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  • Writer's pictureCoach Elizabeth Brink

Friendship Status: It's Complicated

Friend, best friend, childhood friend, companion, confidante, sister, partner, buddy, pal, acquaintance, colleague, classmate, housemate, lover, neighbor, collaborator--We use dozens of words to identify friends, each with a unique-to-you meaning that may shift depending on the others or circumstances.

For example, I have several "work sisters" from previous jobs, but not all previous coworkers are given this name. Calling someone a "work sister" means we went through something together and found more than a simply pleasurable work dynamic between us. We had shared goals, values, language, and were waveringly supportive of each other.

In mass email marketing, if you don't know someone's name, the standard greeting was "Dear Friend." It was a way to convey familiarity and care to someone who likely is not your friend.

We hear 'friend' used to address crowds of strangers with common interests. (Regretfully, I've done this plenty.) We've witnessed the rise of Facebook's "friend request" and gained access to someone's (curated) life across social media platforms making the world feel simultaneously smaller and impersonal.

The collective watering down of friendship has resulted in an era marked by loneliness.

This reality is particularly confusing for people with a history of challenges understanding social norms, nuanced expectations, and shapeshifting relationships.

For many, the return on investment in friendship is not worth the cost of potential heartache and embarrassment.

Have you developed a core belief that nobody will ever truly understand and embrace you just as you are? Are you confused by what is expected from you by the people who call you "friend"?

You are not alone.

In a recent episode of the podcast We Can Do Hard Things, guest Luvvie Ajayi Jones shares this (and loads more wisdom!) about friendship:

"I think a friend is somebody who you do feel responsible for some of their care, but also who you can trust yourself with, trust your truth with, trust your imperfection with. I think friendship is a verb, just like love, just like sisterhood, just like community, and friendship is an action.

It doesn’t mean we talk every single day. Sometimes we’ll go a month without speaking. But friendship means that person is another charging station for me... I’m very careful who I call and consider a friend. Will I show up for you in the moment of crisis? If you are not somebody who I would show up for, I can’t call you a friend." - Luvvie Ajayi Jones

The kind of friendship Luvvie is describing is beautiful, imperfect, compassionate, and full of feeling. It is built on hard work and clear communication with heaps of grace.

I asked people on Instagram what they wish their friends understood, and most of the responses had to do with their unpredictable energy and inconsistent communication. It's really stressful to be a good friend if the expectations directly conflict with the way your brain is wired.

If the glue of friendship is consistency in 'showing up,' then where does that leave those of us with unreliable memory, overbooked days, and the ability to lose track of time on small and large scales?

Some neurodivergent people spend all their spoons on friendship and may carry bitterness about their ability to show up for others when nobody returns the favor.

It is hard to love people. It is vulnerable to have needs, and likewise to be with the needy. We all have limited resources in a world that constantly gaslights us when we say we're spread too thin.

As therapist Nedra Glober Tawwab said in a recent Intagram post, "get used to repeating yourself... don't assume people don't care when they forget what matters to you."

We can't be a friend or receive care from one without knowing what each other needs and values. We have to be brave in stating our needs and values, repeatedly.

Reflection Exercise

Think of a friendship you've had as you work through these reflection questions. You can use words, pictures, songs, etc. to guide your reflection. Feel free to share any responses or insights in the comments!

  1. How did you meet?

  2. What drew you together?

  3. What did you admire about them?

  4. How did you feel about yourself around them?

  5. If no longer friends, what changed between you?

  6. In hindsight, what did you learn about yourself?

  7. What did you learn about friendship?

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