What I’ve learned lately about friendship

Last year I reconnected with an old friend via Instagram to ask about her experience of van life. We began chatting and, after I moved back from interstate, hung out a fair bit. She was in the process of reacclimatising to non-nomadic life. We had fun designing the interiors of her apartment, sourcing stuff on Gumtree, and seeing how it all came together.

Being out of work, I had time to traipse around Sydney collecting the bargains we’d snagged and ferrying them to her place up north. She showed me the progress she was making on building a small business as a woodworker, and I was delighted to front some cash for supplies for the first batch of a signature product she was working on.

We spent a couple of summer afternoons painting old pallets white so they’d look good as the base of a futon couch. I listened as she spoke at length of the relationship difficulties she’d encountered in the years since we were last in touch, and I shared a little of my own higgledy-piggledy story as we soaked our paint-splattered selves in the spa.

A new raft of troubles came my way early this year and I found myself in hospital for a few weeks. When I got out, I wasn’t prepared for the reaction she threw me one evening when we met up for a beer. Her anger towards me caught me totally off-guard.

She’d expected more openness and contact from me. She was cross about the impact my mental health troubles were having on others. She said she wasn’t surprised I was short on friends and couldn’t hold down a relationship if I treated people like I treated her. There’s more, but you get the picture… I drove home before we had time to order dinner, winded by a sickening slug of fury mixed with confusion. I’d been so good to this person!

In a deeply awkward turn of events, the products she gave me that evening, for which I’d paid up front a year earlier, were faulty and I had to return them in exchange for a refund. This incited a barrage of abusive texts with messages like, ‘Didn’t think you could sink any lower’, ‘Stay out of my life forever’, ‘You’re awful’, ‘You’re a problematic antagonistic person’, ‘You don’t have enough mates to keep being a dick to them mate’, ‘If you want good friends… be a better friend’.

Yeah.

You’re wondering, Why is she writing this? Is she really this hung up on some chick’s silly negativity? Is she letting someone unhealthy get to her? Don’t emotionally evolved people let this stuff just slide off, like water off a duck’s back?

Perhaps, but growth is hard-won. I’m writing this because it’s such a stark example of how much I have grown. I have changed for the better. I am healthier and more mature than I ever have been, and I’d like to celebrate that. Here. Like this.

I have had a tendency towards self-sacrifice in relationships. It’s a pattern I’ve observed through reflection on the past twenty years. Time and time again, I’ve ended up crying in a heap because people just don’t love me the way I love them. I’m beginning to see why! Here’s something I wrote in my journal a couple of weeks ago:

Why do I gravitate towards broken people, people who will hurt me? Why do I always want to fix other people’s problems? Because then I’ll matter more to them. It’s a value-add. So, if I fix my problems will I matter more to me?

It’s one marker of the new insight I’m reaping from the pain sown in years gone by. It’s evidence a deeper kindness towards myself. Kindness towards others has always come more easily to me than compassion for myself. So it’s quite astounding that in the past month people from various corners of life have said these words to me:

“You’re the most grounded person I know.”
“I so admire how you’re going about this chapter of your life.”
“You’re different than you were, in a good way.”
“You are so kind and so wise, Steph.”
“You’ve turned a corner in how you think about what you want, and I can tell you’re committed to continued growth.”
“I reckon you know yourself so much better now. You don’t put up with shit like you used to.”

When I started this blog, I would not have handled the dysfunction in the friendship described above like I handled it recently. Which was, with kindness, integrity and LIKE A BOSS. I am grateful, proud and relieved to have made this progress.

She’s wrong, that girl: I am one of the best friends a person can have. And I get to choose who I let into my life in this season. I’ve already found some treasures and I’ll be holding on to them — but applications remain open, folks!

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