It’s not about you

I think that a lot of people take things personally when it actually has nothing to do with them. I’ve realized that it’s actually fairly self-centered to think that everyone wants their friendships to come first. Friends are not there to serve us or meet our every emotional need.

I think many of us have tendencies to expect a lot of our friends, thinking that because they care about us it means that anything they do is a reflection of how they feel about us. But it’s actually really unhealthy to think that we are someone’s first priority when they’re going through hard times themselves.

The truth is that most people are pretty wrapped up in dealing with their own things. I have a couple close friends where I know if I don’t hear from them for a while, it has nothing to do with me. If I had a major problem like a possible divorce or a hospitalized kid, they’d drop their issues to help, but they have too much stuff of their own to deal with a garden-variety bad day of someone else’s problems. Most of the time I’m the same way.

So many people have anxiety issues, health issues, general life crises. Life is just hard sometimes and not everybody gets through it best by talking it out or hanging out. Some of my closest friends are actually less likely to want to talk when they’re in distress.

There’s this whole idea that we’re supposed to deal with things on our own, which can be hard to shake even if you know that people love you and want to listen. I just send an encouraging message or card and wait until they’re ready to talk about it (or to talk about something else.) Acknowledgment of pain is often enough to remind someone that you’re still there for them and you still care.

Part of maturity is knowing that most crises will eventually pass on their own, so just rehashing them with someone feels unnecessary and unhelpful. Canceled plans, radio silence for a while, and unanswered texts almost never mean that they don’t like you anymore. It’s just that they’re dealing with some shit. Friendship is often like the icing on the cake of a good life. You’re not always up for that when you feel down. Sometimes feeling down makes you feel like you’ll be bad company, or you’re just not in a place where you can be social.

All this is why it’s so important to learn to be able to fulfill your own needs. People aren’t always going to be there for you and it doesn’t mean they’re not good friends. We need to be able to put ourselves in others’ shoes, to get the perspective check that their worlds do not and cannot revolve around us.

Friends cannot be our whole world; this is not “Sex and the City” or “Friends.” That’s a pretty unrealistic model, especially when you get out of your 20s and settle down.

At some point, for most of us, our romantic relationships serve as our primary outlet in a crisis. Usually that’s because we go through the hard times along with our romantic partners, thus strengthening the relationship. I’ve known very few people who had both strong relationships and equally strong friendships. You only have so much mental energy.

Again, none of it means that people aren’t really our friends. Part of being a good friend is realizing that sometimes your friends don’t want to talk. It’s not personal. Once you find peace within yourself and learn how to deal with your own problems, your friendships change.

It doesn’t mean you won’t ever talk to your friends about your problems, but it changes how and when you talk to your friends about your problems and theirs. You should know what’s going on in their lives and they about yours, but they don’t need the nitty-gritty details about your every crisis. You’re often more likely to find out what’s going on when the storm passes or they finally come up for air again.

Sometimes the best way to be a good friend is to give people some space.

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