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Shortly after graduating from college, I had recently relocated to a new area and felt very alone.
I was dealing with some heavy issues related to my family, which only increased my feelings of isolation. My roommate at the time, trying to be helpful, bought me a refrigerator magnet that read, “The best way to have a friend is to be one.”
I didn’t like the advice as it felt somewhat invalidating to my struggles and feelings at that time. Yet as I grew older, I started putting this saying into practice. I’m beginning to realize this advice is lacking one important concept: reciprocity.
During the past few years, I have strived to be a good friend to the people in my life. I make an effort to reach out fairly regularly, make plans with those who live nearby, keep people in my thoughts, and offer support, whether it’s meeting up for coffee or talking on the phone, when they’re going through a hard time.
But during a recent rough patch, I have never felt more alone. All of the effort I made didn’t seem to matter. I am not receiving the love I have been giving.
Am I surrounding myself with people who do truly care about me? Or are most of my friends more like activity partners? That’s how it’s starting to feel.
Granted, going through a breakup is painful. And no amount of amazing friends are going to erase the pain. Also, it’s common to feel a sense of isolation when dealing with feelings of grief and loss. I remember feeling this way after my sister died. I felt super alone and wondered if anyone cared how I was doing. As the grief lifted, I started feeling like a part of the human race again. But I also didn’t ask for support from my friends, and I think that may have helped ease the heartache.
I’ve made so many excuses for people in my head. Oh, she’s busy. She’s going through her own stuff. And yes, those things are true. However, aren’t we all going through things? Aren’t we all busy?
How about looking at it this way: people will make the time and put in the effort if you are important to them.
I mean, these are qualities I have looked for in romantic relationships, so why can’t I ask the same of my friends? Am I asking too much?
I am aware there are a few reasons why I may feel more strongly about this topic than others. To me, friendships are extremely important. They add a lot of value and meaning to my life. I am divorced with no children. And my family, with whom I’m not extremely close, lives out of state. So, I probably rely more on my friendships than others. Another challenge is that I have moved a lot during my adulthood. So, that makes for a lot of starting over and developing new friendships.
There have been periods in my own life when I was not a good friend. I was wrapped up in my own needs and wants and didn’t nourish the friendships that meant a lot to me. Some of those friendships remained and others faded away. I guess all we can do is be honest with ourselves and with others about what we want and need when it comes to a friendship.
So, here are three must-haves when it comes to having solid friendships in my life:
1. Someone who respects my feelings and my time.
We all have that forgetful friend. You make plans and then aren’t really sure whether or not the plans are going to materialize. How often do we say to ourselves, oh, she/he is just flaky, and we have come to accept this behavior.
However, this friend is being inconsiderate of our time and feelings. It’s one thing if someone has to cancel occasionally and lets you know in advance. It’s even better if they are able to acknowledge this is one of their shortcomings and are making an effort to change. It’s quite another if they just don’t show up and if this becomes a common theme in the friendship.
2. Someone with whom I can address issues as they arise.
Take the example above. Do I feel comfortable letting my friend know how I felt regarding what happened? Or do I just have to let it go? If I am not able to freely express how I feel, I am sacrificing my own emotional well-being to maintain the friendship. Not only is this unhealthy, but over time, all of the unresolved hurts will lead to anger and resentment.
3. Someone who gives as much as they take.
Your friend is going through a challenging situation, and you are there to lend a listening ear. Yet, when the tables are turned, you don’t find this person to be emotionally accessible to you. Yes, it’s best to ask for what you need, and I am not the best at taking this step. But if scheduling time to get a cup of coffee or even a phone call is not feasible for this individual, then maybe this person does not value your friendship or is not able/willing to reciprocate.
I have found myself time and again overextending my empathy and compassion, giving people too many chances just because they say “sorry,” and it was taking a toll on my self-esteem. Which is ironic because if I felt better about myself, I probably wouldn’t tolerate being treated poorly.
So, I have decided to up the bar on my friendships. Yet, the change needs to start with me. If I cannot get better at asking for what I need and taking risks to express hurt feelings as they arise, nothing is going to change.
You see, I am not giving my current friends an opportunity to rise to the occasion. I am not allowing my friendships to grow in depth and intimacy because I’m afraid to take the risk of losing it.
However, if I take these risks, I may be pleasantly surprised.
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