Friends. Who are they, really? Why do I think they are my friends? Would they consider me a friend?
These are a few of the questions we should ponder when deciphering who is truly in our inner circle, because as we know, not everyone is our friend.
However, I’m not just referring to strangers and acquaintances, I also mean those we may think are friends, but actually are not. A study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found that “while most people assume friendships to be two-way, only about half of friendships are indeed reciprocal.”
This means on average, only half of those we consider our friends, think of us as friends back…
This I find ironic, considering in elementary school, parents and teachers enforced the idea that everyone is our friend, which in the end probably caused more confusion than a sense of belonging.
I’ve come to realize the source of a lot of turmoil in our relationships is because we have set “friend worthy” expectations on people we’re just not that close with in all reality. We jump too soon to use the word “friend” for someone we’ve only hung out with a few times and maybe only in a certain setting.
We all have people in our lives that teeter between a friend and an acquaintance, and since there’s not a distinct title for them, we tend to just put them in the friend category. This, however, sets us up for disappointment.
In elementary school there was a girl I chose to call my best friend. I thought she was funny, smart, and fun to be around, and apparently so did other girls. Sure we’d play at recess together and she’d invite me to her birthday parties every year, but I eventually realized that despite the BFF bracelet she gave me (that I later found out she gave to everyone she played with), I still felt like I had to compete with the students to earn her attention. Having to essentially outperform other people to gain someone’s friendship is a sign of a toxic relationship. I eventually started questioning why I felt exhausted by this seemingly one sided relationship and determined it was because I paid more attention to and worked harder for the friendship than she did.
Interestingly, I enjoyed her more once I decided I wasn’t going to value the relationship anymore than she did. I viewed her as simply a buddy rather than a friend, and life became less stressful in my nine-year-old world. I no longer felt threatened by others who tried being closer with her, and I was okay with our dynamic and the pleasant interactions we’d have in the hallways and at recess.
Placing the “friend” label on someone who hasn’t yet proven to be a true friend will cause ourselves more upset in the end. Being a friend goes beyond the attributes you appreciate about another individual. It is also based on how they treat you. Sure you can like someone’s personality and have some pleasant interactions, but do they consistently treat you with the respect, appreciation, and support of a true friend?
Another source of upset could also be not recognizing and appreciating how the people in our lives fit in their own unique ways. For instance, I have friends whom I go months without seeing and weeks without talking to. But regardless of the last time we spoke we’re able to pick up right where we left off and there’s a sense of comfort and vulnerability with one another. Not talking to someone every week or knowing every detail about them doesn’t indicate the quality of the relationship. Some people are just more to themselves and show their loyalty in different ways. We need to be cognizant of how those in our lives show their love towards us and not expect them to suddenly be the type of friend they’re not. But regardless of whether it’s my introverted or extroverted friends, at the end of the day, they are dependable individuals who will consistently show up and support me. We respect each other’s boundaries while helping expand one another’s point of views. There’s no sense of judgment or jealousy, just genuine care, support, understanding and authenticity. Developing these deep connections takes time, patience, and intentionality, but are so much more meaningful than jumping head first into numerous shallow, unfulfilling relationships.