Humans were made for relationships. We are not creatures that thrive completely independently, therefore friendships are obviously a very vital and important aspect of the human condition. Friends are the glue that holds us together, the ones that understand us deeper than anyone else, and sometimes become family. In most cases, friends are mirrors of ourselves, reflecting back the qualities that we were unaware we possessed.
As anybody else, I have had friends throughout my life who both came and went, and sometimes I was the party that came and then went. Over the past year, I really struggled in the friendship department due to my decision to end a friendship that was overall unhealthy for me. Cutting ties with someone who knew me to my core, my fears and dreams, and with whom I spoke with or saw on an almost daily basis was extremely challenging. My life drastically changed because someone who played such a big role in it was simply gone. Although it was my decision, it was not easy. Yes, my best friend lost their best friend, and I do not want to discredit anything they might have felt since they lost a friend, but I also lost a friend. The timing could not have been worse either, because the remainder of my friends were in school while I was not, and some of my other extremely close friends lived in another city or state for school, family, or work. In the time that I would have normally spent with my dear friend, I spent time working on my mental health (and eventually my physical health) in the name of my "self care journey."
During this time of working on myself, and addressing my feelings of inadequacy and loneliness, I spent a lot of time dwelling on the idea that I was alone. I was convinced that I was completely alone, no one understood me, and that I would continue on my years without having someone to trust and who fully understood me. I thought about all of my friends from the past, and all of my current friends that I had and how much I loved and appreciated them, despite how far away they might have been and/or how distant I felt from them (isn't depression lovely?). I also spent time thinking about all of the hurt that the people I no longer called friends caused me, and how angry I was that they were not always a "good friend" towards me. Eventually, this had me thinking about what a true friend actually is.
A friend is defined as "a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations," (Oxford). But, I cannot help but think that this definition is inadequate. I believe that friendship is deeper than simply "affection." Throughout my experience of loving and losing friends, and ending toxic friendships, I would argue that there are qualities that make one a "good friend" and a "bad friend."
A bad friend is selfish; puts their wants above your needs. They bring you down, sometimes in many ways that one could be blind to. This blindness casted onto one is merely a side effect of manipulation. Light hearted teasing and sarcasm is one thing, but creating stories to make it seem like the things about yourself that you value are wrong, or that the things you enjoy are stupid is another. Guilt tripping you about being unable to see them, yelling and arguing for argument's sake, attempting to control where you go and who you see romantically (or otherwise) is unacceptable. It is normal for people to have disagreements and a good friend would tell you that you're in the wrong, or that they do not support a decision of yours. But the approach is so important. Lashing out, long paragraphs of bashing sprinkled with colorful language, and a tone of general hate is wrong. Planning and hosting kickbacks, parties, and get-togethers with mutual friends and intentionally leaving someone out is wrong. Bringing arguments, disagreements, or negative feelings towards a friend to social media is wrong, especially when it is made obvious who you're talking about. Talking openly and publicly about one's secrets or aspects of themselves that they are not comfortable publicly sharing is wrong (especially on social media). Choosing drugs over the people that care about you is wrong (I'm not talking about addiction here). Stealing, lying, and keeping secrets in an effort to have a hold on someone is wrong. Conditional love, and making it clear that the connection is conditional is arguably wrong. Treating your friends as though they are beneath you, and you are somehow better than them is wrong. Neglecting your friendships in the name of romantic relationships is also a bad friend quality.
In many friendships throughout my life, I have experienced these qualities or situations. Each and every scenario was extremely disappointing, and it was even more disappointing to truly learn from experience what manipulation and gaslighting really means. Disappointing as it may be, it is moreover a great reminder of the love that is still present in one's life. The bad simply makes the good better.
I would say that I have 6 extremely close friends, that I have been close friends with for many years (a few over a decade). These people are not only wonderful and I enjoy all of my time with them, they also present so many qualities that I absolutely adore. They possess "good friend" qualities. These people all are kind, compassionate, logical, honest, intelligent, ambitious, and genuine in their intentions with everyone they interact with. They are reliable and honest when they don't agree with a decision of mine, big or small. We are able to have fun together, whether that be beach days and surfing, working out, partying, going out, or sitting at home and chatting over snacks. We are also able to have open conversations about controversial topics in a space free of judgement. We are capable of deeper, spiritual, or intellectual conversations. And just as life is not always fun, they are there to lift me up, and to support me during trying times, rough family situations, issues at work and everything else life throws at you. These may seem like qualities that anyone should have, and maybe would be obvious in your friendships, but they are so important to acknowledge and appreciate.
There are a lot of emotions that go into losing a friend, or ending a friendship. Generally speaking, I felt as though my lost friends had taken so much from me, and had confirmed a lot of the negative things that I felt towards myself before my self care journey. I think I felt as though I was in the wrong for ending a friendship that was all around unhealthy for me, and that I owed this person more of myself than I could give them. I knew that this idea was wrong, and that I needed to spend time thinking about all of the love present around me (there was and is so much!), while also forgiving them and moving on. I also had to forgive myself, because heated arguments in the name of caring about someone somehow led to words that were better left unspoken. I had apologized for all of my own wrong doings, and the way that I handled the falling out. I could have been more mature, shown more grace, and overall more kindness towards my friend, and all of the other friends that left for their own reasons. There was nothing more that I could do at that point, but accept it and move on.
During this time of dwelling on my loneliness, and trying to recognize and appreciate the love around me instead, I realized something very important. All of these wonderful qualities that my close friends have, and exemplify in their daily lives, are the same qualities that I possess and give to them. I am also kind, compassionate, intelligent, and genuine. I try my best to create a space free of judgement so my friends have someone they can rely on. I support my friends through their own trying times, and lift them up when they need it. After ending a toxic friendship, I was able to create a space of appreciation and growth for myself, that led to so many incredible things. I am capable and openly show up as my authentic self, therefore my connections are more authentic than they ever have been. I feel as though I am more myself, or possibly who I was always supposed to be. The value I place on my current friendships is now greater, and my gratitude towards them runs deeper now. Realizing, and then understanding that I am not all of these negative things someone said about me rashly, and that I am not a bad, or furthermore a toxic friend, was a stepping stone in my self care journey. These experiences made me a better friend, a better girlfriend, a better daughter, and ultimately a better stranger.
I am aware that this all may sound self indulgent. Yet, if we can all set our ego aside we can truly appreciate the message of reflection. A conversation has now been opened, and it is time to check and confirm our intentions, our relationships, and our connections. Possibly some questions need to be asked, such as "Is what they just said/did okay with me?" and "What are some of the commonalities between my friends and I?"
It is much easier to love and appreciate others rather than yourself, especially your friends, but when you realize that you hold all of the same qualities in yourself that these people do it is easier to love yourself. It is easier to be tender and grateful. It also leads to growth and knowledge, therefore it is easier to reject people who show "bad friend" qualities early on in the connection or relationship.
Ultimately, the qualities that one values and appreciates in others are the same qualities that we ourselves possess. We are all simply mirrors, reflecting one another to each other. This said reflection should be positive, and ultimately lead to deeper gratitude towards others and ourselves.
Maren Hoflund MT HHP, is a massage therapist and holistic health practitioner based in San Diego. This her self created space where she explores topics such as mental and physical (holistic) health, self care, spirituality, and child development; in addition to her poetry and prose.