One of my favorite parts of being an adult is that I get to choose the people in my life. As a child, your parents set up play dates with their friends’ kids. If you had a birthday party, you had to invite everyone in your class. On Valentine’s Day, everyone gets a card. Of course we don’t choose the families we’re born into and we may not have hired all of the people we work with ourselves, but as adults, we have a say in who we spend our time with. From strangers to soulmates, God places all sorts of folks in our pathways, but unlike children, we can set limitations and decide what we entertain.
How do you choose? What do you normally look for in a new friend, significant other or business partner? You might be closer to one sibling more than another because of factors like age or common interests. Among all of your friends, you probably have a “best friend” that you’re closest to.
Have you ever considered that one of the most important reasons you choose people is because they choose you? It could sound opportunistic or needy, but choosing to surround yourself with like-minded individuals who value you isn’t wrong. It is a characteristic of confidence to keep those around who lift you up rather than tear you down (or even just take up space).
This doesn’t mean that you can’t be in someone’s life to lift them up! However, if you find that you are breaking yourself into pieces to make someone else whole, that’s not a relationship-it’s irresponsible charity. Being a friend to someone just because you feel sorry for them and see them as beneath you is not genuine. Furthermore, you should not have to set yourself on fire to keep another person warm. You don’t have to use people or selfishly require them to give you tangible things such as money, but the people in your life should naturally add something positive to it.
I made myself miserable most of my life simply because I kept choosing people who wouldn’t pick me in return. A relationship of any kind is a two-way street. I love the quote by Paul F. Davis “Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated.” Life is too short to just exist in mediocracy so we should do our best every day to search for what feeds the soul. Don’t be so concerned with belonging because there’s a big difference between just being allowed and really being welcomed.
If you’re struggling to fit in or feel comfortable in the circles you’re in, ask yourself why you chose that circle and if they reciprocate. Again, you cannot always control who enters your life, like a new neighbor moving in, but there are levels to everything. You might be stuck in a lease with a roommate who’s not what you expected, but you can set a variety of boundaries to improve your situation. Even in the same physical space, it is possible to create mental and emotional borders.
A few suggestions for setting boundaries while gauging if you’re really being celebrated or only tolerated:
Choose who you talk to
Does the person seem excited to hear from you? Do they make time to talk to you? Do they act appreciative of you reaching out or responding to them? Do they reach out half as much as you do? We all have busy lives, but you should never be made to feel as if you’re intruding on or annoying a friend just by trying initiate conversation. Don’t bother with those who only seem bothered by you.
Choose who you get advice from
A good friend will tell you the truth, but in a manner which is helpful rather than discouraging. Even when the truth hurts, the teller should have your best interest at heart. If it’s unclear whether a friend’s advice has them rooting for or against you at its foundation, consider seeking advice elsewhere.
Choose who you give information to
Whether it be telling your business to someone or referring them to a job, try to make sure their intentions are pure. Are they trustworthy or likely to misuse information or connections? It’s also healthy to consider if they are appreciative and as forthcoming with their own information.
Choose who you spend your time with
Your time. Remember, you’re not on a playdate your parent set up for you. You’re an adult now and you own your time so take Maxine Waters’ lead and reclaim it if you have to! At the very least, hopefully, whoever you spend time with usually brightens your day instead of making it worse. It’s cool to feel exhausted after seeing someone from having so much fun or accomplishing something productive, but you shouldn’t feel drained from their negativity or overextending yourself. Again, ask yourself if they initiate hanging out with you or if they seem obligated.
India Arie passionately sang “Get in where you fit it and go on to shine!” You’ll know feelings of acceptance are mutual if it’s easy to find comfort in an environment without trying much. Choose those who help make you feel valued, worthy, accepted, welcomed, appreciated, loved and celebrated just for being who you are. Talk to and spend time with loved ones who consistently talk back and show up. You will be too much or not enough for some people and that’s okay-those aren’t your people. The world population is 7 billion and counting so find those who are looking for you, too. You’re worth finding.