The older we get, the more friendships feel like pulling teeth. A simple exchange on Instagram can grow into the most beautiful friendship, but things can get a little messy if we don’t nurture it.
We kicked the shit with Danielle Byers, a friendship coach focused on women and an educator, whose career took a right turn when she realized her students were struggling to resolve petty issues with friends. They’d stop her in between classes for advice, and when she left to pursue public relations, she thought it’d get easier. Nah.
“It surprised me to see charismatic, high-achieving, successful women still struggling with friendships,” Danielle said, leaning in. The hardest part – you guessed it – was keeping them. She dove into research – read the books, started the conversations – but nothing came up. All of the content was about kids. But the truth is, adults have it less figured out than kids.
Over the last five years, Danielle has dedicated her practice to a community of mostly women, addressing some of their most personal needs and wants in platonic relationships, specifically with their besties.
How do we become a good friend and find better ones?
Danielle’s TikTok has become a research hub. It’s where she discovers challenges within friendships and shares tips for getting them together. Over the last couple of years, she has built a focus group on the platform which helps direct her messaging for the friendship standard. Because let’s be honest, standards are in, baby. But the attitude of, If people don’t serve me, I’m cutting them off, doesn’t help our cause. While Danielle understands this perspective, it’s giving unproductive and very toxic.
“It places us in the critic’s seat, and we begin to judge social interactions,” Danielle uses air quotes. But hold on. When do we put ourselves in the hot seat and ask, Do I attract healthy friendships? Am I uplifting? Am I forgiving? Do I communicate my feelings? Do I punish my friends when they fuck up?
Finding dope-ass friendships that live out their season – because some things and some people are seasonal – starts with bringing something useful to the table. You can’t ask for what you can’t give. Knowing your gut and attachment style – secure, anxious, or avoidant – keeps us honest and helps us build stronger friendships. We have to look in the mirror.
Secure Friend assumes they’re worthy of love and trusts others to love them. Anxious Friend assumes people will abandon them. They’re clingy as fuck, they try too hard, and they’re always in love. And lowkey, it’s probably deeper than that. But that doesn’t make it right. Avoidant Friend is afraid of attachment, followed by abandonment and thus, avoidants need fifty feet from the jump. Although our attachment style may change every now and again or develop over time, we have an anchor and from there, we can improve.
How do I hold myself accountable in friendships?
There are some good examples of friendships out there but for some reason, we never practice the characteristics that make a person a good friend. The first step is to identify a friend whom you admire and try to incorporate the good that they display into interactions with your friends. “Maybe you didn’t have a mother who modeled healthy friendships,” Danielle says, “Maybe she was telling you things, like You better watch out. You can’t trust people.” We harbor these messages and have trouble letting them go.
Read self-help shit. Learn about yourself, about your attachment style. Being aware helps us navigate the fog of relationships.
Speak up. Closed mouths don’t get fed. “I think people have shame around not having figured it out yet because you should have done that as an adult,” Danielle says. And desperate vibes are okay. Shoot your shot. Don’t make a scene, but posting a little announcement, like I’m seeking new friendships isn’t uncommon. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. If you have challenges within existing friendships, say something. Your friend’s positive reaction may catch you off guard.
Hold yourself accountable. Be real with yourself. “If you’re the type of person that gets bothered by someone not returning your phone call or not responding to your text message in a timely manner, sharing these personal challenges with your friend is being vulnerable and creating space for them to adjust,” Danielle says. Friends are not our therapist or rescuer. Rather, they are to support us through accountability and should be able to check us when we’re wrong.
On the other hand, not every action needs a reaction. Sometimes, when a friend jumps at the first chance to give their two cents about your experiences, it may be because they can’t sit in their own feelings so they become dismissive. There may be a little judgment, a little projection. What they would have done if they were in your shoes. But we shouldn’t compare scenarios. And maybe asking your friend if they’d like your opinion in the first place is a healthy place to start a conversation.
How do we manage conflict within friendships?
“Put words to it,” Danielle makes it simple and plain. State the problem. What’s the issue? “The number one thing that I hear a lot when I push back with women is, Danielle, she should know. I should not have to say it.” But what if they don’t know? “Knowing your friends well doesn’t transcend the need to communicate,” Danielle says. Communication is everything.
To add to that, “State the issue in a non-accusatory way,” Danielle provides the example of a friend talking to you crazy in front of a crowd. “I’m not going to say, You were wrong for how you talked to me. That was foul, the way you came at me. Instead, Let’s talk about yesterday. Can you help me understand what happened because I feel some kind of way about it?”
Invite your friend to have a conversation. It may help them better understand where you’re coming from. Try extending the benefit of the doubt before going off. Think, How can I avoid dysfunction and unproductivity? Because if the common goal is to reconnect, talking shit about the other person lowers both of your chances of fixing it. But if you need time to digest – because people really be trying it – say that too. And they’d have to respect that.
Don’t assume the end. It’s trendy to cut people off these days. This no-nonsense approach we’ve adopted is understandable – because honey, we are tired. But Danielle advises us to “weigh the transgression against the evidence of the friendship.” Yes, Best Friend was out of pocket, but this isn’t like them. Look at the receipts. Making this comparison is important and may save a valuable friendship.
“Being vulnerable enough to show a desire to keep it moving,” Danielle speaks on our urge to play hard. Don’t be that person who refuses to reconnect because of ego. The sooner you can come together, the sooner you can move on. Out of sight, out of mind is real though. The longer you wait, the less you may be concerned. If you want to maintain the friendship, take a step towards getting on the same page.
How do we have healthy debates?
We’re passionate people. We know this. Stay solution-focused. “We can go back and forth all day. But at some point, Moving forward, what do you want me to stop doing or do?” Danielle says. Set an intention for the conversation. What’s the goal? It has to be collaborative. If you or your friend is always late, making the other wait, she encourages us to ask questions like, “Are we meeting too far from your house?” Be curious about our friends’ perspectives because no one knows everything. It shows humility and your friend may open up. Always try to advance the conversation.
“Anything you can do or say to affirm,” Danielle says is progressive. She references her soon-to-be-released book Fighting for Our Friendships where she talks about the three reasons women have conflict and how they go about resolutions. We glorify the romantic phase of our friendships. The beginning. But during a beef, there’s a big opportunity for connection. We may discover shit that can take our friendship to the next level. Tap into those moments.
Danielle says reaffirming can go something like, “I know you love me. You’re the strongest person I know. I know it’s probably why you came at me so hard. I love that about you. But the way you did it yesterday didn’t feel good to me.” Some higher power is still working on us because the beginning sounds a bit pressed. But telling someone, That doesn’t feel good, needs to be our go-to. Because truthfully, even though it’s hard to say, it’s a necessary step toward better friendships. True, you don’t know how the person will react. But if they hurt your feelings, you have to let them know.
On the other hand, letting Anxious Friend know that you won’t leave or reject them may ease their mind during a tough conversation. But don’t get it twisted, the toxic behavior must cease and desist.
How do I know when it’s time to end my friendship?
We must have articulated the boundary or boundaries first. And boundaries aren’t walls. Danielle refers to boundaries as a map or data, “I’m showing you how to love me well.” We are responsible for communicating our love language relating to friendship. “This is something I call affirming boundaries,” Danielle says, “Instead of telling you what I won’t do, what I don’t like, what I don’t want,” switch it up. This is what we do like, what we do want.
More than before, there is dialogue around boundaries and us being strict and rigid with them. “Let’s be [real], you may be asking them to stop a behavior that other people in their life think is fine,” Danielle reminds us to be gentle and extend grace to our favorite humans because people make mistakes. On the other hand, if we notice that the other pereson doesn’t care to improve, show them better than you can tell them. But be nice and have no hard feelings.
If you’re second-guessing your friendship, Danielle says, “It’s time to go.” If you don’t feel emotionally safe enough to be vulnerable, it’s time to go. Danielle defines vulnerability as, “feeling comfortable taking a risk of being rejected.” For example, if you tell someone something traumatic about your childhood – what Danielle calls a Level 10 vulnerability – or it’s your turn to choose the restaurant for lunch – a Level 1 – and your friend minimizes it, jones you out, or embarrasses you, it’s a clear sign that maybe you should drop this person. Any form of shaming, manipulation, or lying should be addressed expeditiously. These, too, are signs that the friendship is not healthy.
Why’s it so hard for Us to keep friends?
Danielle and I were on the same page. We even laughed about it because it’s true. Sis, why is it so hard for Us to maintain healthy friendships? Danielle admits that her content is palatable to a lot of folks, “It’s very safe and universal.” But we can’t deny that how we relate to other audiences is different. Our joy looks different. Our fighting looks different. It’s not the prettiest. The Black experience has conditioned us to believe that we have to be strong in every arena and our friendships must be solid and free of conflict. We think of our friendships as “a refuge,” Danielle says. Because from code-switching to taking micro-aggressions to the chin, we expect our friendships to be the least resistant.
Because of this, our patience has grown thin as fuck. “I wonder if it’s an overexertion of our strength,” Danielle tries to find the words to describe her theory about our strengths becoming our weaknesses because of our Black experiences. The idea of being soft or vulnerable may feel scary or foreign to us. But “If you’ve loved a Black person, you know we have a softness,” Danielle says. So why have we kept up this front against each other for so long?
For one, our instinct is to get rid of folks because it is one of the only ways we can exercise power in a world where we have very little of it. “If I go to therapy, am I saying that my parents dropped the ball?” Danielle closes our talk with a challenge for us to acknowledge the isolated traumas within our culture. Deal, then heal. Just know, there is beauty in our Black friendships. If they’re checking on you, they’re not thirsty; they’re concerned. Learn yourself. Self, learn.
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