Friendships have always been life savers and there are very few things in life as indispensable as a strong, supportive and loving friendship. They are vital to our mental well-being and are a huge determinant in the course our lives take. They transcend all types of relationships, down to the familial and romantic .
The joy and support that good companionship brings is such a valuable part of our lives. This value is so far reaching that our estimates of how well-rounded we are as human beings are partly based on how much of a good friend we are to the people in our lives.
But is the giving or receiving of attention and love the only barometer of a good or healthy friendship? Are you a terrible or “not so great” friend if there are times when you are unreachable? Are we really always expected to show up at every single moment in our friends’ lives, good or bad, to be regarded as deserving of the good friend title? This conversation is even more relevant right now, considering the current state of the world.
I remember seeing a quote floating around social media at the start of the pandemic. “After [the] lockdown, remember who checked on you, texted you, supported you.” Like many others, I wholeheartedly believe that this statement is completely ridiculous. It highlights the selfishness of expectations that unfortunately permeates a lot of friendship dynamics.
Of course showing up for, and checking in on, friends is important and necessary as we’re all experiencing shifts in our reality and trying to stay afloat as much as we all can. But the key word here is “we”. We are all going through a variety of personal experiences, which have most likely been heightened by the pandemic and the current climate of global unrest. So the point of view that failing to check in on friends right now somehow signifies that you’re a bad friend is definitely not the most realistic one to have.
There’s no section or chapter in the friendship guidelines that stipulates that you must be present for a friend in spite of your own personal struggles. Sometimes, those personal struggles demand so much of you that you have no choice but to deal with it before you can be useful to anyone else.
So many of us have been directly affected by the covid-19 pandemic. Numerous people have contracted the deadly virus or have loved ones who have, many have lost loved ones during this time, a lot of people have found their income taking a dive or being cut completely to the point where they struggle to feed themselves and their families and many others have had to cancel crucial or potentially life changing events and much more. It’s unreasonable to base the strength of your friendship on how much a friend checked on you during this time. In the words of Kourtney Kardashian:
The reality of life in general is that certain times exist when you’re not mentally able to care for others. And that’s perfectly okay. It’s okay to be unable to show up at times and it’s okay to put yourself first sometimes. Sure, it helps to have people you can talk to, who can uplift you and vice versa, but it’s undoubtedly difficult to come through for another person if you can’t even pick yourself up. You also need that time with yourself to comb through all your thoughts and work on self healing without the added responsibility of helping others heal.
However, while it’s fine to show up for just you and only you when you really need that time alone or you just want to spend quality time with yourself, there are situations where there’s such a thing as taking too much space from a friend or going about it the unhealthy or unfair way – or what we millennials like to call ghosting.
I will definitely be the first one to admit that my middle name is Casper. In other words, I am a habitual ghost who tends to “disappear” or reduce communication with friends when things aren’t going so well for me and I need the space to deal with my personal issues. But, I will also be the first one to admit that it’s wrong to bail on someone who has invested their time and care into you with no warning, and this is why it’s something I’ve been working on.
I think it’s safe to say that we owe it to friends to let them know that we need space, especially where there’s a level of closeness or codependency that demands that we do so. In whatever ways we are able to.
And this significance of communication is especially highlighted in situations where disagreements or arguments arise between yourself and a friend, and you eventually come to the realisation that you absolutely need to take some space and put a pause on your daily investment in that friendship and the expectations that come with it. The case of Issa and Molly in season 4 of Insecure immediately springs to mind.
Issues had been bubbling in their friendship for some time, which led to a boiling point as everything came crashing down at Issa’s block party with a very heated argument. At this point, space from their friendship was very much needed but it also came with expectations of who would be responsible for fixing the friendship; Issa feeling like the onus had always, throughout their friendship, been on her to do so. Molly on the other hand felt that everything was Issa’s fault so there was no way that she was going to reach out to Issa to try to fix their issues.
Taking the space they did on a bad note, without fully stating why they needed to and the fact that they had different views on what was expected of the other made it much more difficult for them to mend this friendship. It also meant that there would always be the danger that the friendship would never be the same even if they eventually found a way to mend it.
Space and friendship breaks and the resulting effects of these rely a lot on the specific dynamics of that relationship, and the question of whether you’re on the same page or not or whether you understand each other, because they could very well lead to a complete shift in a friendship, even to the point of no return.
In Issa and Molly’s case, some level of understanding clearly existed between them based on the closeness and the dynamics of their relationship, so even though they initially failed to communicate clearly, they were eventually able to sit down and talk through their issues at the very end of the season.
There are generally some basic expectations in friendships but there are no set rules. Everyone is different, hence every friendship is different which means that expectations should also vary.
Friendship dynamics are vital in determining expectations and the level of communication you need to have with a friend, but I daresay the most important factor is how well you’re able to understand each other. Having friends who understand you and vice versa is essential, especially in unprecedented times like these.
A friend that understands that okay, I might be going through a lot but my friend is in the same boat so I get that she has to deal with her own shit right now and I’m comfortable enough in this relationship to give her the space she needs to heal before she can open back up to me, is more than priceless. In the words of David Tyson, “True friendship comes when the silence between two people is comfortable.”