I am a terrible friend — but that doesn't mean I don't care about you
By some strange coincidence, I have had multiple friends “dump” me in the past several months. I’m not talking about getting ghosted by a new acquaintance I’ve had coffee with once or twice. I’m talking actual “break-ups” with people I counted as best friends. And in these scenarios, I was that cliché — that oblivious girlfriend who never saw it coming, who thought she and her S.O. were blissfully happy until the moment she said “we need to talk.” The sting is palpable, crushing.
It’s a strange feeling to be let go by a good friend, because it feels a lot like a break-up. For whatever reason, we as a culture don’t seem to grieve the loss or ask, “What did I do wrong?” in a way that we might in a romantic relationship. I guess we’re supposed to just shrug our shoulders and move on. Well, in light of the fact that I’ve lost more than one friendship in such a short period of time, I decided to do a little self-reflection. I mean, it seems the one common denominator here is me, right?
Okay, so what’s wrong with me? I came up with some characteristics of mine that might make me a terrible friend, at least by some people’s standards, and I narrowed them down to the five most obvious.
1 I will probably forget your birthday.
Or your child’s birthday, or the anniversary of your cat’s adoption, or the anniversary of the day we met. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you or your child or kitty or our friendship. I love all of the above! My problem is the lack of value I place on my milestone dates seeps into the lack of value I place on yours. The good news? I don’t expect you to remember my birthday either! The only people in this world I expect to make a fuss about my birthday are my mom, and my husband (a fact he had to learn the hard way our first year of marriage). I’m not going to wait and see if you remember to get me a present or wish me a happy day, though I understand that is how many people go about it. Instead, I’ll probably call you a week or two before and invite you to my birthday dinner, or I’ll knock on your door at the last minute and say “let’s go out!” Either way, if you are busy, I will not hold that against you.
I’m an “if you need me, call me” kind of girl (no matter where you are, no matter how far — you’re welcome for getting that stuck in your head). But really, if you are feeling low, you shouldn’t wait and see if I will sense it (or for a calendar reminder to pop up on my phone). Call me the second your heart hurts and I will do whatever I can to make it better! Call me when you need to cry, to vent, to celebrate, or to gush — just don’t expect me to memorize those dates ahead of time.
2 I will be okay with us not speaking for over a month, and I will assume you are too.
We are in our twenties/thirties/forties, and it’s a busy time in our lives. We’re building careers, going to school, dating or getting married, having kids, buying houses, partaking in fabulous social lives — some of us all at once! If my friend and I don’t speak for a while, I won’t take it personally, and neither should she. I will assume that if you want to get together, you will text me an invite for pedicures or dinner. I recently had a super busy six weeks — it was just one family event/trip/holiday after another. During those weeks, I didn’t have time to make plans with my bestie, and I didn’t hear from her either, so I assumed she was in the same boat. I finally had a free Sunday coming up so I asked her to brunch. That innocent text invitation opened up a box I did not know existed. Hers was a multi-paragraphed response about my neglecting her and being a bad friend. It turns out through those six weeks, she had been stewing over our radio silence, and I had no idea.
3 I put my family first, and I always have.
This one has gotten me into trouble since high school, maybe even earlier. I remember Friday nights when my closest friends would call to tell me about a party, and I would decline. When asked why, I would often reply “I’m gonna have dinner with my parents.” Not because I was grounded, or being guilt-tripped into it, and certainly not because I didn’t like parties, but because I wanted to spend time with my parents. Even as an angsty teenager, I thoroughly enjoyed my parents’ company. There were also many times I missed some of my friends’ hangouts to instead have a spontaneous adventure with my older sister. This often caused tension between my friends and me, and sparked a few arguments. At the time, I thought they were being unreasonable, but looking back, I understand where they were coming from. It’s hard to feel like you are not a priority to your best friend. It’s something I am still working on, especially now that I am married. My husband is also my family now, and he does come first, but that doesn’t mean I need to make my friends feel unimportant. Balancing all of the relationships in our lives is an art, and I have definitely not mastered it yet.
4 I’m a “bad” influence.
If you’re on a paleo diet, I will be the one to split a pizza with you in your moment of weakness. If you’re tired and sore, and you really don’t want to go to the gym, I will say, “Take a day off! You deserve it!” If you desperately need to get some laundry done, but you would much rather binge watch Real Housewives, I’ll be the one to flip on the TV and pour you some Champs.
I have even been known to encourage my friends to get their hearts broken. Seriously, this is a true story. When we were basically babies, a good friend of mine started dating this guy that our friends had deemed “trouble,” and they told her to dump him, like, five minutes ago. I, on the other hand, told her to go for it, because she seemed excited about him and because I knew she had a good head on her shoulders and could handle whatever came next. I told her that the worst case scenario is she will get her heart broken, but at least then she will have brilliant, tragic inspiration for her writing (she was studying writing in college and applying for her MFA at the time), and she will have some experience to grow from.
Okay you guys, I realize that was TERRIBLE advice, but she is totally married to that guy now and I got to give a hilarious toast at their wedding, so #sorrynotsorry.
Editor’s note: I am that friend, and this writer is absolutely right. Bad advice at the time, but in hindsight, I thank her deeply for having my back always .
5 I might turn down hanging out with you for no good reason.
I have always liked being alone, and that is one characteristic I know I share with plenty of folks (introverts, you feel me?!). There are days that all I am thinking about is a warm bath, a bowl of spaghetti, and Grey’s Anatomy. Sometimes it’s not even about relaxing, though. I may truly just want to be alone because I like my own company! I have turned down movies, parties, concerts, and dinners solely because I wanted to dance around my apartment to early 2000s pop, cook myself something fancy, play a little piano, write a little poetry, and crack myself up. I bet about half of the people reading this are nodding, like, “Me too! All the time!” But to the other half, this is not a valid excuse to turn down actual plans with actual other humans. I get it. It’s not for everyone, and maybe it’s even a little selfish. But you know what? Sometimes you need those evenings to yourself because you deserve them.
I’m glad that losing a couple friendships lately forced me to be introspective. I believe in constantly self-evaluating and self-improving, and as disappointing as it can be to get rejected by someone you love, it is also a valuable push in a positive direction towards a truer and better you. That is not to say that I plan to change myself to fit someone else’s mold, but I can certainly be more self-aware, and cognizant of how my quirks make others feel. For now, I’m grateful for the friends I do have, because these quirks are not faults to them — they are just part of what makes me who I am. Their friend.