What Does Friendship Really Mean?
Through sickness and in health
It's like that old saying your Mum or your Nan would say: "You can count your real friends on one hand."
I never used to understand it. I was popular, friends with everyone. I was a social butterfly, always going from one group of people to the next. I heard the line "gosh Emma you know everyone" more so than I could count. Yet, how many of these people were actually true friends? Was this actually a healthy way to form genuine relationships?
There are some people you meet in life that you just immediately click with as a friend. There's that connection, similar to a romantic relationship. You'd date, just like a romantic relationship, going out and dancing, going for dinner, drinks, yoga classes. You start to really trust and love this person who's walked into your life, as part of your soul tribe. You think that they'd be there through thick and thin, it didn't matter how long you'd known them, if shit got real, they'd be there.
When I got sick, this whole concept was spun on its head. People walked away almost immediately once my news was out. I was seriously unwell, with no real idea as to what or how I was going to get through it, but I needed support. And people who I had known for two years and people I had known for 22 years walked away. I heard nothing, I wasn't called, I was visited or texted. I was ghosted in fact by probably 60% of people I'd consider close friends.
I started to question myself. What had I done? Had I said something? Then I got angry... how could I have these so called 'friends' in my life that possessed no compassion, no empathy? People I had grown up with, people that knew my fears and my dreams, people that had stayed at my house, eaten my food, people that had seen my heartache and total joy were now strangers, all because of a diagnosis. I went from being a really fun person, life and soul of the party, running my own parties, to just being at home, isolated and alone, no fun.
I think that getting sick taught me a lot about me as a person and the behaviours I had carried through up until my late 20s that had only gotten me so far and were no longer working anymore. I was a people-pleaser, a yes person, I would constantly be putting other people's needs ahead of my own just purely because I came second, never first. I just wanted to be liked, I was that insecure. Being liked mattered more to me than taking care of myself. So, when you have people who only want to take care of themselves, when you really do need the support and the love, they just don't care enough to put themselves in your shoes, they're still only focused on themselves and what they need.
After some pretty deep health news this week, one of my best friends walked away. She couldn't engage anymore. I wish I didn't have to engage anymore either, but this is my life right now and it's my reality. This wasn't "have some pills and you'll be back to your old self in a week" kinda news. This was "you have a lot going on still and have a long way to go" kinda news. She put conditions on our friendship—you're not you anymore so I don't want to engage. This isn't real friendship, because love is unconditional. I was heartbroken, yet also not surprised. I also learnt that it's not a reflection of me, the situation I'm currently in is clearly triggering things in these 'friends' of mine that they find extremely uncomfortable, that they don't want to deal with. And the bottom line, I think I need some new friends. Friends who are conscious of their own needs, who put themselves first, but also possess compassion and empathy, who can engage and listen to you when you just want to feel a sense of normality when you're trapped in a body and a situation that isn't doing great. That's all you ask for, that's all you crave.
I think that most people want to be there when it's fun, like any relationship. We all love the honeymoon stage. That bit where you're just essentially dating, as lovers or as friends, dating is fun. When shit gets real though, the honeymoon stage ends abruptly, because life isn't fun anymore. The honeymoon stage could have gone on for years and years, this doesn't even have to be about the first few months. You can be friends for 20 years and nothing bad happen, so essentially you're in honeymoon for all that time. It's delusional to think that any relationship is going to continue 'dating' forever. Life is tough, things happen, people die, people get sick. That is what life is and walking away from someone when shit gets tough is not the answer to your problems.
On the flip side, I have so many people who have stepped up, who have been there unconditionally, who check in from time to time, who want to talk about men, relationships, books they're reading, things they're doing and looking forward to. Just because my life has stopped it doesn't mean the world has stopped, and normality means talking about how the world hasn't stopped and about your life with no guilt! That is friendship. It's not hard and it's not complicated, but it seems that there are some people who need reminding of this.