Friendships offer us ongoing opportunities to reassess ourselves, to evolve, to see ourselves, and others, in a new light. Unlike some romantic relationships, they aren’t exclusive. But like them, they can stir us at our very core. They’re fundamental in our experience.

Recently, it occurred to me that each time we form a new relationship, we birth, or at least reveal, a new part of ourselves. Ideally, in the best circumstances, we discover ourselves as we discover another. We find parts of us that had previously been buried or unrealized. We are able to connect in new and different ways. That’s the beauty and the excitement of making a new connection.

But as I reflected on this further, I thought about long-standing friendships—the ones where we stop seeing one another anew, where the conversation has become stale and over-hashed, though comfortable. What happens when you change? Can the friendship remain? What becomes of it?

In my late 20s and early 30s, I underwent a massive transformation, one that I am still emerging from. As I came around to old friends, I found myself challenged, unsure of how to relate, how to express my newfound self. I couldn’t seem to bridge the gap and I found myself in mourning—for who I used to be, for who I still hadn’t become.

The thing about rebirthing oneself is this: it’s not always show-stopping—at least not at first. In the beginning, it can be awkward and slightly uncomfortable, like breaking in a new pair of jeans. We may feel a little stiff. We may not bend so well.

I spent a great many years unsure of how to share my story. Sometimes I would withhold, focusing on the other. Sometimes, I would blurt it out (often unsolicited) almost without feeling in an unconscious effort to create a wall between myself and others. I was terrified of letting people in, of letting myself be known. I couldn’t relax into intimacy. And although I thought I wanted closeness, I did everything imaginable to defend against it. Despite what others may have thought, I felt very much alone.

As I have matured and softened, I have realized that intimacy and closeness require a delicate calibration. It unfolds slowly, at first almost imperceptibly. We come to know others through a studied combination of observation and revelation over time. And because of this, I sometimes find myself torn between old friends and new.

Who knows the real me, I would ask myself.

I don’t have the answer to this, because I don’t think there is one. As complex as we are, we need different friendships to fulfill different needs. And as we begin to accept ourselves, we learn to accept others. Friendships, we come to understand, aren’t there to fill a void. Rather, they can simply be supportive and nourishing containers for our own growth and healing. And what could be more beautiful than that?

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