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August 7, 2019

The challenges of friendship.

Whether to hang on or let go

Friends can disappoint us. They can even simply annoy us. Dealing with this can be difficult because friendship is based on mutual interest and independence. Fixing a friendship can be elusive.

We can easily feel hurt by a friend or disappointed in them because they said something to us or didn’t reply to our message or didn’t visit when they were in town. Dealing with disappointment is connected to the differences between people’s views of friendship. We are disappointed because the friend is not acting according to our own value system. For each of us, a friendship is properly manifested in a certain way. But a friend may have a different understanding of what friendship means.

The question is, what to do about this feeling of disappointment.

One way is to simply accept that the friend does and understands things differently. We are all unique individuals with a different way of looking at life. This includes the way we understand friendship itself. To some, a friendship is something that needs to be backed by regular contact and visits. To others, friendship means getting in touch whenever it feels right or if it works out. And this goes back to each person’s view of life. Some see life as something to be organized and controlled. They believe that contact between friends can and should be regular. Others see that life is so unpredictable and untameable that we just need to go with the flow. They see that friends meet simply whenever it eventuates.

A very different approach is to confront the friend. We can tell him or her that what they did or didn’t do was hurtful to us. Because we don’t want to lose the friendship, we want to talk about it. According to this view, like marriages, friendships need work. We have to invest time and energy into them. But sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge that. Friendships are often treated in a haphazard way. To treat them more purposefully can feel fake to a lot of us, especially those who see that friendship should be an effortless bonding of two souls.

The other option is to just let go of that friend. If they are not showing any signs of love and dedication to us, maybe they just don’t consider us a close friend worthy of their time and attention. Why try to change how they feel? Those are their feelings to have, so let them have them.

But then we might flip back to the previous option and question whether we should help this person realize that they are not being a good friend, that they don’t know what it takes to maintain a friendship. There certainly may be some truth here. Some people might be well suited to each other but may not put enough effort into maintaining the friendship. Being upfront about this could be helpful.

But it also runs into the slippery area of trying to control others. Even though we are deeply connected to others, this is no reason to try to control them. I personally don’t like it when friends try to control me. I have a quirky sense of humor that is sometimes simply “lame”, and I have had some people almost reprimand me for my jokes, especially my puns. This did hurt me because humor has always been a part of who I am. It also made me question myself. Of course, I don’t want my jokes to offend others. But if my harmless puns get on people’s nerves, then perhaps it is not me who needs to change but they who need to stay away from me. If they don’t like who I am, they shouldn’t try to stay friends with me.

This taught me something important about friendships and relationships in general: if we have to change fundamental things about others in order to maintain our relationship with them, perhaps we should not be in that relationship. Here we need to make an important distinction: helping others improve themselves, and trying to change who they are.

To me, a true friend should help others improve themselves. If I heard my friend complaining about how tired and unwell they feel, I would give them some advice about diet and exercise, or encourage them to get a blood test to check their iron levels. This doesn’t compromise their identity as a person.

But if I find that I am telling a friend to change their views on politics, start or stop believing in God… then perhaps my friend and I are just not compatible. It’s fine to discuss our views on religion and politics. This shouldn’t be taboo. But there’s a difference between sharing and controlling. Also, if I expect others to change, then I am arrogant. I am assuming that my beliefs and way of living are the right ones.

This might make it seem like friendship is totally egotistical. We should just take care of ourselves and if others satisfy our needs and like everything about us, we will stay friends with them. But friendship should be more than just serving our own needs. We should be friends with people because we genuinely love them. And because we genuinely love them, we will be there for them. We will put up with their imperfections, listen to their worries and help them out in times of need.

But remember, we should never use our friends as a doormat to wipe our dirty feet on nor should we allow ourselves to be used as a doormat. There’s a difference between confiding in a friend and unleashing all our negativity on them, which many of us have probably done at one time or another. It’s quite easy to tell the difference. When someone is using us as a doormat, the entire conversation is about them. There’s no question of, “so how are you doing?”

Friendships are tough, and while I think we should respect everyone, we don’t need to be intimate friends with everyone. Practically speaking, we can’t. What’s important is that we nurture the relationships that matter. There’s no formula to follow to help us maintain these friendships. There will be friends we have for life and others that come and go. We have to search our souls to see who the real ones are so that we can nurture those relationships instead of just letting them be swept away by a life that is focused on other more surface-level things.

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