the price of friendship
“Get over yourself.”
“Stop being so sensitive.”
“Let it go.”
“You’re too needy.”
That was the message I received the other day, before I had even left my bed.
I had decided to take a few minutes to read through my social media pages before officially starting my day. As I laid there groggily scrolling through my friends’ updates, I came across an article on friendship. Without a moment’s hesitation, I opened the article.
In the words of Julia Roberts, “Big mistake. Big. Huge!”
The overall theme of the article was pretty clear: sensitive friends take too much time and energy. The author of the article had come to the conclusion that it was time to turn away from those relationships, choosing instead to focus on friends that were more secure in themselves and didn’t require so much attention. To me, a sensitive person, the words stung. I identified with the friends the author was letting go of because they were “too sensitive.” And, just like a sensitive person, I took the article to heart.
I allowed my interpretation of the article to set the tone for my entire day. The words echoed in my head as I got my kids ready for school and myself ready for work. The words brought back all the feelings that I’ve struggled with for so much of my life, struggles that I see lots of others face too: the push to conform and be something or someone different to make others happy; the push to hide who you really are because who you really are is just not right.
The truth is, it can be difficult to be my friend. It takes a lot for me to actually let a new friend in and then once I do, I have pretty high standards. I want to be included in things. I want my friends to be honest with me, even if it’s difficult. I also need my friends to understand that sometimes, as an introvert, I get overwhelmed with too many social activities, crowded places, or as my niece calls it, when things are “too people-y”. Sometimes I retreat and go dark for a bit. Sometimes my own depression and anxiety rear their ugly heads and I can’t get out of my own way. I need friends who won’t judge me during those times or tell me to “just be happy.” I also need my friends to take ownership and apologize when they’ve done something that hurts me, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I am a complete juxtaposition of a person at times. To be friends with me is a lot to ask of someone. I get that.
But, does any of that make me a bad person? A bad friend? Am I wrong to feel the way I feel? Am I out of line to approach friendship the way I do? Am I too sensitive? I think for most of my life, I answered “Yes” to all of those questions and allowed myself to feel shame for who I am as a person.
But, as I contemplated that article, I began to wonder not just about my own potential shortcomings but those of the author. What about her? Could it be that she and all of the people that liked and shared the article were wrong? Is there something wrong with them? Are they out of line to approach friendship that way? Are they too abrasive? Are they not sensitive enough?
Which of us is right? Which of us is the better person?
I’ve chewed on this question for the past few weeks, weighing out the benefits and drawbacks to each personality style and approach to friendship. While being the way I am has certainly posed challenges to those in my life and to myself, it also has probably led me to where I am in life. It probably makes me a better clinician. It probably makes me better able to understand the pieces of my children that are just like me. It probably has allowed me to feel things, not just bad things, but good things as well, on a deeper level than others that aren’t quite so sensitive. It probably is what allows some of my friendships to feel so very deeply rooted. Would I really want to be a version of myself that didn’t have these components? I don’t think so.
Does that mean that I am fully grown and have reached enlightenment and can’t improve as a person? Absolutely not. I think I can be someone who still wants to improve and grow AND can also still be someone who can be proud of who I am.
So, which of us is right and which of us is the better person?
In the weeks since I allowed that article to punch me in the gut, I’ve come to believe that friendships come with a price, just like most things in life. When it comes to friendships, all of us have a budget of emotional energy to invest in friendships and it is up to us to decide how we spend it. We can decide whether the cost is worth the return. For some people, what it costs to be my friend might be too much for too little in return or they just may choose to use their budget differently. The author is probably one of those people and that’s ok with me now. I get it. Her decision doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with me. It doesn’t mean that I actually need to stop being so sensitive or need to get over myself and my feelings. It just means that we aren’t a good fit for each other.
So, to those of you that have been told you are too sensitive, let me tell you this: you keep on being you. To those of you that don’t want to be friends with someone like me, you keep being you too. Neither one of us is wrong. Neither one of us is better than the other. Neither one of us is more well suited for life or for friendship.
It turns out that what some may see as our flaws or weaknesses may actually be our greatest strengths and assets.
Relationships take effort and need to continuously be renegotiated over the years. These articles explore friendships and romantic partnerships - both their importance and how to improve them.