Realizing and Navigating the Dynamics of Friendships with Melanated Matter: Part 1
Everyday we converse and connect with people on different levels. Some of those connections become stronger and develop into friendships, while others lay resting where they started. So I sat down with AJ to explore how she defines friendships and how that has or has not changed.
“Friendships were just literally, ‘Oh I like apples, you like apples too? Cool,’ she says. “But back then it was ‘You like to party? You like to get lit? That’s what I like to do so let’s do this.’ ” AJ also touches on the friendships that many of us develop during our adolescent days that easily seep into early adulthood, the obligatory one: “Where we’ve been together for so much of our lives—or I grew up with you and we’re still cool.”
“Hmm,” she responded in a slow and thoughtful tone, as I asked her if her definition of friendship has changed or evolved over the years. AJ Rodriguez—also known as melanatedmatter on social media platforms—is soon to be twenty-five years old. Yet she feels that so much has shifted, from navigating through her early twenties, in how she chooses to connect with people and how she views friendships.
Like many of you AJ is also a parent, and being a mom to a toddler doesn’t define the types of friendships she makes. “I don’t necessarily need friends who have kids. A lot of my closest friends aren’t parents but they understand motherhood. A lot of them aren’t married…”
Me: “So as long you vibe and they’re respectful and understanding?”
AJ: “Yeah, and mature! I like to have a good time but I don’t like to go out like I would when I was twenty-one. I like very easy friendships where we can shoot the sh*t and I can just be myself.”
And be herself is what she has done since I met her.
My initial interaction with AJ was through social media. I was a fan of not only how she confidently rocked her natural curls with a smile and curated her feed—but also of the positive messages and realness she posted with those images. So I slid into her DMs. The first time we met was for her and I to get a true sense of the women behind our social media accounts. AJ for sure was all that she portrayed to be, and so much more.
“Friendship has to be a two-way street: I give to you, you give to me. Just like it is in my marriage—just like it is with my family members,” she expresses with conviction. You need to have the ability to navigate life together—not only the fun times but especially the tough seasons as well.
Being able to coexist in a healthy way means being able to give not only support and space, but choosing to receive it as well. Having boundaries and being okay with them are also essential. She stresses that this is the standard that she’s formed for every potential and existing relationship in her life, “I don’t feel comfortable dumping myself into someone else, or them dumping themselves completely into me.”
“Right!” We agree in unison, only a moment passing by before I dive into the deeper questions.
Me: “So at what point do you realize it isn’t working for you? Have you ever had to formally or informally ‘cut people off?’ ”
AJ: “When you think of your friend(s) like, ‘We’re going to go kick it,’ you’re supposed to think happy thoughts. But if instead you’re thinking, ‘What might pop off?’ Then you have to end the friendship.”
“I don’t like ending friendships.”
Verbalizing it is a place that some people need help getting to. When you can say, “I don’t like how I feel in this friendship or relationship,” you’ve just done a very hard thing. It’s not easy, but most necessary things aren’t.
Deciding to end it
Have you ever wanted to end a friendship or relationship but just waited it out? Was knowing the other person would eventually end it the reason that you chose to wait it out? If so, then fear may have played a major factor—whether it was fear of feeling guilty or of how they would view you. AJ can relate, “I’ve had friendships where I wanted to end it but I didn’t. Once they ended it, they put the blame on me anyway!”
The dynamic of every relationship you have will change as you do. It’s normal and I personally welcome it. It means growth and that growth can mean growing apart from or growing together with other people. But if how others view you is of importance, then you may need to weigh that against how you view yourself. In other words, which fear will you allow to be greater:
Fear of others’ disapproval or fear of your own disapproval of yourself?
However, there are also the friendships where you have to step away in time and space from each other, and come back to try to work things out. If it doesn’t workout, that’s okay too. The key is knowing how it affects you. Did you walk away with a feeling of peace, or is there something that remains unsettled?
I nod in agreement at the understanding and experience that terminating a friendship—or any relationship—can cause you to question yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to “get out of your own head,” especially if there isn’t understanding from the other person. Then you remember, that lack of understanding may have been a contributing factor to the termination itself. AJ adds, “If I go though something and I’ve settled it, I’ll shut-up. But I’ve noticed if I’m still talking about it I’m in unrest.”
Whenever you’re dealing with other people—especially in forming, maintaining, or ending relationships—there is a need to reflect. Yes, reflect upon the current dynamics of the relationship but more importantly, take some time to self-reflect on how you have been changed and affected. So this is what I chose to do next with AJ. I asked:
“Have you taken the time to look back, and find a commonality in the people you’ve felt the need to end friendships with?”
“Yeah I have,” she responded, “there’s one and I hate verbalizing it! I feel like…”
Be sure to check back soon for Part 2. AJ and I dive into switching from offense to defense—acknowledging and coming to grips with things about yourself that you may need to change.