I’ve been thinking about this particular question—and all that answering it means—quite a bit recently. In part, this is probably because I’m so far away from home, and my closest friends live about twenty-four hours worth of travel away, on the other side of the world… Nothing will make you appreciate truth friendship, compassion, and patience, like distance will. That’s the good bit. The less good bit is that, in part, this post has been born because I’ve also had a number of interactions recently that have left me with a sour taste in my mouth, and the desire to reassert what ‘friendship’ means to me, in terms of my expectations and my experiences.
I am incredibly fortunate: in part because I live with my best friend in the world, but also because I have a small group of truly wonderful, thoughtful friends who support me and take on some of my challenges with me. In turn, I strive to do the same for them. To me, that’s what friendship is. But at times, you’ll—inevitably—encounter people who think that ‘friendship’ entails them dumping all of their life problems on you and using you as an unpaid therapist/cheerleader without ever reciprocating. Friendship isn’t treating another person like your personal wastepaper basket, pouring all of your thoughts, feelings and problems into, and then walking away when you feel that your burdens have been relieved. It’s about give and take. It’s about balance. And if you’re not doing your fair share of listening to someone else and thinking about them, instead of about you… then your ‘friendship’ may be more one-sided than you think.
In all areas of life, we have the option about what we choose to accept. Ideally, our work, hobbies, familial relationships, romances, and our friends, should be more good than bad. The number of times we leave a conversation or interaction feeling frustrated, angry, or beaten down should be vastly outweighed by the times we leave feeling good: good about ourselves, about the future, about the other person. Because, predominantly, there should be a symbiotic exchange that allows both parties to feel that they are being cared for and enriched by their relationship with the other.
Let me be blunt: friendship shouldn’t be exhausting or one-sided.
Everyone knows—at least, I’m pretty sure everyone knows—that anything great requires work. If you can name me even one great thing in your life that hasn’t required you to work (sorry friends, if your answer here is cake, I’m not really talking about food), I will be amazed… But I’ll also hazard a guess that if you’re talking about a relationship with someone, you’ve either discounted the work you’ve already done, or someone else in that relationship is doing it all and you haven’t realised. Sometimes it’s easy to ‘discount’ the work you’ve done if it doesn’t feel like work: but usually the reason that it doesn’t feel like work is because you’re evidencing that give and take. If you feel loved and supported in that friendship, you have the capacity to think over and discuss what’s going on in the other person’s life; and vice versa, if they feel supported by you, they’re more likely to be readily available to lend a supportive ear and work through your problems with you.
So, to all the great friends out there who laugh with us, who cry with us, who support us, who know our every secret, and who do us the honour of allowing us to also support them: thank you. Travelling through this life with you on my side and in my heart makes every burden lighter, every challenge easier to face, and every triumph sweeter.