Your Friendships Suck – Are You the Problem?

There are many things I know about myself, some I do not, and some that I’m starting to figure out.  But one thing I have always been sure about?  I am a damn good friend.  Are there areas for improvement? Absolutely.  Sometimes I forget to text back, I have to use a calendar to remember people’s birthdays, and balancing quality time with all of my loved ones can be a challenge.  But when push comes to shove, I freaking rock at the whole friendship thing.

So when it’s not reciprocated, I haven’t always reacted well.  Some would say I have high expectations, but I hold myself to high ones too.  And at times, this weeded out the friendships that weren’t up to the challenge.  After these relationships would fizzle out, I was often left wondering if I was surrounding myself with crappy people, if I was just a mega-jerk who was overly critical, or if it was maybe a combination of the two (like most things are).

This past year is when the pieces started to finally click.  I noticed that I wasn’t satisfied with some of my friendships. My friends would talk about how close we all were, how well we knew one another, and how we were basically like sisters.  But it didn’t feel that way to me. All too often I was finding myself annoyed, frustrated, and insecure.  Sure, any relationship comes with ups and downs, the good and the ugly, but this was different.  Something was missing.

After some soul-searching, I realized what some of my friendships were missing was reciprocity.  They were seriously one sided.  As someone with a strong empathic nature I was allowing my fierce sense of loyalty and compassion to keep me in friendships that spanned years, but weren’t actually satisfying.

Here’s how I was giving myself the short-end of the stick:

1. I gave more to my unsatisfying friendships than my meaningful ones.

This was by far the most important realization. And I felt horrible when it came to light.  In a session with my therapist she asked which of my friends I would feel safe going to for support if I needed it.  The relationships I thought of were not the ones I was spending the most time nurturing. Granted, part of that was due to geographical distance.  But mostly, I was taking their friendships for granted.  I wasn’t talking to them often enough, I wasn’t going out of my way to see them aside from the occasional dinner date, and I wasn’t checking in on them.  Who was I doing all of that for?  The people whose friendships I wasn’t even feeling fulfilled by.  So yes, I was a great friend…to the ones who didn’t deserve it.

2. I didn’t tailor my expectations to the individual.

If you expect the world out of everyone, you’re going to be disappointed.  I was continuing to be hurt and disappointed in relationships over the same. Damn.  Issues.  When someone was showing me their true colors, I wasn’t listening!  But I also wasn’t prepared to just cut everyone out of my life who didn’t go above and beyond the call of friendship.  After all, this was still my social circle, why burn bridges if I didn’t have to?  Instead, I needed to learn how to lower my expectations.

That’s not a blanket statement. I’m in no way suggesting that any of us should walk through life with low expectations to avoid hurt or disappointment.  But instead, if you insist on having someone in your life, your expectations should match the person.  I expect great things from my meaningful, reciprocal relationships.  And I give my best in return.  Contrary to this, there are also people in my life who will never come close to meeting that same bar.  Do they still get the best I have to give?  Absolutely not.  Just as importantly, I don’t expect more from them than they’re able – or willing – to give either.  In the end, everyone is left feeling generally satisfied.  No one feels neglected and no one feels criticized.

3. I wasn’t rationing myself out appropriately.

This ties in to #1.  I spent so much time and energy devoted to relationships that weren’t reciprocal.  In fact, not even close to reciprocal.  So much so, that by the time I had fulfilled all of my friend’s needs there wasn’t any energy left for me let alone my meaningful, mutually satisfying friendships.  I figured out that I needed to take a step back.  Sure, it was important to lend a hand during the hard times, but I didn’t need to bear the burden alone or feel guilty for taking my own time to recharge.

For instance, when a friend of mine was in the midst of a break up, I was with her night and day.  I listened to her vent, hugged her when she cried, went to every event or outing that she wanted to do.  The normal things a friend is supposed to do.  The only issue?  This went on nonstop for weeks. And then in the blink of an eye, she was suddenly booked with activities she’d planned with other people. That was wonderful for her, but after weeks of being by her side and supporting her she hadn’t even thought to include me now that she was feeling better.  To make matters worse, she was now also starting to bail on our plans in favor of her new ones. Ultimately, I was left emotionally exhausted from playing caretaker (and not getting any energy back in return) and I was now resentful because I felt used and depleted.

Yet, I’m the one that should have known better. It wasn’t the first time I found myself in this position with the same person and I had allowed myself to continue the pattern.  I was exhausted, drained, and angry…again.

So I stopped.  I started focusing more of my energy on myself and less of it on her.  If I wasn’t in the mood to chat that day, I didn’t have to just to make her feel better.  I could go to my room and grant myself my alone time.  If there was something fun I wanted to do, I stopped bending over backwards to accommodate her so she could go too.  It was okay not to be her only support system and once I stopped trying to be, I not only felt better but also had more energy left to be active in the lives of others who did give back what I put in.

Like most things, friendships are not black and white. They simply fall across the spectrum of people who are great for a night out and people who truly feel like soul mates. My biggest takeaway, is that self-preservation is key.  You don’t have to give 100% to every person you consider a friend.  If you try, chances are you’re either going to end up exhausted, disappointed, or unknowingly giving some of them 10%.  And the ones you end up giving the least to, could be the ones who deserve the most.

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