Day 27: Turn On the Light // 31 Days of Hope in Brokenness
Hi there! This is day 27 of a series I’m writing this October called 31 Days of Hope in Brokenness. You can find the entire series here: 31 Days of Hope in Brokenness.
It’s been a while since I’ve played hide and seek. Even though my biggest life goal is to raise a gaggle of tiny humans, I don’t have any of my own yet, so I have to live vicariously through your stories for a while longer. A girlfriend of mine who works at an after-school care program told me one the other day about a game of hide and seek that went sideways.
The kids were K – 4th grade and all playing together. Someone, or a bunch of little someones, decided on a massive game of hide and seek using the entire gym/playground area (where the after-school program is held). My friend and the other teachers kept an eye out, doing a headcount of all the hiders, but somehow one kindergartener escaped everyone’s clutches. No one could figure out where she hid for a good fifteen minutes after all the other kids were found, which turned into twenty minutes, then half an hour. A couple of her buddies realized she wasn’t found and told my friend, who suppressed rising epic level panic as she and the other teachers hunted for the missing hider. After 45 minutes (that seemed like 4878735878237450545 minutes), they found her – hiding in the janitor’s closet they had already looked in, where she fit perfectly BEHIND a mop bucket, some cleaning supplies, and a random lab coat. Bless it all. When they finally found her, she was crying and scared. A teacher asked her why she didn’t just come out and she said she had turned off the light and shut the door to hide better, and then got too scared to come out when no one came. Poor baby.
If I had to name the top things friends ask me for advice about, these would definitely be among them: Why is it so hard to make friends in your 20s?
Why does it feel like no one wants to hang out with me?
I just feel really lonely. I feel like I try to make time for my friends, but they never make time for me.
I was talking with another girlfriend the other week who was telling me about her weekend plans that went sideways. She had bought tickets to a concert without knowing who her plus one would be yet – she was afraid the tickets would sell out, and she was pretty confident she could find a friend to tag along later. She pitched the idea to a few of her pals but they were all either busy or didn’t respond. My friend told me over coffee she honestly felt so sad and crappy when she couldn’t find anyone to go with her that she decided not to go either. So she was out $75+ and felt like no one wanted to hang out with her. What a GREAT weekend, am I right?
I have been in her shoes. You don’t have plans and you wonder why no one is calling or texting. You find out that a group of your friends all hung out without you and somehow, you didn’t get invited. You go to a party or a new church and no one even says hi to you. You spend a bunch of cash on plans with your friend and then she backs out last minute (maybe for a good reason, maybe not). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also been the friend who made plans in advance and then as the event approached, decided I really would rather spend my evening in my stretchy pants instead of going outside for any reason whatsoever. I get that, too. But it especially stinks when you feel left out and left hanging.
I think friendship in your 20s is like being a kindergartener in the broom closet. We hide from making too many social commitments because it feels overwhelming, but then when we really want and need our people around us, we find that they are not there. I have spent PLENTY of time wallowing behind the mop bucket, y’all, and after being sad and feeling sorry for myself got really old and wasn’t really helping me feel better, I discovered a trick that I now use to pull myself out of that place. Here’s what I do: when I start feeling seriously crappy about my life and feel like I don’t have any friends, I try to reach out to someone else. That’s it.
So, if I’m feeling sad and excluded, I intentionally include someone.
If I’m feeling lonely at a party because no one is talking to me, I reach out to someone else who might be lonely because no one is talking to them.
If I’m hurting and feeling like no one cares, I invite someone over to catch up or grab coffee and listen to THEM talk about THEIR life. Everyone needs someone to listen. People need to talk about themselves and feel heard. This is a need that is not being met in a surprising amount of people.
Here’s why it works: I know you think that you are the only one who struggles with not having rich, deep friendships in your life, and it looks like everyone else has a great group of Monicas, Rachels, and Phoebes that they hang out with regularly and can talk about anything with and be their true selves with, but you aren’t and they don’t. As I write this, there are 5,360,035 posts on Instagram with the hashtag #lonely. There are a lot of people scrolling through fun vacation and brunch photos on Facebook and wishing they had better, deeper, and more consistent friendships. But the thing is, I’ve learned that if I want to have a good friend, I have to be a good friend.
I’ve learned that it helps my situation zero percent to blame others for not being a great friend to me, especially if I am the one who decided last minute not to go to the dinner last month because I didn’t feel like it. Yes, we are busy, and stressed, and sometimes we won’t be able to fit in every social event or commitment. We do need to be conscious of overcommitting ourselves to too many things, but I also think we need to be conscious of undercommitting ourselves to not-enough things. We won’t grow the flourishing friendships we want by coming home to Netflix and Snapchat every night. We have to go out into the world and actually talk to other humans. (I know…that makes me uncomfortable, too.) Like the kindergartener in the closet at my friend’s daycare, no one is going to find us if we are hiding in the dark. We have to turn on the light and come out.
Next time you are feeling lonely, I dare you to try it. Text a friend to go get coffee/dinner/come over to watch a movie. If you can’t think of anyone to text, write a post asking if anyone on your friends list wants to hang out and do something. Invite, include, listen, because this is how you cultivate relationships with people who will invite, include, and listen to you. And you never know when you might end up being a light to someone else going through a hard time as well. We need each other.
Yes, it may involve changing out of your stretchy pants, and yes, I know that will cause you to have second thoughts but PUSH THROUGH, SISTER! You are worth solid and beautiful and loyal friendships that will survive a nuclear apocalypse, and this is how to develop them: when you feel like no one is reaching out to you, get up all your brave and reach out to them. Turn on the light and come out of your sad, lonely closet. And keep trying if it doesn’t work at first. (Other people are also reluctant to change out of their stretchy pants.) I promise when you see the benefits of having your tribe of sisters around you, and being part of a tribe for others, it will all be so worth it. We weren’t meant to live this life alone.