life or whatever.
This is my super long-winded way of saying I’m envious of the friendship you have with your girlfriends, LL.
Instead of dishing out some hard-earned wisdom from dealing with a similar situation in my life, I’m going to pick out some sentences you wrote and tell you what I hear you saying and how you can maybe think about them differently. I’m guessing some of them might surprise you.
Right off the bat, you wrote, “Lately, I find myself doubting how good of a friend I am.”
The fact that you’re grappling with this at all speaks volumes about how good of a friend you actually are. Most people can only dream of having friends who care as much as you do.
Later, you said, “But these days, I feel that their loyalty is shifting, as we prioritize the demands of our new stages in life: partners/marriages, careers, higher education, etc.”
I know it feels like their loyal is shifting, but I’d argue that it’s something slightly different. Their priorities have shifted. You even used the word “prioritize” yourself in the second half of the sentence. The huge life events you mention take up a ton of time and mental and emotional energy, it’s no wonder they have less time for your friendship. It hurts and it can feel like they’re doing it to spite you, but it sounds like they’re not those kinds of friends.
In the next paragraph, you wrote, “What I struggle with is when these friends make me feel bad for putting myself/my new priorities first.”
This is them projecting their insecurities onto you. They know they’ve been busy and they likely want to spend time with you just as much as you do with them, so when it doesn’t work out, they might lash out. It's hard to do, but try not to take it personally.
Later in that same paragraph, you said, “I feel like because my loyalty has been such a key part of the fabric of our friendship, they expect me to think about them first even when they don’t necessarily do the same.”
This is absolutely true. These types of relationship dynamics become habitual.
It’s like how my wife Allison was always the default caregiver for our daughter Em. When Em’s in-home nurse couldn’t make her shift, Allison would drop everything to be there for Em. It had become sort of an unwritten rule in our house. That doesn’t mean it should’ve been that way. I unconsciously went along with it for years since from my point of view it just sort of happened each time. But it caused resentment in Allison, so we talked about it with our therapist and devised a new approach. Now when the plan for the day unexpectedly changes, we chat about what we each have going on and figure out the new plan, together. She will often choose to be the caretaker still, but the resentment doesn’t build because she feels heard.
It might take a tense conversation with your friends, but you should consider doing something similar. Maybe it means coming up with a rotation for who’s planning the next get-together so it’s more equitable. I know that’s less spontaneous, but it’s better than not hanging out with your friends, or worse, hanging with them and feeling resentful the whole time because you had to plan it all yet again.
Lastly, you wrote, “They are like sisters to me, but I feel like I’m always filling up their cups and they rarely stop to fill up mine.”
It's okay to let go, LL. Let your lives take their course for a while.
If they’re truly like sisters to you, you'll always have that special bond with them.
You'll always be able to pick right back up where you left off—even if years have passed.
You'll always have someone to share an inside joke with.
You'll always have a shoulder to cry on when you need it.
You'll always find a way to stay connected—no matter where life takes you.
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