If you ask anyone if they want to be a good friend or a shitty friend, chances are they’ll all say they want to be a good friend to others. For the most part, people don’t purposely go out of their way to be a shitty friend and make those close to them feel some type of way. But how people express friendship differs dramatically. You have the low-maintenance friends that go MIA for weeks at a time and pop up randomly on the group chats to send memes, the friends that need to be talking to you constantly or they think you’re mad at them, the friends that you try to keep in touch with because they’re awesome in person but are just dry as shit on text, the friends that you talk and send memes to everyday – and it comes as naturally to you as breathing, the friends that you don’t talk to for a while and then you link in person and it’s back to old times, the friends that you’ve outgrown but still keep it civil, and so forth.
I personally love me some low-maintenance friendships. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed, how often you text each other, or how many times a year you actually link up in person, when you do end up doing any of the above, it seems like old times. I love friends that pick up from where we left off. Because the fact of the matter is, life happens for all of us. And I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t have the desire to text every single close friend I have a detailed write up about what I’ve been up to. When it comes down to it, the important things will be shared, and anything else is just a bonus. I would consider myself a low-maintenance friend because I’m guilty of taking forever to respond. If you need me to respond to something, Instagram is probably the best bet because I feel forced to reply once someone can see that I “seen / opened” a message. I’m always opening messages and forgetting to respond. I wasn’t always like that, but like I said, life happens.
Friends are meant to be there to support you, add some fun to your life, and to connect with. The last thing I want is a friendship that takes way too much effort to maintain. The moment friendships start getting demanding, draining, and overbearing, that’s when I start to mentally check out. However, this was not always the case. In the past, I would try my best to accommodate everyone’s different friendship style. I explained it away as, “they’re just like that. Their friendship requires more attention.” But as life got more busy, and my time started to be spread thin, I started to realize that accommodating everyone else’s needs was leaving me drained and anti-social. Sometimes, when you take a couple steps to meet someone halfway, they instead expect you to put in a mile.
Everyone is entitled to having different standards in friendships. Some friendships work because both see eye to eye and have the same needs to be fulfilled in companionship. However, not every friend is going to be a perfect puzzle piece fit, and that’s okay. More times than not, we have friendships with others whose needs and personalities are different. This doesn’t mean that a great friendship is impossible to blossom, it just means that each side needs to respect and understand the others’ boundaries. And it’s totally okay to set boundaries with friends. It doesn’t make you a bad friend or person to set and act on those boundaries. How you express friendship may be completely different than your friends, and that’s okay. People need to keep in mind that their loved ones may not have the same social battery, time, schedule, or mental space for everyone in their lives at all times, and that doesn’t make them a bad person.
I know that the word “boundaries” can be very intimidating to some, but they can be set very casually. Verbal boundaries can look like:
- Your friend telling you that they have been busy lately and hasn’t had a chance to catch up
- Expressing that they’ve been feeling tired / stressed / drained and haven’t been in the mood to be social
- Explaining that they set their phone on “do not disturb” after a certain time
- Stating that they need some space or alone time
- Expressing what actions or scenarios they don’t appreciate
- Communicating their likes and dislikes
- Sharing if hypothetical scenarios were to happen, that they’d appreciate if it were handled in a certain manner
- Conveying their thoughts and feelings towards specific things
Verbal boundaries can even be set when nothing major or stressful is going on. This can be things you pick up over the span of the friendship, like being bad at texting back, prefer calls over texting, how they’re a homebody or love to be out, etc. Sometimes, boundaries are set without even being aware. A lot of the times, these are things that come up naturally in conversation. These life updates and personality preferences can let those close to you know what boundaries you have set in place without even realizing.
Where things go sideways is when boundaries are trying to be set non-verbally. But to be honest, I can see both sides. You know how the saying goes – communication is key. That I can agree with. You can’t expect people to know what you’re thinking and how you feel if it’s not being communicated. Nobody can read minds. However, non-verbal signs, body language, and actions are pretty fucking comparable and come in a hard close second place to verbal communication. As the other saying goes, it’s not the words that matter, but the actions. And I feel like there are some personalities out there that are perfectly capable of reading the room or scenario, but still choose to go about it how they feel they should. Some people don’t communicate when they need space and you need to read the room. If you’re being ignored, or if someone clearly need space, that doesn’t mean bombard someone even more. There are times where non-verbal boundary setting is just as effective, if you know what to look for.
Non-verbal boundary setting can look like:
- Not responding to messages
- Not going to certain outings and events
- Not picking up the phone
- Putting your own wants and needs in front of others
- Prioritizing your time with what you think is important
- Wanting space / being detached
- Not wanting to talk about certain topics when asked
You know boundaries need to be set when you’re making yourself so available to others that your own social battery is on low. When you’re constantly trying to give everyone access to you, even if it’s people you love and care about deeply, you can still be left feeling depleted. There’s a difference between giving others advice, being the shoulder to cry on, and always being there, versus carrying the weight of other people’s burdens and problems on your shoulders. You don’t have to always make yourself available to friends and acquaintances that constantly leave you feeling emotionally drained. In order to be a good friend to others, you need to make sure you are okay first.
Don’t get it twist, I’m not saying don’t be there for your friends. But you should pay attention to your own limits. You can try to be the best human being and strive to be the best friend you can be to someone who needs you, but if you’re constantly feeling drained by negativity and gossip, it only leaves you feeling drained in the end. Everyone complains, everyone vents, everyone has their own issues that they deal with – it’s normal. But when you are constantly bombarded with those problems, sometimes by multiple people at a time, it can sucks the energy and life out of you. You need to take that shit in moderation and know when to set boundaries with energy vampires. It’s usually the one-sided friendships that leave you feeling drained and like your battery is on low. Reminder: it is not your responsibility to make someone else feel whole with your companionship.
For me, good friendships should feel effortless. You shouldn’t have to force yourself to do anything – reply, put in effort, or make plans when you don’t want to. Friendships that take a lot of effort suddenly feels more like a job or an annoying responsibility. If people can’t respect your boundaries and have a problem with you making sure that your own glass is full, they’re not friends worth keeping. In the event that someone tries to make you feel bad for putting yourself first, maybe reconsider why you were trying to distance yourself in the first place. Are they draining you? Are you feeling drowned by their problems? Do you feel like your mental health isn’t being considered? Is this a one-sided friendship?
Real friends are the ones that don’t make you feel bad when life gets in the way. They’ll never make you feel bad for being busy, not having time, or taking much needed time to yourself. Real friends will respect your wishes and know when to give you that space. These are the kind of friendships that you should hold dear to your heart and nurture. The kind of friends that know you inside and out and know when you need to recharge. You make time for the people that are important to you, but never feel bad for making time for yourself and making sure you’re okay as well. Supportive friendships will encourage and uphold your boundaries, so don’t be afraid to set them.