True friendship means making time. Let’s consider this. What type of vocabulary do you use when you are arranging a date with a friend? Do you commit outright, or do you make papery plans? Do you say things like ‘let’s aim to meet’, or ‘let’s try for Friday’? As a friend, do you give the best that you possibly can? And do you receive the best from your friend in turn? Do you spontaneously make time for one another? a tale of friendship by YSRA DAREY
I bumped into a friend (almost literally) one midweek evening as we were both rushing around a busy West London shopping centre. It was a little embarrassing, particularly after so many fruitless attempts at arranging a meet-up over the past couple of months. To think that it finally happened on its own. This led me to wonder why it can be so difficult to make plans with friends, and actually follow them through. Why had we left it so long since we last saw each other? As we sat down for coffee and cake, it seemed as though one of us had to broach the subject, so I took it upon myself.
“Don’t you think it’s funny,” I began, carefully, “how terrible we all seem to be these days at making time to see each other?” I didn’t want to sound accusatory. She looked as though she was considering her answer, so I went on. “We’ve been trying to meet for ages, haven’t we?”
“If I’m honest,” she replied, “I’ve been having quite a hard time recently. I was in quite a bad place and not really up to socialising.”
The first feeling that struck me was one of mild outrage. Didn’t she see me as the caring, wise, advice giving type of friend she could confide in? Did feeling blue really warrant hiding away for weeks and weeks, not returning texts or phone calls and completely slipping under the radar?
I stopped short of voicing my feelings when I realised that I too was guilty of the very same and recalled a couple of months before, when my regular work situation changed and my relationship of one year ended. The very moment that things – emotionally and financially – went up in the air, I disappeared, trying to ‘find myself’ and shied away from meeting up with friends who would no doubt ask how everything was and who might probe for details, which I didn’t yet feel ready to divulge. Why? Because it doesn’t feel okay not to be okay. The stigma attached to any type of emotional struggle means that, as well as not wanting to feel as though we are wasting each other’s valuable time, there exists a real fear of looking as though we aren’t coping. For this and several other reasons, it becomes all too easy to isolate oneself during times of trouble.
When I think about what triggers low moods and sadness, it seems clear that the feeling of loneliness can be a chief factor affecting how we think and feel. In essence, we cut ourselves off from those closest to us to avoid being rejected. The more I think about it, the more ludicrous the idea of ‘scheduling in’ a friend sounds. Some of us go so far as to schedule our social phone calls.
The trouble with this is that problems occur without warning. Things can go wrong at any given moment and when they do we have no choice but to deal with them. So why are we so reticent when it comes to sharing and discussing our worries? Why are we so reluctant when it comes to asking for support? I realised that this is especially common in the Diaspora, particularly in larger cities, where many of us work hard to maintain a work-life balance. Is it all down to the hectic lifestyle model that many of us have adopted, at the cost of free time and personal relationships?
During my time living and working in South Africa, I realised how much more willing my group of friends there were to call each other over for dinner or drinks at the end of a working day, how many more of us gathered at the weekend not only for drinks, but to laugh, eat and talk and found that, even where people had high pressure jobs and worked many hours, their social time was still a high priority. Certainly the warm lovely weather in Cape Town had a lot to do with the choice of social outings but there was a marked difference in the whole ‘culture’ of making time for friends.
I was thinking about some of my ‘good friends’ in London who, due to time constraints, distance and bad planning, I seem only to have a social media based relationship with at the moment. While I might comment on a lovely picture of them or their children, and drop the obligatory ‘oh we must get together soon’ email, I can’t remember the last time I actually spoke to most of them. They seem to be doing fine, although online photo sharing networks have a way of making everything look pretty, don’t they? We life edit. We show each other precisely the parts of us that we are comfortable with, and nothing more. It sounds obvious, but honesty is a vital part of friendship. If a friend doesn’t know what is going on with you and isn’t aware of your current truth, how close are you really? Are you in tune with each other’s physical and emotional heath? Life seems far too short to be spent denying yourself what you need. It takes a lot of courage to ask what you really need from a relationship, but as with most courageous acts, you do reap the rewards. All relationships require nurturing; when we look after our relationships, we are looking after ourselves.
My friend and I did manage to talk a little about what she had been going through, but as it was a month later it was not so relevant. She finished her coffee and it was getting late. I had some writing and laundry to do and she had to visit her parents that evening. We promised to see each other again before the month was over. Fingers crossed.