From the time humans are age 5 all the way throughout college our friends are our entire world. We want to spend all our time with them, relate to them, complain about our problems to them. We want to be around them when our parents don’t understand and when our significant others are being a pain in the ass. Girls nights are celebrated with the same eagerness as Christmas. A successful boys trip is a rite of passage for bad decisions and debauchery that will be talked about for years to come. Some of us stay friends with the same group of people our entire lives and some of us meet our best friends later in life. Maybe you have a combination of both. Friends are an essential part of life and if you have the right friends, true friends, they will become an extension of who you are and blood will no longer be a requirement of who is considered family.
This is why I get extremely disappointed when I see solid long term friendships dissolve because a friend acquires a significant other. People outgrow each other and it is normal for lives to take different directions. I am not talking about an acquaintance or that friend you call when you want to go out. I am talking about those pure, loyal, friendships that are so deep you cry together on the couch, you know secrets that could destroy each others lives but you know neither of you would ever tell nor judge each other even if you stopped being friends, your parents ask how they are doing when you call, and you have no question that if someone held a gun to both of your heads you would both say “take me instead” without hesitation. That kind of friendship. Some people will never get to experience it. People are aware of how hard it is to find a solid romantic connection so they cherish and make their relationships a priority but often forget that it is just as hard to find this unity within a friendship. It is so rare and throughout my life I have only had that connection with a handful of people.
There was something I noticed growing up that I always admired about my mother (among so many things.) She has been married to my father for almost 30 years but she has always made her friends a priority the entire duration of their marriage. This is on top of getting a Master’s degree, raising two children, keeping a husband happy, and working a full time teaching job. The woman is basically a super hero. While many women in their late 50s don’t have many friends she still has the friends she had when she was in her 20s. She calls and writes the ones that live far away and every few weeks checks in with the ones she hasn’t seen in awhile. She knows the value they have in her life is worth just as much as her family. Some of her closest friends helped raise me while my parents were working or in school. I still consider them second mothers.
I didn’t learn the hard lesson of neglecting your friends until I was 20 years old. My first two years away at university were not spent making new friends, exploring campus life, joining clubs, or partying as most college freshmen or sophomores. Mine were spent sitting inside on my computer skyping my boyfriend for hours or driving the hour home to spend the weekend with him. My roommates, classmates, and friends would invite me out but I always declined. He was my best friend and entire world. So it was no surprise that when we broke up I found myself young, alone, and depressed in my college apartment. By this time, all my friends (the ones I had left) were done inviting me out. I lost most of my friends because I sucked being one and didn’t deserve them. Let me tell you, there is nothing worse than going through a break up living away from your family when you have no friends. Thankfully, I eventually met another girl who was in the same exact boat and we became inseparable promising we would never repeat putting ourselves in that position. She was the reason why university was some of the best times thus far in my life.
After that experience, I knew I would never neglect my friendships while in a relationship again. But it truly wasn’t until my best friend of 17 years unexpectedly died when we were 21 that I realized how much friendship truly meant to me. Life moves fast and most of us become comfortable thinking things will always stay the same, so it is not until we lose someone that we appreciate all they do or have done for us.
I soon found myself standing in front of a podium at my best friends funeral reading a 2-page letter to her dead body laying in a casket proclaiming how much she meant to me. Things I never told her in person. Instead I was now just saying it to a bunch of strangers to quiet my guilt. The guilt only worsened afterwards when they felt remorse for me. I remember for weeks just being stunned that this person who was one of my life soulmates (I believe soulmates can be platonic, romantic, and you can have many) was now permanently gone. You will not understand this level of desolation and sorrow until a part of your world dies. I visit her grave 1-2 times a year and six years later still weep at the dirt mound whispering things she will never physically hear like – ‘thank for everything, I’m sorry, I appreciate you, you’re wonderful, and I love you.’
There were other times in my life that I really, really needed my friends. Towards the end of high school and going into college, I began to get sick and was hospitalized on and off for years with a gastrointestinal disorder I was falsely diagnosed with called IBS. It remains one of the most painful, desperate, scariest, and loneliest times in my life where I had no idea what was wrong with me, doctors couldn’t cure it, and I was in so much pain I frequently collapsed, begging God to please take my life if I had to live with this condition forever. My boyfriend at the time was a huge help, but my friends were my savior. When I was unable to drive they would take me to the doctors or drive me an hour home, email my professors for me, visit me in the hospital, and bring me food or medication because I was too frail to leave my bed. They played therapist for hours on end. I went from being a healthy person to becoming deathly ill. I lost so much weight I looked like a cancer patient. Thankfully, for unexplained reasons, eventually the pain never returned. I still fear it returning and am still thankful I had these people to look after me during this incredibly horrific time.
In my last relationship, I knew to make my best friends a priority. I was hopelessly in love but I knew better than to make the same mistakes. My significant other couldn’t stand my best friend but I never stopped hanging out with her with I knew how important she was to me, an asset. I would schedule one day out of the week to spend time with my friends…just to spend time and catch up. I live across the country from my family so when I eventually went through my traumatic break up with my long-term partner, they were the ones there to catch me and remind me who I was when I was lost. Some sent me flowers, some held me while I collapsed in their arms to cry, some took off nights to go out and dance the night away. They cheered me on as I started my long-awaited goals. They brought me back to life.
You need to date your true friends like you date your significant other. Prioritize them. Value them. Cherish them. Love them. Call them. Especially the ones who have been there for you before your partner was a presence in your life. Friends are such a privilege to have and I hate when the meaning is cheapened. I have seen countless people lose parents, partners, or get very sick with illness and their friends swoop in with financial or emotional support like super heroes. You never know what life is going to throw at you or when you will need them on your team. Life gets busy and time is limited, but you don’t want to be me wishing you had appreciated your friends before it is too late.
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