Friendship is riddled with challenges as we grow into ourselves as people. As children, it feels easy to make friends — we’re forced to interact with others our own age for the duration of our schooling years. But beyond that, as adults, we’re on our own to try and figure out not only how to make friends, but to keep them. For me, one of the biggest challenges has been about managing expectations. I expect a lot from myself, and so equally I expect a lot from others around me.
Friendship gets complicated when you’ve been disappointed; but equally, we have all done wrong by those we call our friends. I am a big believer that people can change their behaviour for the better — and enough altered behaviour means a change in personality. It’s not easy, but change is possible.
We can always do better — as long as some of the fundamentals are in place, and as long as we don’t perpetrate toxic friendship behaviours deliberately, there’s always the possibility for redemption. Sometimes even when we are toxic or difficult — when the strength of the friendship is tested — there’s still the possibility of change for the better.
Balance is essential. We want to remain understanding and forgiving, but we also have to have a sense of when things have gone too far. Adopting an attitude of reflection is key. It’s not so easy, but one of the things I try to keep in mind is that I, too, have failed. I too have been a bad friend. Apart from the ‘love yourself, love everyone’ message of the average self-help text, it’s perhaps at times just as powerful to remember that we have all failed — and just as we try to forgive ourselves, we try to forgive others.
We’ve all challenged someone’s trust
Trust is often hard to gain and easy to lose — revealing information someone has confided in you, or lying, are obvious ways to lose the trust someone has for you. We’ve all done things to disappoint our friends at times, but a baseline of trust is rather important in the search for a true friend. We have all challenged this at times — whether to show off, be cruel, out of indifference, whatever. It has happened. We seek forgiveness, and try to prove with action and words that we are trustworthy.
We’ve all judged someone
It feels harsh to say that we judge the behaviour of those around us — being judgmental is often a clear barrier to trust and openness between friends. But we do all make judgments, even on a subconscious level. We want to assess those we draw into our lives, and this is perfectly natural. But to have a trusting relationship with someone, there has to be the sense that you can be your true self without undue judgment. We have to put a cap on just how far we judge others, and what for.
We’ve all miscommunicated
The importance of communication is no secret; without it, how do we relate to anyone at all? But it’s never going to be straightforward. An idea has to form in your mind, be expressed by you in words or actions, be regarded by another individual and then absorbed, understood and interpreted by them. There are so many points of potential failure along that line. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we’ve never failed to communicate something important, or be understood by our friends.
The main through-line to successful communication seems to be about a combination of flexibility, perseverance and openness — asking questions, seeking out opportunities to clarify, and offering up opportunities for further discussion. We’ve all shut these things down when we’ve decided on a foregone conclusion. We can all stand to give more of the benefit of the doubt.
We’ve all been selfish
Taking over conversations, failing to listen, making everything about us… We’ve all done it. We’re the centre of our own universe, after all. And Western capitalist society does teach us that we are each in a struggle towards our own success. It’s not exactly a world that prioritises commune, even though we as humans absolutely require it. Selfishness is everywhere. This one is tough to combat, but does often ease in those who do their best to remember the needs of others around them. We can all be selfish at times, and sometimes it’s totally necessary. But this does affect the people around us — sometimes, we have to reassess how what we do affects others. We have to remember that everyone can be selfish, but they can be generous too. Sometimes you have to ask for generosity, give a little reminder. And sometimes we have to remind ourselves.
We’ve all held a grudge
Keeping score is such a bad habit, but it’s easy to do. When small actions or words start to build up, we’re all inclined to place these on the scale sometimes and keep track of where the balance lies. This feels connected to communication — an inability to communicate in the moment of a slight having occurred against us can mean that the slights start to build, maybe we start to tally them, instead of just saying, “Hey, that wasn’t so great for me.” Holding on to the grudge seems easier than just addressing the slight, but nothing could be further from the truth where a long term friendship is concerned. We can all stand to get into the habit of finding better ways to express our discomfort.
We’ve all been unreliable
We’ve all failed to show up when we were really needed. We’ve all forgotten something important, or failed to act when we should have done. Of course there’s a line — that one friend who never shows up is going to be hard to maintain a relationship with. We have to show up for people. But we do all slip up. Remembering that, doing our best to apologise and show up next time, is the important first step.
We’ve all regretted our actions
There’s hope in all this. Most of us do feel regret when we know we’ve done wrong. ‘Regret’ has been a bit of a dirty word in the self-help arena for a while. But what’s so bad about it? Sure, we don’t want to find ourselves falling down the pit of regret when we’re assessing everything we’ve ever done, regretting every risk we’ve ever taken. Allowing regret to take over would mean giving in to a crippling level of anxiety, second guessing everything we do. But feeling regret in the arena of friendship — about something specific that we know we did wrong towards someone close — isn’t such an issue, in my view.
I’d watch out for those who say they ‘never regret anything’. If anything, regret demonstrates our capacity for reflection and empathy — our ability to look back and honestly consider what effect we had on someone else. Not always such a bad thing. Only by realising what we have done wrong can we honestly seek forgiveness. Only once we are aware can we actively do better.
Coming up: I will look at ways we each can redeem ourselves — the steps we can take to make sure we are doing better. Stay tuned!