Love, Life Stories

I was an awful friend and I didn’t even know it – until this happened

I saw myself as a self-sacrificing, loving friend. In reality I was a pretty awful friend, I just didn't know it.

In my early twenties I thought I was a really good friend.

Self-sacrificing, loving, supportive, all that good stuff.

Turns out, I was totally wrong.

Older women in my life talked about how they were still best friends with their college roommates and that they still got together once a year for a vacation. People my age would tell me that they were still really close to their best friend from elementary school.

But I didn’t have any friendships like that, and I started to wonder why.

Then I started to ask the women who had long term friendships what those friendships were like. They set up a time to call their friends every week. They always reached out first instead of waiting for their friends to reach out to them. They committed to being there for their friends all the time instead of just when something big was happening. They made plans with their friends instead of just saying, “Let’s get together soon!” They sent cards, like actual physical cards with handwritten notes in them, when something big happened, or just randomly to say, “I miss you and I love you.”

[bctt tweet=”I didn’t know what it meant to be a good friend.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I realized that I had never done any of these things with my friends, even though many of them had done these things for me. I realized that I was actually a really shitty friend, and I felt like a really bad person.  I reflected on all the friendships I’d lost out of apathy. I thought about all the times I had let my friends down by not showing up or caring more about myself than our friendship.

I wondered if I’d be able to repair any of those friendships. And I realized if I truly wanted to repair those friendships and build new ones, I would have to do a lot of work.

Technology makes it easy to feel like we’re making connections. Texting and Facebook messaging are easy and convenient, but they’ll never have as much impact as hearing someone’s voice or seeing them face to face. We’re all very busy people, and it’s hard to maintain personal relationships with people we don’t see in our day to day lives. But the most important piece of advice I was given about friendship is that a friend always makes time for a friend, even when it seems like there’s no time.

[bctt tweet=”Keeping in touch via technological means will never be the same as connecting face to face.” username=”wearethetempest”]

After I realized what a shitty friend I had been, I started reaching out to those I had been calling my friends and apologizing for being a part-time friend. I said I wanted to commit to being closer and that I was willing to put in the effort to make that happen.

One thing that became apparent pretty quickly was that I couldn’t have as many friends as I thought I could. I couldn’t have 20 ‘best friends’. I had to decide who I wanted to spend my time with. This sounds harsh, but we each only have so much time and if we want to be really good friends we have to give that time where it really matters. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I blew off everyone I didn’t deem a close enough friend. I still reached out to them every once in a while, hung out when it was convenient, and was kind to them when we ran in to each other.

[bctt tweet=”I couldn’t have 20 ‘best friends’.” username=”wearethetempest”]

For those ‘best friends’, which ended up being about six people, I made a commitment to call and see them regularly. I kept in touch with them enough to know about all the little things and not just the big things. If it had been a bit since I saw them, I would make sure to clear a whole day to spend with them so our time together wasn’t rushed. If one of those six people called me and needed something, I did my best to help them out. I made them a priority. I did the boring things like helping my friends move and driving them to doctor’s appointments and waiting in the lobby. I did the fun things like watching them participate in a sport or hobby they loved. I tried new things with them. I really listened when they talked and recalled small details and remembered to follow up later. I did the work to become a good friend.

In my early twenties a lot of people I knew were getting invited to weddings. I remember thinking to myself that I would never be a good enough friend to be invited to a wedding, which was incredibly lonely. I have now been to three weddings, for some of my closest friends, and for one, I was even asked to be the Matron of Honor.

When I got married to my husband there were more of our friends at the wedding than either of our families.

[bctt tweet=”I realized that I was actually a really shitty friend, and I felt like a really bad person.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Sometimes I’m still not a great friend. Life gets busy and I tend toward isolation. I don’t call or see my friends for a little bit. The difference today is that I’ve worked hard to gain true friends, so they do reach out to me if they haven’t heard from me in a while. Or I kick myself out of my lethargy and finally call them. I no longer let relationships just fade away from apathy.

Today, I know how much work it takes to be a good friend, and I’m willing to do it because having real, true friendships is more valuable than anything else in this world.