On False Friendship…

Show me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are.

The people we choose to spend time with play a fundamental role in who we become. If you do not believe this, observe two people who spend a lot of time together and try to map out the similarities between them. Do they have a similar laugh? Do they debate a conversational point using the same rational strategies? Do they share a similar unique behavior, like rubbing their noses when they think, or using words that are uncommon, like “I’m flabbergasted“?

The first time I noticed how much I mirror my friends was when I heard a recording of me speaking to a friend who has a heavy accent. I was dumbstruck by the fact that I sounded just like her, despite the fact that English is my first of four languages. Upon mentioning this to others, they surprisingly affirmed that I actually do this very often, although I had never noticed it before. Perhaps my diverse upbringing predisposed me to this method of familiarization with others.

If the people we spend time with can affect our behaviors and mannerisms in the day-to-day sense, imagine what an impact they will have, over a prolonged period of time, on our thoughts and, ultimately, on our lives! When we begin to see it this way, we gradually become more intentional about who we spend our time with.

The social downside to this, of course, is that we have far fewer options. Today, I no longer have 2 dozen friends to choose from on a Friday night – but I’m OK with that, because I value the quality and depth of time well-spent over a greater quantity of shallow shared moments with individuals who do not care about me. How we spend our days is, after all, how we spend our lives, and we should not be spending our precious time with people who diminish us.

I am often told I’m lucky that I have a few supportive friends, especially by other women who feel that they have no real friends. Ironically, these women spend a lot more time gathering at events with their acquaintances while I choose to stay at home and read a book. From the outside, it looks like they have a lot more friends to boast of yet, somehow, they express feeling extremely lonely, unloved, and unappreciated. I know that feeling. I struggled with it for a very long time, and still do every now and then. The difference is that I now recognize that the source of this feeling is false friendship, and I have chosen to design my own luck.

In Manuscript Found in Accra, Paulo Coelho writes that “Friendship is like a river; it flows around rocks, adapts itself to valleys and mountains, occasionally turns into a pool until the hollow in the ground is full and it can continue on its way.” He warns against false friends who might be jealous of you, who might believe they are better or stronger than you, and who may seek out (or reject) your friendship in order to maintain their social status. All of us have experience with the likes of these. Instead, Coelho urges us to maintain friendships with those who are not threatened by our successes or ashamed of our downfalls, who love us simply for the sake of loving us, and who seek to fill the hollow in the ground out of love. Sound rare? It is! But would it not be more worthwhile to have even one authentic friendship rather than a dozen false ones?

Grappling with this is definitely difficult and sometimes discouraging. Upon our engagement, my husband witnessed a major turning point in my expectations and tolerance of false friendships. He grew to understand the strained look on my face every time I faced a new disappointment, and every time I realized that another one of my friends would not rise up to the occasion. The year between our engagement and wedding was one of the most difficult years of my life. I struggled with homesickness, an extremely stressful turnover period at work, the enormity of purchasing a house and preparing it for our future without any hired help, a major downward shift in my financial freedom, significant health problems and, of course, wedding planning. My friends at the time were, for the most part, entirely non-present during these turbulent times. When they did come around, they had nothing to say except: “You’re so lucky!”

I was angry, disappointed, hurt, and discouraged. I felt entirely alone for quite some time. However, through this process, I finally understood that true friendship requires showing up and caring, and that time and love are two gifts most of my friends at the time were not willing to give. This realization allowed me to spread my wings and start exploring opportunities for new friends. I sought out people who could be happy for me during the cliched “happiest days of my life,” because I learned that those who could not be happy with me also would not be around during the darkest days. I began choosing people who looked beyond the surface, who dug deeper, who sought out the whole truth, and did not accept the smiling “I’m good!” that is such a fundamental part of my nature. Through all of this, I learned that the people who show up are, oddly enough, the ones we least expect!

Today, 5 months after my wedding day, my realizations have held true. There are very few people who offer to lend a helping hand. My old “best friends” did not attend my wedding, which I did not hold against them because it was far away… but they also did not bother to come by to congratulate me afterwards. They do not realize just how upset and hurt I am, and they probably do not see what has been broken. I am OK with that now. It was a painful lesson to learn and it was even more painful to cut the chords. However, when I share a toast with friends today, I know that I am with them because they are worth their weight in gold (or more than their weight… my best friend is quite a tiny little lady).

Show me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are. Choose your friends wisely, because they will certainly partake in writing your future. To start, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is my friend teaching me something new?
  • Does my friend encourage me to become a better version of myself?
  • Is my friend genuinely happy for me/ concerned for me?
  • If I call my friend during a time of distress, will he/she show up?
  • When I complain about my family/spouse/child, does my friend show me the light or throw fuel to the fire?
  • Does my friend bring a good energy to my home? (We will talk more about this one later)
  • Does my friend respect my time or is he/she regularly flaky/late?
  • Is my friend motivated to excel in his/her own life?
  • Does my friend respect my privacy?
  • Does my friend respect other people, or does he/she consistently gossip to me about their personal lives?
  • Is my friend honest?
  • Does my friend respect the sanctity of my relationship with my spouse, or does he/she flirt with my spouse and encourage disagreements? (This is a serious contender that pretty much ended my 8 year friendship with someone).
  • Is my friend as forgiving, generous, and kind as I am? (You cannot ask for forgiveness, generosity, or kindness if you do not give it).
  • Above all, if I had to be my friend for the rest of my life, would I be honoured or ashamed?

Your answers to these questions should give you a very clear direction on whether or not a friendship is healthy and genuine, or false.

Do you have any insights or stories to share about how you choose your friends? Please share them in a comment below!

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

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