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I was a bad friend. And by the time I realized it, it was too late.
I was halfway through college when I was hit with some news that I never would have expected: my very best friends no longer wanted to be friends with me.
In a matter of a few hours, I went from having 4 people who I could always count on to what felt like absolutely no one.
It was crushing. Absolutely, completely soul crushing.
One of my fatal flaws is I am driven by a need to always understand instead of just accepting. I needed to know, why did this happen? Who was at fault here?
And so began a journey of self-reflection that has hit many bumps in the road, witnessed many tears, and ultimately led me to understanding the truth about genuine friendships. They are a two-way street.
Friendship as a learned behavior
This may surprise some of you, but being a good friend is actually a learned skill. All social skills are.
None of us were born knowing to say “please” and “thank you” when asking for something.
We aren’t genetically predisposed to not interrupt others when they are speaking or not to shout at the top of our lungs in public spaces.
These are all learned behaviors. Children learn these types of social cues and behaviors from observing others, such as their parents and other family members.
So what happens if you have a parent who shouts at the top of their lungs whenever you leave the house?
Or maybe just one who is a bad friend?
The best word to describe my childhood is alone. I have frequent memories of learning the route home from school so that I knew which way to walk when my mom forgot to pick me up (again). When I arrived home, there was usually never anyone around to ask me about how my day was, or how my history test went. I knew how to cook full meals before I was 10 years old because otherwise I wouldn’t be eating.
And I also learned bad lessons about friendships.
The stages of development for learning friendship begin in infancy. Infants and toddlers begin to learn friendship by creating secure relationships with the adults in their life. However, when these secure relationships don’t exist, it can create issues later in life.
I was a shit friend because I never saw genuine friendships modeled for me as a child. I rarely had positive interactions that taught me how to socially interact in a positive way. I just never learned.
Are you not responsible for being a bad friend?
Let’s get something clear…. you (and me) are absolutely still 100% responsible for being a bad friend.
Yes, certain circumstances may have existed that limited your ability to learn how to be a good friend when you were a child. However, it is your responsibility to take things into your own hands and learn how this behavior is limiting you.
I went for years being a bad friend to the most important people in my life. No, it wasn’t intentional. But I also never did anything to better myself and recognize this behavior either.
Due to circumstances completely unrelated to this, I recently had to download all the messages off of my iphone and comb through them to find certain ones. However, while doing this I was inadvertently forced to read through allllll of my old messages with my best friends.
Over a year, a ton of therapy, and even more tears later I finally realized something while reading through those messages: I was a really, really bad friend.
I rarely knew anything that was going on in any of their lives but talked to them at least multiple times a week. I didn’t understand their interests, hobbies, families, or overall lives.
And the biggest problem was that I just never really took the time to ask and listen.
I had never, ever intended to be a bad friend, but it still happened. I had never seen healthy and supportive relationships, so I didn’t know how to contribute to them.
The worst part was that I didn’t take the opportunity to grow and learn from it.
If you want to be a pilot, you can’t go around using the excuse that you don’t know how to fly a plane, right? If you want to be someone’s friend, you can’t keep using the excuse that you don’t know how. Go out there and learn it.
Learning to be a better friend
My solution for pretty much any problem in my life is “maybe I can find a book about that” and sure enough, there are books out there to teach you about friendship.
Here’s some options to get you started:
- Friendships Don’t Just Happen! by Shasta Nelson
- A Tribe Called Bliss: Break Through Superficial Friendships, Create Real Connections, Reach Your Highest Potential by Lori Harder
- Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness by Shasta Nelson
- Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Truly Connect with Others and Make a Killer First Impression by Diane Weston
The other best way to address this issue and move forward is through therapy. Truthfully, I’m not really sure if at this time in 2020 people are still embarrassed about getting a therapist, but here I am announcing to the world wide web that I have one and he has made a huge difference in my life and how I interact with others.
And if I can admit that I go to therapy to the entire internet, I’m pretty sure you can set up an initial appointment.
Lastly, I recently read an article about the 9 micro habits that feed friendship, and there were a few that really resonated with me. I recognized these immediately as things I wasn’t contributing to my friendships.
Some ways to start being a better friend for the absolutely clueless
- Send positive text messages
- Check in with the people in your life. Ask them what they are up to, how the party last weekend went, congratulate them for things going well
- Send cards
- Sending personalized cards to your friends for holidays or special occasions makes a huge difference. One of my best friends was really good at this, and it always made me feel so appreciated and valued as a friend that she went to the extra effort.
- Help friends celebrate positive times
- Instead of just a simple congratulations text, help your friends celebrate the big moments in life. Take them out for a celebratory drink for landing that new job or plan a fun get together for moving into their new apartment.
- Support friends through tough times
- This is something that is really tough for me because sometimes I just don’t know how to react in tough situations and provide support. However, sometimes all you need to do is be there. Ask your friends how you can support them and just do it.
So there ya go, now you have no reason not to get started today!
Remember when I said if you want to learn to be a pilot you can’t use the excuse of not knowing how to fly? Well, if you’re a pilot in training it can allow a lot more understanding and empathy if you are to crash.
You know what’s coming… if you want to be a good friend, you can’t use the excuse that you don’t know how. But that doesn’t mean you have to become a perfect friend overnight.
If you are learning and taking steps towards being a better friend, then that’s all that matters.
How I learned that genuine friendship is a two-way street
My friendship skills were clearly leaving a lot to be desired. The biggest lessons I learned about being a good friend were from people who were good friends to me.
- I learned about how to respond to losing a loved one from my friends who supported me
- I learned about reaching out first from friends who always made plans with me whenever they were home to visit from school
- I learned about kindness from a friend who brought me medicine when I was too sick to stand up
And finally, I learned about genuine friendship from the people who called me out on my shit and encouraged me to do better.
I have a tendency to blow up in anger and then brush it all under the rug as if nothing happened. This is the way problems were resolved in my house growing up. Conflict resolution makes me queasy.
I realized I had genuine friends when they wouldn’t allow me to run away from the conflicts that I started.
They instead encouraged me to do better, to face my problems head on and communicate. They were good friends who wanted to see me succeed and were willing to provide patience and empathy while I struggled through it.
My former friends didn’t let me know that anything was wrong until the day they told me they no longer wanted me around.
And I understand, because like I said, I was a really bad friend.
However, I wasn’t an indifferent one. I still remember hearing that news, feeling like the wind had been fully knocked out of me. Shock overwhelmed me, and I didn’t say half the things I wanted to. Pulling out of the driveway I had to pull over 2 streets over because I couldn’t stop the heaving sobs coming out of my mouth.
I cried for months feeling the loss of friendships that truly meant the world to me, and I hated myself for ruining them. I felt like damaged goods and that I deserved to be completely alone.
So here’s where begins the two way street…. if a friendship is genuine and meaningful to you, then the responsibility goes both ways.
Tell your friends what they’re doing wrong. Help show them ways to do better. Acknowledge behaviors that aren’t serving the friendship.
What that person chooses to do with this feedback is out of your hands. You have no obligation to keep a bad friend in your life.
But you can’t really expect them to be better if they don’t know what’s wrong in the first place.
Let me know in the comments below:
What are the most genuine ways a friend has supported you?
Have you ever lost a friend and regretted it? How did you deal with that regret?