Warning: borderline pop-psych BS on the horizon.

I was just thinking back to a time when a friend of mine was completely soured on relationships and was basically bashing all forms of human interaction… and I reminded this friend that “friendship is also a relationship.” While you aren’t physically/sexually involved (in most cases, anyway), you are connected emotionally and mentally.

As a single gal who’s had her share of rough times over the last 6 years (over a year of unemployment due to a company going bankrupt, a car accident while unemployed and uninsured, a crap job taken out of desperation that sucked the life out of me for almost two years, having to move back into my parents’ house, the realization that a lifetime “mood” was actually a condition, not caring enough about myself during that whole time to really focus on my health and the whole self-defeating cycle that comes with depression and rapid weight gain, surgery to remove bones from my hand due to a freak medical condition, etc.) I have realized just how important my friends are. My family support structure isn’t particularly strong or healthy, so my friends are my chosen family (to adapt a cliché).

There have also been toxic friendships. Surprisingly, in the midst of all my craziness, I had some of my most lucid realizations about these friendships: maybe it was because of the way they reacted to my craziness (or didn’t), or because I realized that I was the only one making the effort to maintain the friendship, or because I finally figured out that my unconditional love for my friends (there’s my secret) was being abused. Ending friendships with these individuals (whether by letting them fade away or actually having a straight-up “come to Jesus” confrontation) was incredibly freeing, if difficult and sad.

However, I’ve also been a far-from-perfect friend. In my darkest times, I did a bang-up job of chasing away my friends, whether or not I was trying to. When I felt hopeless and depressed, I chose not to talk to anyone and decided that my friends were better off not having to deal with me. When friends reached out to me, trying to give me reasons to care, to get me away from the crying and beating myself up over minutiae, I made up excuses or didn’t answer the phone or just got so anxious about dealing with people while “in my state” that I literally worried myself sick (nausea, neck pains – the human body really is incredible). In that way, I did chase away several people who cared about me. It didn’t bother me then because I was convinced that they were better off not knowing me.

Thankfully, there were people who were willing and able to deal with me—who put up with my crazy excuses or who called me out on my twisted thinking and forced me to deal with the world. A few of them have told me – now that I’m in a much better mental state – that during that time, they felt absolutely helpless and had no idea how to make me feel better. That’s all they wanted, but I wasn’t making it possible. There was no advice they could give or cheering up they could do (and they certainly tried). I get the feeling that I almost chased some of them away, too.

And today, I read this post on Lifehack.org entitled, “How to Break Up With a Friend” (which should perhaps be titled, “How NOT to Break Up With a Friend” since it offers advice meant to mend, not end, a friendship… with a few exceptions) which got me thinking about all of this again. While it isn’t the most magnificently written piece ever (and I’m really not one to talk, I know) it is a decent summary. There are three things the author names as the “bare bones” of any friendship:

  • Communication. When was the last time you actually called up your friend just to ask them how they’ve been or what’s new with them? You may find that you have unintentionally have been calling them up only to ask for something or to just talk about yourself.
  • Activity. When was the last time you made the effort to set up a time and place to do something with your friend? Have you been consistently extending invitations to hang out? Carving out time for your friendships are extremely important. Quality time together deepens your bond.
  • Support. When was the last time you offered to be there for your friend without them asking you? Or when was the last time you returned a favor they did for you without them asking? Sometimes, people feel taken advantage of when one is giving and the other is always taking. People don’t always realize what is going on so don’t beat yourself up. Make amends and work toward seeing situations objectively rather than subjectively.

I concur. These were all important factors in my decision to end a friendship. There was a friend who only called when she needed someone to listen to her complain and cry about her relationship or “stupid” things she’d done; if I needed any support in return, I got the “oh, cheer up (so I can hang up)” or “snap out of it” response, or anger (really) at not being able to work things out on my own. I tried to make plans, but they were always met with a “maybe” that (I learned) was code for, “Maybe – if something [fun/better/involving alcohol or sex] doesn’t come along first.” When you’re already depressed, being relinquished to the category of “if there’s nothing better going on” is rather devastating. Gee – proof that you don’t count and that you’re worthless. “Look – you tried to reach out, and see what you got?” In the end, I was spending my time and energy on people who couldn’t be bothered to do the same for me. Toxic (just like the Britney Spears song). Also from the post:

A friendship should, for the most part, bring out the best in you. Friendship is a two-way street. One person cannot uphold a relationship all on their own. That is not a friendship. The dictionary defines a friend as “One attached to another by respect or affection.”

Truth, yo. The friends I have in my life right now bring out the best in me. They remind me that I’m not an awful person defined by the things that have happened to her, or the situations she’s currently in and working hard to fix (even if they’re taking an incredibly long time and seem interminable). They remind me that I can be enjoyable and fun, that I am allowed to be human and imperfect (as much as I hate that reality), that they care whether I’m happy or sad and actively welcome me into their lives.

And who doesn’t like to feel welcome?

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