My daughter started freshman year with quite a few friends. She is starting her junior year and has literally outgrown all of her friends. This so-called friends group started with a mixed group of friends and due to no fault of my daughter’s, she has lost them all. Her male best friend fell for a girl my daughter was close to, but in the end the friends never became a couple. However, they kept it from my daughter, causing her to lose her male best friend and giving her trust issues with another because they waited months to tell her.
She lost friends because they left school or chose not to be friends with her because they wanted different things than her. Her so-called friends (two of them specifically — including the one that didn’t tell her about her male best friend liking this friend) have literally pushed everyone out of their group and now have turned on my daughter. My daughter finally spoke up for herself, but she has found that even her roommate has turned on her (she was a part of this group). She feels, hurt, lonely and isolated.
We have always told her to stand up for herself and be her true self, but this isn’t the first time she has lost a group of friends as this happened in high school also. Is it the type of friends my daughter is choosing? What can I do as a parent? I know she has to go through these type of issues as a young adult, but my heart is breaking for her and I truly wish she would finally find a good group of friends she can trust and who love her for the great person she is. Thank you!
We’ve got two challenges here. First, how to attend to your breaking heart while your daughter does the painful work of growing up and finding friends. Second, how to advise or guide her if she wants your help.
As I’ve said to every parent who feels the pain of parenting at any stage of life, your pain is yours to feel and tangle with, and you get to ask your people (partners, friends, family, coaches, therapists, clergy) for help with it. So I encourage you to reach out to any and every trusted person in your life and talk with them about what you’re going through. Connect with people who will listen, share their experiences, and neither judge nor diminish what you have to say. Most of all, approach this process by owning it completely. While compassionate ears are wonderful, no one can truly move you from feeling bad to feeling good except you.
The concept of ownership can also frame your advice to your daughter. You say she has lost friends through no fault of her own, which casts her as a bystander in this aspect of her life. Try and show her that, while she may feel like it’s all happening to and around her, she’s actually an active participant in her friendships, whether that shows up as being assertive or passive. She needs to see what part she’s playing in the dance of these relationships and discover other choices she can make that might lead to better results.
The first step in working through issues in relationships is to take blame and fault out of the paradigm entirely. We are responsible and participatory at all times and so is the other person, but trying to assign blame shifts any conflict into territory that focuses on winning and losing. Adversaries win or lose; friends communicate and work towards compromises.
Also, assigning blame when a relationship isn't working turns out to be a double-edged sword. On one hand, blaming the other person can feel empowering. “Yeah! YOU did this. I’m the victim here, and now I have some angry armor to protect how vulnerable I’m feeling.”
On the other hand, blame only increases your powerlessness and vulnerability. If the other person is responsible, you’re at their mercy. They can come back to you, break your heart again, love you up, leave again. It’s all theirs and you’re getting kicked around depending on what they’re doing.
So how does your daughter participate? Is she sitting silently? This is as much a way of participating in a relationship as being bossy. When I was in my 20s, I put up with a lot more from people than I do now; I learned that it’s not their “fault” for dumping on me if I keep offering up my head to be dumped on. It’s 100% the silent partner’s choice to be silent, and it’s 100% the bossy one who chooses to be bossy. My silence won’t make you be less bossy and your bossy-ness won’t get me talking.
Your daughter has had some setbacks and disappointments, and these hurts can be bewildering if they just get stacked up on a shelf without being examined. It’s time to help her see what she’s learning from it and what meaning she can make from it. Cue self-reflection, self-awareness, ownership, and the ability to say, “What was my part?” and “What will I do with this information?”
In college, it’s common to make friends through convenience and circumstance. A friendly roommate has friends that become her friends, or a class project brings people into her sphere that she connects with through their common academic interest. Whether or not these casual contacts lead to meaningful and sustained connections will require your daughter to check in with herself. Encourage her to ask herself some questions about her experiences:
If her answers are “I feel nervous” or “I need to be someone else when I’m around them” or “I can’t tell them certain things” or “It’s better than being alone,” then she may want to be more purposeful in who she decides to hang out with.