“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” — Walter Winchell
Most of us had a best friend when we were kids. Do you remember her?
You did everything together — played, shared clothes, music, and books; talked about boys and movies; spent all your free time in each other’s homes.
When you were together, you felt at ease, free like the wind. Then she went away to one college and you to another, and, just like that, these inseparable friends became strangers.
It happened to me, but I’m grateful for the memories of that friendship. Tanya was like the sister I never had. Being with her helped me to forget the reality of my own family for a while. I also learned that not all families were screwed up like mine. I still don’t know why we became strangers so fast, but I know it took me years to meet other people I could call friends. People who made me feel the way she did.
But before that happened, I went through some unhappy years of following a crowd and not paying attention to my own feelings and needs.
What Does Friendship Mean?
What does it mean to be friends? Is it enough to be on the same wavelength, talking about market prices or the latest social events? Does enjoying each other’s company at your second cousin’s wedding make you friends? Or do her needy calls at midnight qualify as friendship?
Like with any other significant relationship, in friendship there’s a chance that you’ll end up with the wrong people in your life, especially when you grew up in a dysfunctional family dealing with mental illness and abuse. You survived, but your brain learned to “look” for familiar patterns, so you are automatically attracted to people who treat you in a similar way. Your self-esteem is low, and you don’t believe in yourself. You can’t say no to others and don’t dare to ask for what you want.
I made my share of mistakes in friendship, too, and it took me years to understand that:
#1 Not everyone who wants to be friends with you is right for you.
#2 You don’t have to stay friends with someone because you’ve known her your whole life, it used to be great, or you are afraid nobody else will want you as a friend.
People That Should Not Be Your Friends
When I was young, I needed people to like me, and I paid the price: Being with those people, I was afraid of being myself, making normal, human mistakes, or saying something wrong. I couldn’t relax and felt contently at edge. I played a role being someone they would expect me to be. Even when someone mistreated me, I stayed because I didn’t believe that someone could accept and love me for me. I was never good enough for my mum, and I learned to think of myself the same way. I believed that everyone else was cooler, smarter, and more worthy than I was.
Can you see that these “friendships” didn’t help me heal, on the contrary—they were adding new scars to those already existing.
Since then, I have revised my view of the world, and one of the things I learned was that the best way to deal with some “friendships” was to let go.
Here they are — the people I no longer have in my life (and you shouldn’t, either):
- She secretly hates your guts, and you have a feeling that something is off. You start paying attention and read the signs — glimpses of hateful, diminishing looks, avoidance, and gossip behind your back. Don’t wait for her to admit what’s going on. Leave this relationship — the sooner, the better.
- She is terrific as long as you play by her rules, do what she wants, and meet her needs. Then, one day you fail, and she withdraws her friendship (sounds familiar?), turning your world into a cool, silent bubble of emotional mistreatment. Only you can pierce it and leave — so do it. You deserve better!
- You like her, and she seems to be taken with you. But in time, you realize that she only reaches out when she needs something from you. The rest of the time it’s up to you to keep this relationship going. You have to decide if there’s something in this friendship that makes it worth keeping.
- You meet her in your neighborhood. She loves her family, and they all love her — you can learn something there. So, you go for a walk together, but whenever you want to share something, she doesn’t listen and changes the subject as soon as she gets a chance. You rather don’t discuss hot topics with her either, unless you want to get sucked into a funnel of negativity bordering with obsession instead of enjoying your walk peacefully. It’s possible to navigate this relationship, although it may not be your first choice of a friend.
- She is smart and successful, but being with her feels like standing in court and being constantly evaluated and judged. She is critical, and her comments are harsh. She doesn’t respect the opinions of others, and she is resentful and unforgiving. Her opinions are charged with irrefutable truth, and she throws them at you, ignorant of your feelings. Do you feel like you’re under shrapnel fire that’s piercing your self-worth? Maybe this relationship does more damage than good.
- She demands your attention. No matter whether you are at the dinner table with your family or getting ready for work, she needs you now! It’s always an emergency, and you can’t get rid of her before she is done with you.
- She lies, manipulates, and abuses you and/or other people. This person should never have a place in your life.
Have you met “friends” like these? Please, share in the comments below.
Who Can See the Flowers in Your Garden?
My fears were running the show, suffocating and robbing me of the happiness of real friendships. It took me decades to understand and change that. So, how do you know who’s your real friend?
Here’s what true friendship means to me.
You disagree, but it doesn’t change how you feel about her and she about you. She may not call you every day, but she always will be there when you need her. She forgives your mistakes, because she trusts you, and she never gives up on you. You may not see one another for months, even years, and can pick up right where you left off. There’s no awkwardness between you. It’s more like a sisterhood, or even that unconditional love we (are supposed to) get from our mothers: no strings attached, no “something for something” quality to it.
You are relaxed in her presence, feeling authentic and true to yourself. You can be sad — no need for a “happy” façade. You can share everything without fear of being judged, criticized, or ridiculed. And it doesn’t matter if she is a “popular” type, thin or big, older, younger, or the same age. Your life without this person would never be the same.
Do you have a friend like that?
If not, don’t give up. One day, you will be ready to open your heart, and when she shows up, let her in!
Share your thoughts with me in the comments — I would love to hear from you.
P.S. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself about your friendship(s) to help you identify which are healthy and which are toxic:
- How do I feel about myself when I’m with her — relaxed or tense, full of guilt or anxiety?
- Do I feel equal or inferior? Am I myself or do I pretend to be someone else?
- Are my needs taken into the equation, or just hers?
- Does she pay attention to what’s important to me, or is it always about her?
- Is she happy for my success?
- Can she forgive me for hurting her accidentally, without me begging and making it up to her for weeks?
- Does she respect my other relationships?
- Does she freeze me out when we disagree?
- Will she allow her political views to interfere with our friendship?
- Is she kind to me when I feel vulnerable, or does she take advantage of me?
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