things i have learned - friendship

Katherine, Me, Christine - my oldest friendship - almost 28 years

If there is one subject that is constantly at the front of my thinking brain*, it's friendship. This is something that I ponder often, no doubt motivated by the way I was raised and the expectations my parents laid out for me with regard to how I should conduct myself in a friendship. I don't think that I am the best friend ever, nor do I think I am particularly consistent when it comes to how I behave in them. What I do know is what I have learned, the challenges fought and lost or won, and the person I seem to have evolved into after all of it. The memory of my first best friendship ending is still a point of heartache for me, though it's stored in the back of my brain in the place where all of my childhood hurts are stored. We all have that place. The pain of my friendship ending with her was almost too much for my middle school heart to handle. And thus, my sensitivity from that experience has informed the way I manage feelings in friendships and as they decline.

Figuring out why friendships begin is so much easier than figuring out why they end. Over the years, I have ended and lost many friendships. I am not friends with any of my exes, I don't talk to any of the mutual friends we shared while we were in a relationship. I've ended a lot of friendships that were formed and fostered in the context of unhealthy life choices, too. I've ended friendships with people who were living in a way that either jeopardized their safety and/or my safety, and I've walked away from people who just stopped taking care of themselves. I've ended friendships with people who were incapable of establishing boundaries with people in their lives who inevitably impacted me negatively. People have walked away from me for all of the same reasons. There are a handful of people who also ended their friendship with me for no known reason. And conversely, there are people out there who have no idea why I turned my back on them.

I do my best at the culmination of a friendship, or a challenging spot, to assess what is happening (or what happened) and to try to determine what role I had in it. Did I fail to establish boundaries? Did I not listen when my friend was speaking to me? Was I passive-aggressive? Was I callous when I should've been sensitive? Have I exhibited the behaviors that I am so harshly judging my friend for exhibiting? Am I not seeing something? Have I changed? Have they changed? The list is never ending, usually. I'm quite fickle with the details by nature, anyway, but I generally try to give friendship scuffles the due process of examination. Most of my friendships have ended because there is a common bond lost, because someone has misinterpreted a feeling or sentiment so inaccurately that they cannot even begin to dissect fact from feeling, because someone has not tapped into passive aggressiveness and thus explodes about a relatively minor issue, and generally, because people don't speak up for themselves.

Seeing myself work through the mechanics of a dissolving friendship has helped me learn a few things about how I conduct myself in current and future friendships. As I sat with one of my dearest friends in the Whole Wide World yesterday, catching up after months of not seeing one another even though we live less than 20 miles away from each other, my thoughts on the process came up again. When I got home and processed through the day, feeling immensely grateful to have her in my life, I also considered the people I have lost. And then, I considered the lessons I have learned.
+ It is your responsibility to teach people how to treat you.

+ Even if it hurts, tell the truth. Don't be passive aggressive.

+ A friendship exists because of good choices, not in spite of them. If something isn't working in your friendship, change what you're doing or how you're thinking.

+ Go to bed angry. It might be hard to sleep, but waiting for a few extra hours before you open your mouth will help with perspective.

+ Love yourself more than your friend.

+ It is OK to walk away.

+ Quality matters infinitely more than quantity in pretty much every facet of life, but especially when it comes to friendships.
Perhaps these lessons learned sound trite, or over-simplified, but they were hard fought and hard won lessons for me. Recently, while trying to negotiate vacation plans with my best friend, I realized that we were disagreeing far more than we should have been about a vacation. I stepped back from the situation and told myself: a friendship should be fun AND a vacation should be fun. What wasn't fun was subjugating my wants and desires, or vice versa, for harmony. So I said, "our friendship is more important than a vacation, so let's plan different ones". When I told my mom about this tiny revelation she was so proud. Of me. I couldn't believe it. She told me that she was so pleased to see me acting so maturely in general, and in the context of a friendship. What mattered more than those words (which, let's face it...hearing that from our mothers is more exciting than we'd ever admit it to be) was the pride I felt in myself for successfully navigating a challenging situation with a friend. Will I be able to act with such clarity next time? Probably not. But the framework is in place.

What sorts of lessons have you learned with regard to friendship? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

* I have lots of compartmentalized "brains" - creative brain, dumb brain, smart brain, etc.


  1. A couple months ago a blog friend wrote that they had accepted that not all friendships are meant to last forever, and you don't have to try to sustain them if they simply don't work any more. I can't imagine ever saying out loud to someone, "We don't have to be friends any more. Good luck and don't feel bad about it!" But saying those things in my heart has lifted one shelf of guilt from my shoulders. If only I could extend it to actually removing them from my Facebook friends list instead of just blocking their posts...

  2. Jennie - I actually said that to someone a few weeks ago. And I meant it! Sometimes roads diverge, and that's absolutely OK. There isn't any sense in opening yourself up (on Facebook, for example) and providing people access to you if you don't want them to actually access you. Facebook takes a lot of the effort out of friendships, too. That's definitely something I've had to learn (the hard way) over the years. If I get to the point where I haven't interacted with someone for months on end, especially when we previously had a close friendship, I will usually delete them from Facebook. That's my whole "it's OK to walk away" model. Perhaps it seems passive, but if you are at the point where you're questioning the value of a connection, and it doesn't hurt your heart to end it, why waste time fighting? Just move on. The other person is clearly satisfied without you, and vice versa, and that's OK!

  3. The problem that I imagine is the other people who are still friends with them, who may decide to 'unfriend' me if I remove our (previously) mutual friend. But then that would just show I'm not really friends with that person any more, wouldn't it? I'm such a passive person!


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All content © Meaghan O'Malley, 2009-2012. Header image by Rebekka Seale.