I have always loved my friends with my whole heart, even more than I love Jeni’s ice cream. My friends and I in elementary school traded stories about our abusive parents. We Facebook messaged each other after our parents yelled at us or hit us and took comfort in our shared pain and support. I first came out as bisexual, and then as gay, to my high school friends, who loved me all the same. We talked about boys who never stood a chance with us anyway. Today, my friends and I still talk about our shared trauma, we rant about the racism we encounter at work, and we roast the men who have wronged us with the most eloquent rage.
But like every relationship, sometimes friendships suck, too. Let me provide a list of the ways I feel some of my friends have wronged me over the past few weeks: one prioritizes her boyfriend over me. Another makes it hard to spend time together. A third included me in an upcoming program of his and then forgot my schedule and made it impossible for me to attend.
“I just feel tired of feeling like I care more about friendships than most of my friends,” I told my therapist this past week, referencing how some of my friends prioritize their boyfriends over friends.
“It’s a loss,” she said. “There’s this cultural script that you’re just supposed to be happy for your friends when they date, but there’s a loss too, especially if they don’t make as much time for friends. It’s okay to honor your disappointment.”
Honor my disappointment. This phrase stood out to me because I tend to avoid honoring my desire for connection and the feelings of disappointment that sometimes emerge from that desire. A friendship is disappointing me? Another man is disappointing me? Whatever, I’ll just invest in my mentoring and research and books. But my therapist’s point about honoring the disappointment that accompanies friendship resonates with me, because we so often expect our friends to always support us and love us – accompany us to our weddings, be “best friends forever” regardless of the actual emotional labor invested, etc. – and yet we as a society do not invest all that much in friendship.
“I got so annoyed the other day,” I told my therapist. “I was in one of my therapy supervisor’s rooms, and I saw a poster for that Gottman method for maintaining relationships. And I was like, why isn’t there a book series on maintaining healthy friendships? Why isn’t there a whole industry designed to support friendships?”
“Wouldn’t it be cool if that was your legacy?” My therapist, a queer woman, has always validated my frustration with heteronormative patriarchy, thank goodness. She pulled out her copy of Eight Dates by John Gottman. “There totally should be a friendship version of this. What would it be like for you to write it?”
It would be easy to act like the friends I wrote about above wronged me and I have nothing to work on myself. But I know I have shortcomings, too. Sometimes I get upset about friends not meeting my expectations before I even realize the expectation they did not meet, perhaps because society does not teach us to think about our expectations for friendships. While I excel at responding to my closest friends, I let conversations with other friends drop by the wayside. Over the past decade I have worked a lot on taking time away from situations that make me feel upset, so that I can honor my emotions and then communicate in an assertive and compassionate way instead of resorting to passive aggressiveness. But I know I have more work to do and always will have more work to do.
Beyond these individual shifts, I want a society that values friendship more. I want to help create a world with Friendship Therapy and not just Couples Therapy, so that people can explore and grow their friendships in meaningful ways. I want a world where we have an abundance of books and resources about friendship, a world that acknowledges the heteronormative patriarchal foundations of romance and prioritizes friendship just as much as romance, if not more. I am still trying to figure out how to manifest this ideal world into reality. For now, though, I am trying to do my part by writing about friendship, by seriously considering learning how to provide Friendship Therapy, by investing emotional labor into the friends who return it. I’m honoring how all relationships inevitably entail disappointment. And I’m still invested in loving my friends, perhaps the most pure, untainted form of love that exists.
How do you prioritize friendships, or not? How have friends disappointed you or how have you disappointed your friends? What can we do to make a world that values friendship more, or what underlies your resistance to that idea? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until next post!