Sometimes I know that I am not a very good friend. One of the reasons I say this is my laziness, but to get down deeper in thinking about this, I have to ask why the inaction? I think I am actually a pretty good friend when it comes to the altruistic part. I love to listen to people talk about their problems. I take joy in comforting them when they need to share something and just have another human validate their voice and their humanity – in all its forms. I even like to think of things that would make my friends happy. Anything from a small gift that reminds me of them to an experience that I know they would enjoy, to small little jokes and reminders that someone loves them. I worry about my friends. I think about what they are going through and try to offer advice that might help them take a step forward. Or step away, if that is what they need. I try to apply my creativity to whatever their life is throwing at them. Try to help them see things in a different way if they are stuck in a rut. I try to imagine other options when they think they’ve seen it all.
But there is one way in which I think I let my friends down. I think a good friend is insistent. A good friend, in the parlance of the self-help profession, holds others accountable. I can do that, but only when I know the friend needs it or wants it. I have a much harder time nagging, bugging, checking in, bothering even. I have trouble inserting myself where I am not certain to be appreciated. This is something I have always struggled with. How do you have relationships with people when you are constantly trying to stay out of their way? I read recently that women are always trying to provide comfort, and to fully claim their freedoms, they need to stop thinking about other people and their comfort level. This rings a bit true to me, but I would take it a step farther. Not only is the provision of comfort something I feel compelled to do, it is also the part of friendship I enjoy the most. And when I cannot provide comfort in a way I know is welcome, my ability to be a friend rapidly shrinks. I have always taken the attitude that if you don’t know what to do to be a help, then get out of the way. Not only do I feel my role is to provide comfort, it is also to not be a pain in the ass.
But if I turn things around and think about them from my own point of view the landscape shifts. I know that in the hardest moments, when I was most sad or frustrated or upset that I wasn’t able to communicate my needs. I was silent even if what I wanted was that help or support that a friend might have provided. In reverse, my shy reticence to bother others manifests in not knowing how to ask for help when I, myself need it. And so, if I think that I am not so dissimilar from the norm, that my friends may be more like me that different; then I need to take this into consideration for the times I think I may be unwelcome. I need to remember that sometimes being a friend is anticipating those needs that will never be articulated. And that even if it is scary for me to make a jump into the realm of unsolicited friend-duties that maybe this is the most important aspect of being a friend. Or a sister. Or a human in relationships. I need to call repeatedly even if the phone is ignored, I need send texts without any expectation that they will returned. In need to be strong and thick-skinned in the face of another’s inability to say the right thing. I need to do more than listen, but act and take steps that might hit initial resistance. Friends do this. And if I had been a better friend to others, perhaps this assertion of my friendship, my love that will not go away would have brought me closer to the people I cared about but tiptoed around. No intimacy can abide with insecurity and fear of inconvenience is my deepest discomfort. To provide friendship to others, I must embrace their discomfort as well as my own. Not an easy thing, but so worth it.
This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.