On (Keeping) Friendships

A little while ago, I posted about losing friendships. As mentioned in that post, losing friendships has been a trend for most of my life. This post is not about losing friendships. It’s about reaffirming the ones I have, and ensuring that I am a better friend to the ones who’ve stuck around.

What does this reaffirmation mean? It’s not just about telling them I love them, though I very much do. It’s not just about explaining what value they hold to me – though they certainly hold a great deal of value to me. It is also about clarifying, negotiating, asking, discovering what their needs are – and then meeting them, if it’s in my power and/or desire to do so. It’s about challenging myself to be more honest and more open – to trust myself and my friends to be a little more to be honest with each other. I think one of the biggest lessons for me over the years has been to reflect on my own relationship with conflict. And I trust my friends now – that if they explain some of their struggles and needs, and ways in which I might have exacerbated their problems, that it’s not them hating me. That, in fact, their comfort in reaching out to tell me is a sign that they want to work through whatever rockiness they feel in the friendship. That they trust me enough to reach out.

Some of my needs have been to clarify that I cannot always tell when I am being hurtful. If my friendship is valued, I would like them to let me know so that I can change my behavior, or be more cognizant of words or topics that are triggering for them on some level. But this is not just a self-improvement project; it’s also about acknowledging that I like friendships. I love talking about issues that get all of us going. I enjoy spending time with them over movies, at a pub, or laughing till my spleen feels like bursting. I like being there for people, and having them be there for me. It’s just that everyone perceives “being there” to be ever so slightly differently that communication has to be key. I still struggle with interpreting lack of communication – part of this is related to my own personality and how I deal with conflict: I have to talk about it if I care about the person. And because of this, I have a deeply ingrained intuitive understanding that if someone does not want to talk to me and just wants to ‘move on’ without ever discussing the problem, then this means they do not care enough about me. It is awkward, unsettling, and I never trust such people again because I find it too difficult to. Still, some of the people who’ve had the most impact on my life have been conflict-avoidant types. I have yet to decipher for myself what that means and what their actions mean. Some have been forced into impossible choices, I know. But others… I knew I no longer knew what they wanted from me, or what I could offer them. There are people, should they choose to re-enter my life, for whom I have no words left for, because it became so evident towards the end that words – my words – meant nothing to them.

In the aftermath of losing close friends, I reached out to a few good friends – something I’m not used to doing in the past. It felt strange to be so vulnerable around people – to expect understanding or at least support. It felt strange to confide and implicitly trust them that what I spoke to them about would not be thrown in my face later at any point or be gossiped about– this kind of trust is really hard for me. Nevertheless, they were there for me. And over the next few weeks, I tried to explain to them some of where I was coming from. And they listened. And I really do think part of the process of friendship is listening well. So… to friends who’ve still stuck around. I hope I am listening well to you. If I am not, please let me know. I will try to tell you my needs – and I am telling you them because I trust you to want to understand them. I trust that you value communication with me. And if you tell me your needs, I will be grateful that you thought of me enough to let me know what is going on in your life, and I will always try to help. To the ones who’ve been there for me through my recent friendship breakdowns, I cannot thank you enough. It’s only now, weeks later when I’m calmer that I can think back to early January and think While I lost(?) a friend, I really am fortunate to have so many other kind souls in my life who I can turn to when I feel my brain is breaking.

To my friends who are conflict-avoidant, who run away rather than speak up, who start ignoring me if you’re bothered by something I have done: I will be honest – I feel tired and wary and slightly uncomfortable at times around you. I try not to bother you, and I choose my words more carefully around you. I am still myself, and still value your friendships, but reciprocity with you will always be tricky for me, I think. I will always wonder if I am too demanding of you, and so will always keep myself more in check. And while I know my needs require communication, I am starting to understand that yours do not. That your needs may in fact be the opposite of communication. I struggle with the obvious tension there – how can a friendship like that survive? I do wonder. Stronger connections for me do often depend on the intensity and depth of conversation I choose to partake in – not necessarily frequency. But I have heard you – some of you – when you say “OMG you’re so intense”. But maybe I didn’t listen before. Because I value your presence in my life, I try to tone down the intensity around you. If it’s not enough, I’d like to know but…maybe that will always be a hit or miss with you lot. Are you more forgiving, I wonder, because you know people cannot always read you? Surely, you must know this by now? But maybe not; I cannot be sure.

So. Friends. Those who know when to give me space, and when to take it, and make it clear to me. Those who let me know they are still interested in the friendship but need room. Those who have been there for me, and I for them. I love you all very much, though I sometimes have trouble saying things like “I love you” to each of you individually. I value you, and I trust you. And I am trying to be better to you all.

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