Putting the REAL in Relationships

Remember the days of middle school and high school where all you wanted was to fit in? To make a friend group that portrays your desired image of being “cool”? Good times…(with implied sarcasm).

The second we grab our high school diplomas and seemingly move forward in our lives, we expect building relationships to be different. We envision stumbling upon people and never caring what others think, whether they like who we are or not.

Let me burst the bubble here and say, life can feel like a constant continuation of high school in this aspect. In college and beyond, we still have the innate desire to be liked by others, especially those who seem to have a certain social status, and to be surrounded by people that fit into what we want. We establish an idea for ourselves on what friendships should look like, who they should be with, what activities you do together, and when we realize that we don’t have that immediate control, it can be discouraging.

Even as a college senior, I still can feel that way. Even after years of learning about myself and growing more into the person I want to become, I still struggle with the role relationships should play in my life. I’m often prone to spurts of energy, talking to many people at once and wanting to always go out and socialize, but then long spans of time, I’m not really talking to many people at all and the last thing on my mind is taking time away from my own work and projects to spend it with friends. That sounds awful, but it’s the truth.

And in those times of increased isolation, I beat myself up and feel guilty for my own nature. I draw comparisons to others (thanks, social media) who seem to have their lives altogether, balancing school, work, and friends successfully. It’s like people who might be in a similar boat as me update others about binge-watching YouTube videos or spending hours scrolling through Pinterest. That goes against the grain of the image we want to portray our lives as.

With so many factors that judge our lives and set expectations for what is right and wrong, we lose our sense of what relationships should actually be like and what role they should play. We focus more on the image of having relationships rather than the quality of those relationships.

The second you think you have every balanced out and have established some perfect formula for relationships, think again. Like anything else, it’s a constantly evolving process. We should expect to have challenges, periods of fog where we feel oblivious to what is best for us, times when we get caught up in superficial details that overlook the true value people have.

In lies where we need to keep it real. Or, as a play on words, putting the “real” in REALationships. We aren’t all going to have the same definitions of what that entails, so the second we begin the comparison trap, we need to lock up our smart phones and be honest with ourselves. Relationships aren’t all about whose faces are filling up your Instagram feed. You shouldn’t feel like you need to prove your relationships to anybody, or think that showing them off is the key to fulfillment.

Quality is forever more important than quantity. I know that even when I’m in these moods of craving solitude, I still have several great people in my life who I consider my friends. These are people who I genuinely enjoy talking to, who I’d want to spend time with, who uplift me in good times and bad. That group of people might be larger or smaller than other people’s circles, and that’s fine. A number of friends doesn’t dictate your character or self-worth.

Prioritizing real connections with others applies to all relationships: romantic ones, family, and anybody else you value. The people that matter to you most shouldn’t have to fit some mold you see as the best way to live, and chances are, those relationships will change, grow, subside, and adjust themselves over time. We’ll all have periods of feeling completely alone, and other times when we’re overwhelmed with how many people care about us and we want to see.

Whatever relationships you want to make as real and genuine as possible, you need to be willing to put in the work. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. True relationships don’t blossom overnight, but they take time and energy to build up. We may have differing degrees of how intimate we are with certain people, but in everyone we value, we cannot expect making a best friend in five minutes, nor can we bash ourselves for facing challenges in relationships, with others and ourselves.

Because to be a good friend, family member, partner, whoever, the realest of relationships we need to establish is the one with ourselves. From that foundation, we can ensure more genuine, honest connections with those we hold dear and draw in the people that really care about us and make life that much sweeter.

What does a “REALationship” look like to you? Have you also felt stuck in high school peer pressure to fit in and “be cool”? I’d love to learn about your own experiences.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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