Question: I decided to stop spending time with some friends who didn’t reciprocate interest in me and my life. But, now I feel lonely. What should I do? (Irene B.)
Answer: I’m so glad you asked this question, because your situation is a common experience for many women who start setting new boundaries.
First, I want to commend the courage it takes to recognize one-way relationships and move away from unhealthy friends. You deserve more.
As a result, you are now in a transitional season. You have left behind one kind of friendship and don’t yet know what your new friendships will look like. Transition can feel lonely and uncertain, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad place to be. Instead, this transitional season is an opportunity to learn more about what you need.
It's an opportunity to get wise about who you bring into your life going forward.
You’ve said “No” to one-way relationships. That’s good. Now it’s time to learn how to say “Yes” to mutually nourishing relationships. And, as my mom used to say to me when I was struggling to make friends, “It only takes ONE to get started.”
Finding and investing in a good friend is a bit like dating. It can feel lonely and vulnerable while you are in the process of searching. You might get to know a lot of people before you find those one or two ladies who connect and show themselves loyal over time. But, if you commit to the process with care and intention, you will find new friendships that satisfy your needs and desires.
Here are four ways to pursue new healthy friendships:
1. Shared Activities
Think about the things you enjoy most: it could be a hobby, such as crafting; or a physical activity, such as jogging. Maybe you enjoy seeing the latest movies or talking about social issues. What are some ways you can pursue those interests in community? You might join a local book club, drawing class or running group. It takes courage to put yourself out there, especially on your own. But, by pursuing the activities you love, you just might find a kindred spirit.
2. Shared Faith
If your faith is important to you, consider a woman whose faith you admire. You might ask that woman to meet with you regularly to pray or read the Bible together. When I first moved to a new city, I met a woman at church whose faith I was drawn to. She was a busy mom who worked in full-time ministry. So, when I raised the possibility of spending time together, she was candid about her limitations: “I would love to pray together regularly with you. I want to be honest, that I don’t have time for much beyond that.” I respected her honesty and said “Yes” to bi-weekly prayer meetings. That friend and I have prayed together twice a month for 7 years. We’ve almost never gone out socially. Yet, we know each other inside and out. Being clear about what you need and about your limitations creates a healthy baseline for developing a new friendship.
3. Shared Family Dynamics
Whether you’re divorced, single, or married, look for support groups that cater to your unique family situation. Then, when you attend the group, prayerfully observe other participants. Get curious; don’t rush in. Notice the kind of women who stand out to you, ones who say things that resonate. Consider asking someone to coffee to get to know them a little bit. If it goes well, try it again.
4. Shared Vocation
Notice work colleagues whom you admire. Maybe you respect the way they lead or appreciate their work ethic. Don’t underestimate the value of such friendships, even if they don’t move outside of work. You might ask this person to meet for lunch weekly to encourage each other in your professional interests.
As you get to know potential friends, remember that trust is built over time. Proceed cautiously and beware of the following “red flags”:
- Does the person only talk about herself? Or, does she seem interested in you and your life?
- Are you able to laugh together and give each other grace? Or, does she seem critical or demanding?
- Does this person reach out to you? Or, are you the only one initiating? (You’ve already learned this lesson the hard way, so don’t be fooled twice!)
- Do you have shared interests, such as work, parenting, or hobbies that don’t center on gossip about other people or constant complaining?
No one friend will ever meet ALL your needs. You might find a friend with whom you love walking and another friend with whom you love praying. The important thing is that in each of these friendships, conversation is reciprocal and centered on encouraging each other to grow toward health and wholeness together.
Finally, if you’re in a transition and feel lonely, avoid trying to please the “in-crowd” just to get invited to the “popular” parties. Please hear me say: It’s better to take steps toward developing one or two meaningful, mutually nourishing relationships. You will be surprised how life-changing just one good friend can be...and how one healthy relationship can lead to more.
Join the conversation. Leave a comment below:
Have you wrestled with loneliness when setting boundaries with bad friends or one-way relationships? How did you find new friends you could trust?
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Moving to the East Coast six yrs ago from the West after over 35 yrs in camping and church ministry was the hardest thing we’ve ever done in 48 yrs of marriage.
It took five yrs to find our church home and we stepped in to help with a special needs granddaughter. Lonely doesn’t begin to describe these yrs of adjustment.. Thank you for affirming what I’ve learned about myself and friendship in my quest for new friends.
Alison Cook says
I hear you, Sharon, having moved several time myself. Facing loneliness is hard, and I pray you see fruit as you seek out mutually nourishing friendships!
Brandy D says
This is such a good read and helpful information for those in transitional times. I’m so glad someone is talking about it as it can feel hard and blame ourselves for setting boundaries. This brings a lot of clarity and hope! Thank you for taking time to answer this!
Alison Cook says
Thanks for the thoughtful note, Brandy. Grateful for clarity and hope!
Wow, thank you so much for shared wisdom. I struggled with this leaving friends because od Jesus in loneliness, where I learned to build trust to God. Later I recignized, I want to learn how to communicate setting a boundary. Later I met several lovely christian women in my age. I just wanted someone would have told me abou this transition process 10 – 12 years Ago 🙂 be blessed
Alison Cook says
Thank you, Zofia. I am so glad you found several women you trust! It takes courage to face loneliness in order to move into healthier relationships. Blessings to you.
Empty-nesting has shown me I am not as much as an introvert as I thought! 😉 Twenty-five years of being in the mix of 3 other peoples’ lives, to almost complete solitude, has been “interesting” and such a wonderful growth opportunity. Also, transitioning from an international community setting overseas, to moving back to the States was a wake-up call to our individualistic and busy culture here… Reengaging and connecting with genuine friends has been a slow, intentional, but rich journey. I’m learning a lot about myself, where I need to find my identity and value, and I’m re-discovering the person God made me to be during this time of loneliness. I’m learning to embrace this season, and trust the process, but it can be challenging some days! Thanks for your encouragement, Alison!
Alison Cook says
Such great wisdom, here! I pray you continue to trust the process as glimpses of soul-nourishing friendships appear. ?
I so appreciate the question, and you helping navigate around this type of change! It’s so important for me to know what I can expect during “transition.” I think about this a lot, and it feels downright overwhelming at times. I am so surprised how foreign transition can feel when I’m actually acting upon it. In my head, it seems fine, but actually stepping out, and doing something different is another story! I’ve been working on tolerance. Building tolerance for those uncertain, uncomfortable, places in between what I’ve been doing and living out my “yes list.” From observing my self making changes, I’ll bet it’s these uncertain and uncomfortable moments of “transition” where people fall off, and go back to the old “comforting” ways. This is why I so appreciate Alison spelling it out in such great detail! Now there is a light! I know where I am going, and I know what to expect, because I now know, what it “looks” like:)! Thank you Irene B. & Alison!!
Alison Cook says
Building tolerance is an excellent way to put it. Every single step we take toward becoming more whole is valuable – and can also feel uncomfortable or awkward at first. So, yes – tolerating the “good discomfort” that comes with healthy change is so critical. Way to go!
Exactly what I am going through. Some are the good friend while some are needy and use who is available. Better to be alone and in transition then to be in a one sided friendship which is also lonely and at times hurtful. Like being in a relationship with a man. Everyone should learn to be their own best friend and trust the universe to bring in the right people. It takes time to know someone and many are not who they present in the beginning, like in dating . This was a valuable topic!
Alison Cook says
Thank you, Evie. I’m glad it resonated with you!