How many of us refer to practically everyone we know as friends? We may thrive on being popular, enthusiastically accumulate lots of introductions, have hundreds of contacts on our phones and network voraciously. But how many of the people we meet with regularly, socialise with, reveal our innermost thoughts and secrets to are true friends?
TV channel, Lifetime recently commissioned a survey on this very subject and discovered that millions of Britons ‘can’t stand’ their friends because they’re too high maintenance or have no shared interests. It’s hardly surprising when we reflect that many of the people we spend time with are there through circumstance or accident.
We may have acquired friendships during our early school days, from our neighbourhood, through family connections or at work, but over time gradually realised that we’ve grown apart, supporting different goals, aspirations and outlooks.
The Lifetime study reveals that differing opinions, lifestyles and humour mean that 45% of us have ‘frenemies’, people we socialise with but don’t really like. And, in fact, many of us ‘struggle to get along’ in our own group.
Why is this situation so commonplace? I guess it’s often convenient and requires less effort to rub along with the people in our own orbit, with those who seem pleasant or ‘nice enough’. Mixing and meeting regularly means we network, reinforce our social hierarchy and establish our own ‘tribe’.
But sometimes our ‘friends’ can be negative, causing more harm than good. There may come a time when we need to ask ‘are my friends bad for me?’ Do they support my best interests, challenge me to better myself and demonstrate real care?
Consider how much of yourself you invest in your friendships. Some people give of themselves constantly, providing time, loyalty, money; always thinking of others before themselves. Sharing our dreams, secrets and expectations may work if those involved apply the same consideration, but often one person is more heavily invested in the relationship. Or an unanticipated third-party may appear on the scene, putting the relationship’s dynamics into disarray.
Nothing in life stays the same. Stuff happens as new interests surface in the shape of a life partner, children, promotion at work or opportunities to move home or travel more. Health-related issues may occur that require us to adapt accordingly, meaning some relationships may be demoted whilst others become more relevant.
Hence, it’s wise not to put all your eggs in one basket. If we invest too much in one or two friendships we may find ourselves becoming unduly possessive, proprietal, jealous or controlling. Fear of missing out (FOMO) can be a factor if we’re watching someone we’ve previously shared everything with start to live an exciting new life.
No one wants to be guilt-tripping, bullying or intimidating their friends into making decisions that are wrong for them, or be on the receiving end of that treatment either. That’s why it’s so important to accept that we can enjoy friendships in many different areas of life. Those relationships need not consume us, but instead can satisfy and support us in a variety of ways.
We may have friends who are fantastic at work. They share our outlook, enjoy discussing work and career-related issues but otherwise have very little in common. This often becomes apparent when someone leaves their job, promising to keep in touch. When they return to visit, even after only a few weeks, there’s usually very little to discuss once the initial greetings are over.
Tips for maintaining good friendships:
– Learn not to rely too heavily on one relationship for all your emotional and companionship needs. Having a small circle of best friends is all well and good, but be wise to your own counsel. Expecting one person to be everything to you is too much responsibility both for you and them. Maintain your identity and relish other friendships, hobbies and interests.
– Accept that some friends will have their limitations. Some may be fair-weather friends, only able to cope with fun, laughter and good times. Others may be foul-weather friends, happy to listen, give advice and support you, but disinterested in partying and frolics. Both have their part to play.
– Notice how much of yourself you ‘give away’ in your relationships. What do you offer, what do you get in return? Do you have boundaries where you say ‘enough!’ about sharing time, money, personal secrets and information. Extraordinary circumstances may mean one person does more taking and the other more giving, but set limits so the traffic’s not permanently one-way.
– Accept that situations change; a new partner may appear, a job or business opportunity may arise that requires more dedicated time, effort or indeed the chance to work away. Be generous in celebrating your friends’ successes.
Be firm and keep intuitively in touch with what’s right for you. Friends may have a different perspective or even an ulterior motive about what you ‘should’ do. Yes, friendships require compromise and co-operation, but refrain from sacrificing your happiness to constantly accommodate others. Flexibility is fine but shouldn’t become a way of life; ensure that your friendships are good for you.
Susan Leigh is a long established counsellor, hypnotherapist, writer and media contributor who works with clients to help with relationship conflict, stress management, assertiveness and confidence issues. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.