This is a piece about friendship and the ever changing expectations and boundaries that come with age. I tell the story of my biggest breakup, my hometown best friend of over a decade. I then give a happy glimpse into some of the lasting friendships I have.
Friendships are just as delicate as romantic relationships and sometimes much the same, they just don’t work anymore.
LOW MAINTENANCE, HIGH MAINTENANCE, WHAT EVEN IS MAINTENANCE?
When people talk about maintenance in relationships, they are talking about what it takes to “maintain” that relationship. What does it take for the relationship to stay strong? Every relationship takes different behaviors, actions, and words to maintain. Some work with us/how we are, and some don’t. This is why you’ll sometimes hear people say that a person is too “high maintenance” for them.
While I have come to consider myself a high maintenance girlfriend, I consider myself a low maintenance friend. Now I’ll tell you why.
This is actually a huge shift in my thinking, as when I was younger I used to believe that I was a low maintenance girlfriend. I believed this because I thought high maintenance meant that you needed to be taken out a lot or have a lot of dates or wanted a lot of tangible gifts. Now that isn’t really me. As I’ve written, receiving gifts is not my first love language. However, there are other things I require which I realize to some, can be just as high maintenance: time, attention, conversation,etc. These are things that can take a lot out of a person, especially if required more often than they have the energy for.
In truly reflecting on this now, I’m realizing that all of this is actually relative to what you have to give. What feels low maintenance for me might be the exact opposite for you. For example, if you have a lot of attention and time to give, someone who requires that may seem easy, low maintenance to you. This, for me, would be anxiety inducing though. When someone that isn’t my partner puts daily or even weekly expectations on me, I’m nervous already. I know I need a lot of alone time and space to do the things that make me happy solo. I need someone who has their own interests and also takes space for themselves. In this way, we find who fits in our lives and vice versa.
TOO MUCH AND NOT ENOUGH
In some friendships, I have found people wanting these things out of me in a way that I don’t always have– some people have wanted time, attention, and the likes more frequently than I had to give. All of our relationships require these things to some degree, but how much one can handle varies person to person.
Giving someone time and attention, actively listening, these things involve a lot of emotional support and energy. I sometimes find in my line of work I am drained of this sort of energy on the daily. I don’t always have a lot of it for home and sometimes it can be reserved for the partners in my life– or honestly just for myself with a really chill, quiet night at home.
In my past, partners have told me that I tend to pour until I’m empty, not leaving anything in my own cup. You all know that whole sentiment of “Put on your lifemask before you help someone else put on theirs,” right?
If you haven’t heard this, it means you have to CARE FOR YOURSELF FIRST.
I have never been the best at that because I want to help other people around me, especially the ones I love. I just have always wanted to be a helper and because of that, it is in my nature to want to say ‘yes!’– both when I do have the time and mental energy and when I don’t.
These emotional supports, these are the kinds of things that can take the life right out of you. This can make it feel really difficult for some people to maintain friendships, myself included. I have lost many friendships because some have called me “selfish” when I didn’t have the emotional energy or time to be with them. Often this was in choosing to do something for me or my mental health instead of for them, whether it be spending that time with them or something else they wanted.
When it comes to friends, I require different things than I require from my romantic partner. While we can certainly expect more from our partners, I require less time for each of my friends. This is NOT because I don’t want to see them, but rather because I know and understand that as we get older, we just age into a space where we have less energy outside of our work life, outside of our home life, outside of domestic life, in general. There are so many more things going on and obligations that I just can’t expect anyone to be able to be free at all and so I don’t. I think it is wrong to pressure anyone to do anything that they don’t want to or don’t have the energy to.
I appreciate every second that I get to be with my friends.
That’s it. I appreciate my friends for what they are and what they do have. I need people in my life who do the same– people who are not looking for things I am doing wrong or expecting more of me than I have.
A wise family member Eileen gave me great advice and stated, “Friends let friends be free.”
Now what she means by that is you absolutely cannot be possessive of people as people have their own lives. You need to let your friends live their own lives. You must understand that every single person needs to come first in their own lives and sometimes they just won’t have time for you and your wants. It is not fair to push people to do things they are unwilling to do, especially pushing past boundaries. When someone says ‘no’ to absolutely anything, it should be accepted the first time no question.
THE SIDES OF A BREAKUP
The advice of not being possessive over people in our lives was given originally because of a breakup. In breakups, we are often left with choices over who we continue to see and how much we do. Now, I know, it truly hurts in breakups when people choose to be friends with someone who has hurt you in whatever way.
The thing is we can’t expect friends to extend the same feelings as this didn’t happen to them. The relationship they share is different and so it is their own. Being possessive of someone will push them away from you in the end because no one wants to feel pressure or pulled. That other person may have hurt you, but they may be important to them too. Friends need space to live and have other important people in their lives.
AGING, CHANGING BOUNDARIES
Friendships certainly change with time and sometimes that means issues arise as we age and change.
Friendships are built on expectations and boundaries; sometimes they change.
Sometimes you work on it and talk about new boundaries.
Other times it doesn’t. Other times, it ends. Breakups occur in friendships just the same.
MY BIGGEST BREAKUP
This is the story of my biggest breakup from my longest (platonic) relationship. While people confused us as being girlfriends in high school, she was very much straight and rumors are silly.
I had a best friend for many many years and in time, that friendship faded. It was much to me like what I expect a slowly fading marriage to feel like. We loved each other, at first, in high school. Things were great. We had the time for each other. We saw each other every day.
Even then though, she struggled with jealousy of other friends. We were different. I liked to be around a lot of people and she just liked to be more exclusive.
In time, our expectations of each other changed or at least mine did. I no longer expected her to be available daily or be able to chat at a moment’s notice. I expected that as we grew and had more things we need to do and accomplish, our friendship would last merely because it had for so long.
Loyalty makes us stay sometimes, even without a ring.
The problem is we can very much still love someone who is bad for us and even right now, I very much love this person. The love I had just doesn’t require her to be in my life.
Our expectations of each other kept changing in different directions and they no longer aligned. My lifestyle change no longer supported her needs. I had to focus on my career and I couldn’t fulfill what she needed in a ‘best friend’. In that way, I guess she didn’t support my needs either because I needed space from my friends. I am the kind of friend who will love you so much from afar, sometimes disappearing to get my life together.
My good friends know not to put more on me when I am anxious; this is because I grew up and began to work on boundary setting in my life.
At the time, I had no boundaries. At the time, I said yes to absolutely everyone. That is ABSOLUTELY on me and I learned to take ownership over how I allow myself to be treated. I am still not always perfect at it.
This friend asked me to do various things, which I just couldn’t keep up with at that time in my life– but oh, boy did I try! She expected me to visit frequently so we could spend time together even though I lived 3 hours away. She expected those trips as if nothing had changed, as if I didn’t live that 3 hours away or have a career now. She expected those trips even though when I did make the trips, she spent them complaining to me about life and how I didn’t visit enough. She expected them even though she never made them herself. She expected them even though I asked nothing of her.
Our whole love became toxic. She didn’t care about the things I loved or the new things in my life anymore. I was in the process of trying to write a book and she told me, “Maybe it just isn’t the time in your life to write a book.” She questioned whether I had the time realistically, when I was running myself ragged to get to see her, a completely extra stressor in my life when most people understood I had moved upstate.
The thing was we weren’t in high school anymore or even college. I didn’t have the extra time away from my own little life to get there and so she eventually called me “the most selfish person she had ever met.” I was falling behind on my own life and definitely not performing any self care. I was wearing myself out past comfort to see her, to also fulfil my career requirements, get to all of my rugby events and games, etc.
There weren’t enough hours in the day so something had to give.
Now, while I truly loved spending time together at one point, that started to change. This friend seemed to appreciate the time together less and less and complain more and more about where I was lacking. She would ask of me things that I just didn’t feel I could do and then trap me, waiting for me to fail so she could nag me about my continued failures as a friend to her. It felt like what old Italian comics say about their nagging wives.
I was nervous to hear from her; calls were the scariest because they meant I was trapped. She only called when she didn’t want to give me time to think of my response, to try to appease her better. She could step over boundaries better knowing I was less likely to say ‘no’ over the phone.
It was true. Something about her just made it so I couldn’t say ‘no.’
I loved her at one point. I truly did.
The friendship eventually went septic and became toxic to my overall happiness and mental health.
It seemed to do the same for her. I was a sore topic she talked to her new best friends with, something I could taste when I walked into the same room as them. They disliked me because they only knew stories of ill will, stories that she vented to them about– maybe solidifying their new friendships, as often happens with heart to hearts about topics of disdain and grief.
I no longer brought anything that she truly wanted to the table and I felt I couldn’t if I tried.
We no longer enjoyed each other’s company as everything truly became a battle.
It is so unfortunate when that happens, but it truly was a relief when it ended.
Our relationship, like romantic ones, had expired. It no longer worked. This happens in friendship, too.
I mourned that friendship in the oddest way, missing what was, but never feeling sad that it was over at all. It was a true relief as it was the most anxiety inducing relationship or really thing in my life at that moment.
Much like romantic love, the friendship progressed and we just grew into two different people. We grew apart. It was my longest relationship that ended and it was one of the biggest learning experiences I had in boundaries. I never set boundaries in the friendship and so when I tried to, it was met with disdain and this lack of understanding.
She no longer knew who I was and I no longer got along with who she was.
Our friendship just didn’t age well.
Reflecting on that time in my life, I can see that me that didn’t value herself or her own time. That was the me that said ‘yes’ way too much.
This is how we learn. We reflect and get better.
I wish the absolute best things for that friend. Life moves on, but as an avid Doctor Who fan, I know that that relationship exists in a different realm– where we happily play Mario is Missing on my ancient computer.
THE AGED FRIENDSHIP
We grow up and our needs adjust. We need more space, more time to debrief from the much more serious days of this life, unlike my youth where the biggest news was that one of the alumni told me I couldn’t go to TKE the way I was dressed.
We grow and our needs adjust. We ask for what we want. We tell what we need. We do this– as we must. We must change because our adult lives ask us too.
We grow and our needs adjust. Sometimes people grow in different times or truly to different places. In these times, we must embrace the memories and move on, hoping that we can be better, our best selves from afar.
THE AGING FRIENDSHIP (MY PEOPLE)
Now I am lucky to be in this adult life, where I have found my people, both at my home in Albany, NY and my home[town] in Staaaten Island. These are the ones that last past the age of no reason, past the age of first jobs and bad dates, past the age of marriage and first kids, houses. We age together and make it work.
We meet each other’s needs and love each other’s lives. We travel to have time appreciating every second. We melt into each other for days at a time soaking in the bits of space together we get. We get together in the cold to run or whatever we can do in this weird time. We meet new partners and welcome them into our lives.
We get COVID tests and stay quarantined together. We go out when time allows. We hold each other’s babies so our tired arms can rest or just do something else for a change.
We expect little to nothing of each other in the daily– knowing we’re there when shit goes down, when one of us needs help, or just to party when one of us gets an award. We celebrate each other whether we are two feet away or thousands.
NOT AT ALL HUMBLE, JUST BRAGGING
I brag on my lasting friends because they’re one of my most proud joys in my life. I think love is truly why we’re here and if this isn’t love, I’m not sure what is.
I think one of the reasons we do work is we are immensely self aware and work so hard on boundaries. We listen to each other. We try to change and work with each other. We know how to love each other as each of us wants to be loved differently.
I implore you to work on boundaries with your friends and express not only your love for them, but how you want to be loved. Ask how they want to be loved?
Appreciate what your friends do and tell them. Communicate that because people don’t just know you appreciate them. Appreciate when people love you right and correct them when they don’t. Friendships work the same way as romance; make your needs known and it can truly be a beautiful thing, an excellent thing.
“We got a groovy kind of love.”
FRIENDSHIP IS FORGIVENESS
And just in case you think I’m saying that friendship is just a fickle thing, remember that friendship is always repairable if both parties are truly willing to do the work. Relationships, in general, are always repairable when love remains.
Friendship is forgiveness, just as every long term relationship in our lives, including our one with self.
Learn to forgive and heal your own heart.