From a 45-year-old to the 20-something-year-olds.
This is the decade when you're going to start to learn who you can't trust. I wish there were a way around this, but I don't see one.
So, I want to give you a few thoughts to hang on to while you're walking through the weirdness of investing yourself in people, realizing your trust was misplaced, and then trying to get over that hurt into the next stage of your life.
As you try to figure out "adult you," you're going to land in different types of friendships. Those friendships might be platonic; they might be romantic; or they might involve older people who take on a coaching role in your lives.
Because adulthood can feel a little isolated sometimes (nobody is forcing you to sit in a classroom of your peers everyday, right?), it can be easy to get stuck in whatever friendships come to you in your first few years of starting out alone. You find yourself making do with the connections you already have because the world out there feels random and anonymous. I mean, where would you even begin with beginning all over again? That would take so much work. And who's to say you'll find anything better than what you have already?
So you start to overlook things. You adjust yourself to put up with more and more that isn't quite right. You ignore the fact that you have a headache every time you leave the house of that friend. You say, "Every relationship has stuff. This is just our stuff."
If you're in that cycle and feel sort of embarrassed that you have let your relationships get this bad, please don't beat yourself up. Finding trustworthy people is difficult. It's not like strangers come with a big warning sticker on their foreheads. Controlling boyfriends start out as Prince Charmings. Emotionally-abusive mentors start out as kind older people who project the confidence and wisdom to be able to help you grow. Toxic friendships begin over coffee with warm smiles and laughter.
One of the strangest quirks of adulthood is realizing that certain unhealthy people have managed to secure positions of power and influence in society. I remember how shocked (and even frightened) I was in my twenties when I realized that a couple of leaders others considered "heroes" were actually nasty and abusive people in private. I couldn't understand why the world continued to affirm them. I didn't understand why they hadn't been exposed. I felt small and helpless as I struggled to admit the truth to myself while the mighty force of those personas loomed so large. It was disorienting to stand on my own two feet, feeling pretty much alone, with the heavy task of saying, "No, this isn't right."
I'm sorry that this often comes with the territory of being in your twenties. Maybe it will help to have someone who is older tell you that you aren't crazy if you find yourself there.
Also, you're not stupid if you've invested your heart into an intense relationship that has become weird and unhealthy. If you have slowly become trapped by emotional manipulation, abusive criticism, narcissism, or disrespect, know you aren't alone.
So many of us went through this in some form in our twenties. For some of us, getting over it felt like the end of the world. But I want you to know that you're going to grow from this pain. This heartbreak is going to make you wiser and more discerning. Someday it's going to help you help others who find themselves trapped in bad relationships.
This pain will also help you clarify what you actually believe. These sharp hits of the chisel are knocking off bits of confusion in your worldview. You're finding out what you value. You're finding out what is worth fighting for. You're finding out where you stop giving in and where you draw the line to say, "No more." Those are vital discoveries.
Lastly, I want you to know that it's possible to have friendships that are healthy. I get it if you need to be cynical and defensive for a while. That's a normal reaction after getting hurt like this. But when the grieving time is over, know that the world is an awfully big place.
When I was devastated over what didn't work in my twenties, I couldn't have anticipated the richness of new friendships that would form in my thirties and forties. Yeah, I've had some disappointments later in life as well. But I've also found generous friends who are worthy of trust--people who love me selflessly, who fight for me, who put up with me, who believe the best of me, and who make my life so much richer. So don't let six or seven rotten eggs determine what you believe about 7.6 billion.
The wounds you have received in this stage are making you smarter and stronger. Don't feel shame over what didn't work. Just own your scars--we all have them. Name what you've learned. Mourn what you need to mourn. And get back in the game. Twenty-something is good. But there's a lot more good life to live at thirty-something, forty-something, beyond.