What am I doing wrong? I asked one of my best friends to help me move, and he suggested that I ask a neighbor. After much complaining, he agreed to help but said he only had an hour. I stored everything owned by another friend in my spare room for a few months because she broke up with her boyfriend and moved to Seattle. She barely thanked me. When I broke up with my boyfriend, she was never there for me. Months later when I reminded her about her stuff, she said, “You never helped me move.” I couldn’t believe it. She recently visited here, but the only time she spent with me was when she picked up her things. Then she asked me to visit her. I cut the cord with another friend who was condescending and mean. Today, a different friend broke our plans in order to meet some guy she barely knows for a drink. I am loyal and help my friends in any way. I don’t understand why I am undervalued and taken for granted. I’m sad. Should I just be lonely until I find new friends?
No, you should make friends with solitude. Loneliness is the experience of being alone and not wanting to be. Solitude is choosing to spend time with yourself because you enjoy your own company. Nurturing a sense of serenity about who you are, and what you really need and are capable of giving, is the key to being a good friend. This is accomplished through solitude and will grant you the gift of understanding yourself better so you can select friends you enjoy.
You need the insight solitude offers because you are at a crossroads. The emotional connections you had or have now may not be the right ones to carry you into your future. Don’t blame this on your current circle of pals. Accept it as an opportunity to expand your community of intimates. It will help to understand that, at a very basic level, friendship is based on emotional reciprocity. We like each other, we exhibit attitudes and behaviors that translate into caring for each other and we share our thoughts, feelings and belongings with each other.
The school-age “Best Friends Forever” belief haunts many adults who have difficulty letting go of long-term relationships even when those friends are noxious. If, after hanging out with a friend, you feel badly more often than not, it’s probably a toxic friendship. These are the people who constantly put you down, but when they see the surprised or hurt look in your eyes say, “Just kidding!” You feel like you should laugh at the self-esteem assault or be seen as too sensitive. Or they agree to plans with you, but when the day approaches, pretend they didn’t. They consistently disappoint, betray or try to one-up you. Or they are overly demanding, insisting everything run on their schedule. They may be excessively needy, calling you regularly to unload problems but never make time to hear yours. They don’t want advice, either. Toxic friends are addicted to the attention they receive when you listen to their complaints. They don’t really want solutions.
True friends don’t abuse, criticize or belittle each other. A real friendship includes reciprocity, honesty and mutual respect. But if your friendships are toxic, take some responsibility. After all, you maintained a relationship that was not good for you or for your other relationships. Then set boundaries with the toxic friend. Explain the behavior that creates distress and ask them to stop. If it continues, end the friendship. But do it with gratitude for what you learned about yourself and for the clarity you received about the kind the friendship you do want in your life.