I planned to be absolutely honest when I started writing this blog. So, I will come clean. It took me about 2 and a half weeks just to get myself to write about friendship(s). Dramatic as I am even when no one is watching, the hurt came back every time I faced the screen and thought of typing away my thoughts. And this after a year of displaying nothing but bitterness towards a few (so many of them) that happened to be a part of my past. Me and my therapist had parted on a note of me promising to work on my anger towards these people. It is only last night that I decided to live up to that promise.
I’ll just say it unabashedly: Friendship is the weirdest relation that ever existed.
There are no genetic or legal ties that bind you unlike in a marriage or a romantic relationship or with your family. To an extent, you are even tied to your co-workers.
Friends are just weird people you choose.
And still it can feel as if it is tighter knit than your other relationships. They know our secrets, they love us for who we are, and they are our biggest cheerleaders.
But the other side to the BFF narrative isn’t as rosy. When a friendship falls flat on the face, the lack of these very ties leaves you reeling for closure. And in such defeating moments, however badly you may want to ask, you cannot help but curb the million unanswered questions running through your mind. “Hey but what about all the promises we made to each other? This was supposed to be forever!” “Excuse me but, are you my boyfriend or what?” Jeez! Sue me for not signing your lame friendship contract or something!
But then I was never really the kind who was a part of these huge friend ‘gangs’ (each ‘gang’ equivalent to the size of an East Asian country’s population). I never had as many friends as others had these ‘gangs’.
That doesn’t necessarily mean I wasn’t and am not a good friend. At least in my opinion. In a world where it has become significantly easy to drop people, I believe I am the good old fashioned ‘till death do us apart’ friend. But as someone who values loyalty and longevity in friendships, I have struggled to keep these contract-less relationships afloat. “Hey but what about all the promises we made to each other? This was supposed to be forever!” “Excuse me but, are you my boyfriend or what?”
Ever since I have come around to understand what friendship is, ‘friends’ have only dropped out of my life. The chain started with money issues involving relatively well-off friends (Rich brats! I want to scream it but choose not to attack. Rich brats!) since kindergarten, who at first thought I wasn’t hanging around enough with them (everyone was too young to understand money complexes including me). And by the time we had passed out of high school, they thought I wasn’t paying enough every time we hung out.
Friends who didn’t accept me for the introvert I was, fair-weathered friends, friends who eventually wanted benefits, friends who my parents didn’t like (who you know by now are not the designated villains), friends with low IQs (high school crushes) who just were friends because I was the school nerd and friends jealous of your success. And this weird list (rant) could go on and on. And ever since I have fought to hold on desperately to these contract-less relationships. But once the energy stops aligning, there is not much one can do.
So, was it me who needed an attitude change or was it the world?
Believe me, this is a question I have asked myself so often, right through my emotional underdevelopment days. Someone very close to me once remarked that I was the most typical storybook friend there ever could be; who does friendship way too right for the world to understand in its current state! I can’t possible ignore how eerily right this person was and continues to be. When friends approach me with their problems I don’t just listen, I get into the trenches with them. I become so involved, it is difficult for me to pull back, and perhaps awkward for the other person to continue.
The graphs of my friendships became weirder with each contract-less relationship that I entered in. That all this was hard to keep track and make sense of in therapy. What monsters am I even dealing with? Fear, insecurities, mistrust, impatience, expectations and abandonment. Wow! Even the monsters under my bed seem to be part a bigger gang of friends than I ever will be!
Right through school and then in college, but like school mostly, you are asked (forced) to fit in somewhere. Asked (forced) to identify your tribe. Asked (forced) to identify your vibe. This hits the self-conscious ones and those low on self-esteem like a huge wave. Who probably are still trying to overcome their fears of stepping in the water. And then they end up reacting in the most obvious of ways: Becoming people pleasers.
Maybe because that is how we (yes, I identify myself as a people pleaser) find ourselves to be worthy of love: By giving everything that we have. We are the ones who are ‘always there’. The doormat jokes were written for us.
Therapy got me to question as to how realistic or reasonable this fucked up way of being a friend is.
Digging into my underlying beliefs I now realize how I had basically put others on par with myself, disregarding my own needs to meet those of others. A part of me was aware of the outrageous things I have done to maintain a contract-less relationship, but I just had to drop everything to be there for someone else. I just had to.
In no way do I imply that people pleasers are not genuine people. They are good friends and they will go to any lengths to be there for you. They are just more prone to minimizing their own needs. The problem occurs when the pleasing part snowballs into expectations out of others. Expectations that someone is going to be there for you too when you need them the most.
All this now smells like a recipe for disaster.
But because I thrive on connection and intimacy, back then I decided to change the approach a bit. Instead of being the Friendship Santa to everyone I decided to narrow down my circle. While it did help me curb the madness, the conscious decision to pour my energy into a few, while increasing the expectations manifold, did me no good. Through the stingy Santa exercise, I landed myself with a handful of friends who have stuck by me till date, but I also sort of walked right into the middle of mistrust, insecurities and abandonment issues.
Ending up in the same pattern of over committing, over giving and wearing my heart on a sleeve, drained me completely. There were brief periods of feeling that nothing good ever happens to good people which quickly escalated to the dis beliefs in true connections. And that hurts. More than we may consciously know. So, I ended up projecting my fears on others and acting defensive, always preparing for the worst-case scenario.
Unable to shake off the hangover of my ‘always being there’ notion, I did the next obvious thing: Become a loner.
Building walls with grudges as the foundation, and mistrust as the bricks, the melodramatic in me found a good way to express my resentment: I am a lone wolf who is capable of one arm distance friendships. Going solo to me became the representation of power and control of my life and emotions.
The funny thing is, therapy or no therapy, at one point all of us need to redefine certain childhood notions.
Even though we are habit driven species, there is a dire need to outgrow our older versions and accept certain truths.
Yes, you have been fooled to believe that everyone is a friend, but you can wish well for certain people and still choose not to be friends. It is okay to close the door for some when your heart is full.
People change, and friendships die out, but holding on to these beyond the expiry date can be harmful.
Being there for someone doesn’t necessarily mean being available. It could mean being loyal and empathising, while continuing to see the best in them. It need not translate to disproportionate sacrifice on your part. It is possible to put your own needs first and be a good friend at the same time.
Friendships don’t need to serve a purpose. They can be just friendships. Also, not everyone can be a lifelong friend (I personally need to keep reminding myself that).
Friendships are not so much of contract-less relationships. They require the same level of commitment, time, love, freedom, forgiveness, space as any other relationship. And if someone does treat it like one, you know it is time to let go.
Lastly, it is all about boundaries. You need to set boundaries like your life depends on it. You owe your friendship to yourself first.
So here I am, two and a half weeks later, trying to live up to certain promises. I do not know exactly where or how to row this friend ship, but I certainly know who I want on board and how to piece by piece fix the friend shipwreck.