I recently had the pleasure over New Year's weekend of spending some time away from the city up in Beacon, NY with a couple of new(ish) friends. I've been reflecting on the experience over the past week, and it has became very evident to me with each passing moment that there was a deeper connection that went beyond the usual dinner/drinks/chatter of a weekend away (although there was lots of that, too, and no complaints!).
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the deeper connection was actually with myself that weekend, and was it effectively mirrored through these friends. I came to the awareness that although I haven't known them for that long, I was able to be my most authentic self around them. For me, this looks like an ability and acceptance in expressing myself, making jokes, and being silly without that nagging comedown of my own self-criticism - "Was that too over-the-top? Is that even their type of humor?" etc. It means that I am able to act fully free and silly as I would with my close friends and family - complete with dancing, spontaneous singing, and in the case of this weekend, spinning around in the grass because I was so happy to be in the woods and out of the city - and at times, I was probably doing all three at once.
It also means that I am able to share love and vulnerability - that I can tell them directly that I'm enjoying the moment and grateful for the time spent, or if for some reason I'm not, I'd feel comfortable to share that, too.
One of the most prevalent themes I see when working with therapy clients in their 20's is the natural reflection that occurs in session on friendships in general: Friendships from our past that we may have strayed from or friends with whom our interests no longer align; friendships in our present that we may be hoping will grow in their depth or are wondering how to navigate; and some of the most important friendships of all: those that are in our future; the authentic friendships that might be missing and that we are seeking for a truly enriching life.
In reflecting on the shared qualities that help me know that I have met a new member of my tribe, I have determined that authenticity is the foundation to deeper connections and chosen "tribe members." So here is my personal "checklist" for authenticity in my friendships, and importantly: This is not a test to see if others that I choose to spend time with are authentic. It's a test to see if I can be my most authentic self in their presence, which is ultimately the most connected that I can be with another person in my life.
- Am I the same person around them in any setting I am in? Could I, within reason, do anything on our lists of shared interests and still be fully "me," with them? Or am I conforming to the "type of me" that I believe I need to be in order to spend time with them or in order to participate in "X" activity?
- Could I join all the different members of my tribe and be the same "me" with all of them at once? Or would I be "outed" due to drastic differences in how I act around each of them?
- Do I spend time with them with no agenda? Am I free to enjoy the moment, without expectations or fear of judgement if the day does not go as planned? Or are our parameters rigid, without flexibility for spontaneity or authenticity?
- Do I receive nourishment from them, and in equal parts to what I provide to them? Is our friendship balanced in giving and receiving? Or am I settling for something less?
If you have not found your tribe yet, fear not. Building a tribe is a lifelong goal, and one of life's most beautiful purposes.
If you have a member or two of your tribe, but hope to grow it - ask yourself this: "What does my most authentic self around these friends or family members look like? How did I find them? Where would I be likely to meet others that I could feel the same way around? What authentic qualities would I want to bring to the table in order to connect with new friends?"
If you have a tribe but they are not nourishing to you or you are not able to be authentic around them, understand that we all need companions. This is not an urging for you to cut ties with everyone who doesn't feel like a lifelong member of your tribe, such as old friends who have your best interests at heart but do not nourish you as much as they used to, or the occasional work friend who is fun to grab a coffee with. But do be mindful of how you spend your (literally!) precious time. You deserve to be authentic and feel free with your tribe. You deserve to receive the same love that you put in with each and every friendship you have. If you are spending all of your time with friends who only partially meet your needs, you are only getting half of what you deserve.
And in the meantime, know that you, in all of your quirks, struggles, and authenticities, are enough! In the wise words of my new favorite poet, Rupi Kaur:
are your own