Holding the phone at my ear, I picked at a frayed thread on my couch throw.

On the other end, a close friend of many years was recounting a story about her day, how she had run across the whole city for an assignment then gotten lost with her group members.

“And then what?” I asked, but I was thinking of something else, I had called her to say something. But I quickly found myself doubting it mattered, plus she seemed to have a lot to share. The story eventually shifted to her family at home.

“Why do you think she said that?” I robotically asked her. 

After a while, I got up to blow out my candle, still cradling my phone. My phone lit up against my cheek, the battery was drained. It dawned on me, at that moment, that an hour had passed and I had scarcely said much more than, “But why?” or “Okay, then?”

Something was completely off. Or had it always been like this? The balance between giving and taking had, somewhere along the way, been skewed.

I was slowly turning into a sounding board, an echo that answered back.

It had been a tough time in my life. I felt adrift in college. My roommates were dispersed around the world studying in their chosen fields while I stayed behind, picking up the pieces after a last-minute change of plans with my major. I was mentally drained from my own struggles, so hearing my friend constantly speak about hers exhausted me.

“My ears are bent.”

This is the life-changing phrase that stumbled upon me in a Journalism class. Through it, I realized that I was always the ‘listener’ in relationships, and I couldn’t ignore this fact any longer. I was slowly turning into a sounding board, an echo that answered back.

I knew I wasn’t being a good friend. Good friends don’t get tired of listening, do they? I knew she also needed my support but I couldn’t find the energy to do much more than listening. 

After that night, our conversations felt– and it hurt me to admit this to myself– tedious. I felt irritated that she didn’t notice that there was no space for me to contribute anything. Not knowing how to bring it up, I kept it deep inside. Until I found my chance when one day, there was a lull in the conversation. My friend seemed to search for something to say while we sat across from each other on the couch.

“Do you know anything about me anymore?” I asked. I wasn’t exactly sure wanted I to say, but I needed to say it. She looked at me, perplexed.

Figuring it out as I went, I told her, “Listen, for the past month, I hadn’t been able to get a word in.” 

She seemed ready to interject, but I wasn’t ready to stop speaking again. “When I’m with you, I just listen. And it’s fine, I care about you. But at the same time, I am taking in all your problems when I have enough of mine.”

She suddenly seemed so far away.

“What do you mean?” she asked me.

“I don’t know when, but spending time with you has started to feel like a task, a job,” I replied. Seeing the look on her face, I immediately wanted to take it back and say it wasn’t true. But it was.

“Do you know anything about me anymore?” I asked.

 And that’s when I received the biggest reality check.

“Well, if I don’t say anything, we’ll sit here quietly.”

She was honest, maybe even brutally so. She admitted that she was filling in for my silence. From her perspective, I was still reluctant to open up and she was exhausted from trying to pry me open. Where could we go from here? 

Sometimes it takes a little discomfort and time apart can help things heal. 

Our friendship had met a standstill and, for a while, we took some time apart. I had to confront my hesitance with being vulnerable which was rooted in the fear of not being taken seriously or worse, sounding boring.

My deteriorating sense of self-worth was eating away at my relationships. I didn’t feel what I had to say had value, so I just let myself fade away. As a consequence, those around me had to be taking up all the space in the foreground. 


I reached out to her after a couple of weeks because I knew I couldn’t change without my closest friend. We both agreed to make a conscious effort to try to keep a balance between us, which at first was incredibly awkward.

She paused ever so often to ask me, “Well, what about you?”

Yet, eventually over time, it became organic. Once again, I confided in her about the big things like relationships and anxiety about the future, as well as the smaller things. 

As we grow closer and we can add more years to our friendship, I am so glad I was able to bring it up when I did. Had I let all those feelings fester away inside my head, I would have not only never confronted my own self-worth but also could have lost someone very important to me.

Sometimes it takes a little discomfort and time apart can help things heal. 

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https://thetempest.co/?p=141932
Amal Als

By Amal Als

Editorial Fellow