Editon #94: What Do You Owe Your Friends?
Plus, what you're really worried about when you're worried about money, a wisdom test, and
A Note From the Editor
Of all the relationships that make up the fabric of our lives—parent-child, child-parent, siblings, lovers, long-term partners, co-workers, mentors—I’ve long believed friendship to be the most altruistic. Friendship isn’t tethered by any obligatory rope. You aren’t related by blood, you aren’t having sex or working towards a shared goal or complaining about a shitty boss together. Instead, you are simply two people who have decided to invest time and energy into one another for no reason other than mutual admiration and respect. It’s something of a small miracle, I think. At the same time, this lack of societally-fabricated structure means there is no guidebook for friendship, particularly as an adult existing in modern times when friends might be spread all around the country, entwined in varying degrees of adulthood and commitment.
I met my first ever best friend in kindergarten and she was the unequivocal center of my world. We wore necklaces to demonstrate our commitment to eachother, mine saying BE /FRI and her’s ST/END. In the summers we would swim in my pool for hours, drying off only to make elaborate plans for our shared future. We would live together in a ten-story mansion, somewhere exotic like California. I would have a pet tiger, a white one, and a room full of monkeys and she would be a world-famous pastry chef. We drew up the blueprints for our house, stuffed them in a V8 Splash bottle, and buried it somewhere in my backyard. Little did we know that the physical burying of our girlhood dreams foreshadowed what awaited us in adulthood—the importance of friendship being dulled; pushed to the side in favor of other, more “important” relationships.
And yet, things were bound to change. Aside from the fact that most adults in the US will eventually get married and have children, we are also more mobile than we’ve ever been. People are spread out all over the country and the globe, and our main means for connection are the tiny computers we keep in our pockets or strapped on our wrists. We’re often glued to our devices for work, and at the end of a long day, the last thing we want to do is be on them again. We can’t help but ignore text messages, promising we’ll get to them later. Combine this digital exhaustion with the time-warp of adulthood, in which a single week might last four years but six months can pass in the time it takes to blow your nose, and we have created the perfect environment for friendships to dwindle and die.
I have been on both the giving end and the receiving end of a one-sided friendship. There have been many times in my life when I felt I was the sole proprietor of relationship maintenance—always calling, always texting, always initiating, but never directly addressing the resentment that comes with such a burden. Then there were times when I almost never replied to my friends, preoccupied with a job or a new love or a downtrodden mental state. A long friendship, a lasting one, will always consist of phases where each person passes the baton every so often, one party pushing things forward, and another receiving the gifts of a friendship with minimal effort.
The problem arises when the baton is never passed; when you fall into a dynamic where one party is always trying and the other is never trying. This is most apt to happen with our oldest, dearest friends, for we think the history between us should be enough to get us through, no matter how we are currently showing up for the other person. I’ve been talking about this phenomenon a lot lately, listening to a best friend complain of the hurt caused by another’s unresponsiveness, listening to a date tell me about how much his friendship has dimmed in the years since his best friend became a father. It had made me wonder, to what do we owe our friends? How long can a storied friendship maintain itself on nothing but a shared history? If we are, for years at a time, unable to emotionally show up for someone, should we be surprised when they stop showing up for us?
I was recently having a conversation with a long-time best friend who is in a committed relationship. Despite the time and energy it takes to be in a healthy romantic relationship, she always seems to have time to call me, to text me, to remind me that I am important. I mentioned this to her somewhat in awe, because I am single and self-employed and sometimes I can hardly drum up the energy to communicate the way she does regularly. “My friends come first,” she said. “I even told my partner that.” To this admission, I openly marveled, for I had never heard someone in a committed relationship say such a thing. As her best friend I was delighted, but I was also mystified. Choosing to place friendship first feels like a radical act, something I had never considered a possibility (though why shouldn’t it be?). When I pushed her on the subject, asking how her partner felt about her proclamation, she said, “You all have been there for me before him, and if anything were to happen, you’d be there for me after. He understands that.”
It is this conversation I continually return to as I contemplate the invisible, elusive contract of long-term friendship. Phone calls and text messages and shared vacations aside, I have come to the conclusion that the foremost obligation of a lasting friendship is honest communication. Learning how important friendships were to my friend helped me understand why it hurts her when people don’t reciprocate. With this knowledge, I know now that when I’m too tired to answer or when I simply don’t have it in me to talk, all I need to do is send her a quick text to address it, rather than ignoring the call, feeling guilty, and lying to myself saying that I’ll call her later.
It also made me think about those times when I have felt like my friends aren’t showing up for me the way that I needed. Instead of harboring indignation and biting my tongue, why not just share the way I’m feeling? Why not give the other person a chance to remind me that they love me, to share that maybe they don’t have the space to support me right now? For there are times when one party has more to give than the other, and it is never worth letting an important relationship die out just because two people are silently holding one another to very different expectations.
I know that when the sun sets on my life, I’ll look back on the friendships I’ve forged and maintained over the years and remember all that they did for me. My friends raised me, they held me and loved me at times when it felt like no one else did. They celebrated me, laughed with me, humbled me. To these people I will always owe the world—certainly, I at least owe them the respect of open communication.
Cheers, my dears, and as always thank you for reading. If today’s edition spoke to you, please share it with a friend or with your internet people, or both!
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Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
What You’re Really Worried About When You’re Worried About Money. Many people in this country struggle to pay their bills, but many others have more than enough and still manage to feel constantly stressed about money. This article was illuminating and useful; shining a light on the ways in which we tether our happiness to money and providing clear, actionable solutions for how we might stop living this way—and perhaps, finding greater happiness in the process.
This is Your Most Important Decision. If you happened to make it through this year without resigning from your job, congratulations! If you didn’t, or if you stuck it out but are still doing work that makes you feel dead inside, this article is for you. A research-backed case that argues how you spend your working hours is one of the most important decisions you will ever make, followed by a methodical suggestion for how to use your current talents to discover a career path that can help solve some of the world’s greatest problems.
Who Gets Abortions in America? I’ve loved watching the evolution of how the New York Times uses visualized data in their articles, especially here. With the recent draconian attack on women’s reproductive rights in the US, there has never been a better time to get yourself informed about the facts. I liked the piece in particular because it paints a clear picture of abortion in the US as it stands today, dispelling the radicalized talking points that all abortions are super late-term and that abortion is used as a means of birth control.
Perhaps You Should… Determine Your Level of Wisdom
I love a good personality-adjacent test, especially if it is backed by research. This 7 question survey, created by researchers at UC San Diego, was designed to gauge your level of wisdom. My “overall wisdom” score landed at 4.8. If you take it, let me know what you get!
**Bonus Content** (The Best New Yorker Cartoons)
One of the best end-of-year roundups of all time…Instagram’s favorite New Yorker cartoons.
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
“Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.”
-A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.
Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.