The other day, someone sent me an email sharing about themselves and their failed relationships. They ended it with an earnest question, “How do I keep people in my life?”
I thought about it. Naturally, I reflected on my own life.
I remember many times crying silently in the night, clenching my fists in deep emotional pain as I asked myself that same question. I was hurt and frustrated that nothing ever went my way. In my mind, I was always the one left behind, holding on in vain and ending up with nothing.
My life now is completely different. I’m engaged to be married soon and have many meaningful relationships around me. Every day I feel grateful for the love and care I receive from others.
So what has changed?
Two major things:
I went to therapy and worked on my emotional issues.
I stopped choosing people who didn’t choose me.
I don’t think the second point could’ve happened without the first. Learning to love and value myself empowered me to take a step back every time I sensed a mismatch of interest and effort in my relationship with someone.
When they pulled away, I stopped blaming myself and trying harder to hold onto them; I accepted their decision and let them go instead. I shifted my energy and attention entirely to the people who showed me they wanted to be in my life.
When I struggled to stick to this course of action for whatever reason, I even set hard rules for myself because I knew it was the right thing to do.
What I’ve learned is this —
It’s hard to keep certain people in your life because they never want to stay with you in the first place. And you keep choosing people who don’t want to stay with you probably because, deep down, you don’t believe you’re deserving of love and interest right where you are.
That’s what you need to work on if you want genuine relationships in your life.
When someone makes you doubt their interest in you, you need to learn to trust your judgment and tell yourself that you deserve better. You need to train yourself to be turned off by the first sign of indifference and absence.
Your brain should go like this: “I’m awesome. This person doesn’t want me— too bad, they don’t see my value (as opposed to “Is there something wrong with me?”) I’m going to find someone who does.”
Bonus points if you also think: “If they don’t see my value, their judgment can’t be that great. Why do I like someone with such poor judgment? I’m going to find someone better.”
There’s a line in the book Straight Line Selling by the infamous Jordan Belfort that I thought would make a great relationship analogy:
“We do not make a full-blown sales presentation to someone who is not interested in buying what we’re selling. Instead, we want to weed these people out as quickly as possible, during the intelligence-gathering phase. Remember, it’s not the job of salespeople to turn nos into yeses; it’s simply not what they do.”
Now, you’re not salespeople (not all of you anyway), but in relationships, you kind of are — you “sell” yourself. If even aggressive, money-hungry salespeople know not to waste their time and energy on people who are not interested, maybe you can learn a thing or two from that and stop holding onto those people.
Using the word “job” in this context is also a clever way to say that someone’s interest in you is NOT your responsibility. If someone says no to you, it does not reflect your values and character. You’re allowed to let them go and have your self-worth intact.
The real question you should ask yourself
It isn’t “How do I keep people in my life?”; it’s “How do I nurture the relationships with the right people?”
The “right people” share a few things in common:
They’re responsive and receptive to you.
They’re genuinely interested in you.
They’re excited about you.
They respect you.
They share similar values as you do.
And they do all of the above by choice.
Having these people in your life feels natural. You don’t have to do anything other than being yourself to get their attention because they find you inherently interesting. They ask you thoughtful questions. They randomly comment on your Instagram posts, react to your stories, or send you funny memes. They make you a better version of yourself.
Please note that you don’t have to invest in a relationship with someone just because they check the things listed above. Them having those characteristics should be the minimum. You should surround yourself with all the “right people” and choose among them whom to get closer with.
To maintain and nurture such relationships, do these two things:
1. Make investments.
It means showing genuine interest in their lives, spending quality time with them, sending them gifts and flowers on special occasions (as an example), guiding them through difficult tasks, showing up for their ups and downs, come to them when they need you, and so on.
It means putting in the effort even when it’s inconvenient and treating them like you value them. Be proactive, but also give them room to do the same for you. It’s like a long, joyful dance — it should be rewarding for both of you.
2. Take accountability for yourself.
The thing that makes the biggest difference on my relationships is how emotionally healthy I am.
After going to therapy, I learned to meet my own needs and stopped expecting others to fill me up. I started approaching relationships from a place of love and stability because that was what I already gave myself. I shifted my focus on eagerly learning about the world instead of constantly scrutinising myself.
I let go of the draining thought that everything was about me. Everything isn’t about me. People are mostly consumed by the thoughts of themselves and do what they want to do. I’m free. I know I’m solid; so I look outward with wonder. I attract people by being me and better me each day. I add value where I could.
Yesterday I got a very long message on Instagram from a reader. She said lots of hurtful words to me because she didn’t agree with one of my articles.
When I read that message, I didn’t feel attacked; I felt worried about her. I knew immediately that her anger came from pain, and it wasn’t about me. In fact, by the end of that message, she apologised and explained her situation. I replied to her with authenticity and empathy.
It wasn’t the first time I received messages like this. It struck me that if it hadn’t been for my healing journey, I would probably have taken those messages very personally and convinced myself that the whole world hated me, hence throwing myself into depression.
Nowadays, I can separate other people’s opinions from my solid knowledge of who I am, and I know I’m loved, first by me. That’s a big win for me, and it’s how I can actively choose the right people and have many healthy relationships in my life.
See, when the wrong people reveal to you that they’re wrong for you, don’t confuse their opinions of you for who you are. Let them have those opinions, and you can have yours. Now, find the people who agree with you on that and build wonderful relationships with them.