The Anxiety of Friendship

“Do not confuse “duty” with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.
But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad than it is with the leech who wants “just a few minutes of your time, please—this won’t take long.” Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time—and squawk for more!
So learn to say No—and to be rude about it when necessary. Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you.
(This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don’t do it because it is “expected” of you.)” 

― Robert A. HeinleinTime Enough for Love

Friendships and boundaries – the fact there’s this perfect quote in existence for them, says to me it’s not only a problem I’m experiencing. Over and over again – I feel like I’m giving as much as I’m capable of to my friendships, but it’s still never enough.

An ex-boyfriend of mine sent me this quote the other day when my frustration was really beginning to bring me down. I couldn’t decide whether it was me, if I was truly a terrible friend or if I was drowning in other people’s unrealistic expectations of me. I think it’s clear to see he believed the latter.

The past couple of years, I have found myself being reprimanded again and again by long term close friends. After years of feeling lost and without direction, I have finally found who I am, what I want out of life and where I want to go. This in turn has resulted in my life being very busy – working two jobs and studying to reach my goals. The capacity I have to physically and emotionally be there for my friends has changed. I don’t have five days a week to be there like I have in the past.

I try my hardest to see my closest friends at least once a week. It doesn’t seem to be enough though. I am in trouble for finding it hard to find the time and energy at the end of a long day to speak on the phone. Both of my jobs are emotionally demanding – in one I’m tending to those with mental health difficulties and the other to children. I am dead at the end of the day and sitting on the phone for an hour tending to my friend’s problems takes emotional energy that I don’t have.

By the time I reach my weekly catch ups – in which don’t even cover all the friends I would like to be spending my time with, I am in trouble. I’m in trouble for not having called, for not having messaged enough, for not checking in with them, for not caring about them. They assume they’re not important to me, that I don’t care about what they’ve been experiencing during the week.

Every week, I sit there, reassuring them – that no they’re wrong, I still love them. Yes, I am still here. No, I’m not angry with them. It’s not them, I blink my eyes and a week is gone. I’m just busy. And tired. So fucking tired.

I’m beginning to become judgmental of them, something I never was before. I’ve always been the compassionate one, the one with an open ear ready to listen at any time. Seriously though, at the age of twenty-seven, how are my friends having that many dramas and issues in one week, that they need my support every few days? I feel guilty for it. I’ve found myself, I am happy. Permanently tired, but happy. It’s easy to be so judgmental once you’re on the other side, once you’ve found happiness. Where has my patience gone for those still searching? For those who haven’t quite found their contentment? Why is it that I am supportive and understanding for those I work with in a professional manner, but not those in my personal life?

My friends’ feelings of constant discontentment brings me down, it exhausts me. I become frustrated with it. I just want them to work it out already. Objectively, their lives aren’t all that bad – they’re pretty great actually. Perhaps that’s what gets to me. I hear horror stories of people’s lives all day and then see my friends unable to cope with what seems a pretty privileged situation. I know we can’t compare – we can’t judge how someone feels, they feel what they feel. Yet I still do. My patience is still short.

Perhaps if I wasn’t always being chastised for being out living my life and chasing my goals, I’d have more emotional energy to listen to their ‘discontentment’. Every time I see them though, it goes the same. I turn up, they tell me how hard their week has been, how incredibly sad and stressed they have felt. How me not calling or being there has exacerbated it, how they’ve been feeling angry towards me throughout the week. Secretly cursing me in their minds. I reassure them, they apologize profusely (despite having done so last week and knowing they will do so next week). They then continue to confide in me about all their distressing experiences, feelings and thoughts throughout the week before I leave and go home.

It has come to the point that my friendships are not where I go to be happy. They are not the escape in my life. Or where I receive that warm comfortable and fun-loving feeling. They make me anxious. I spend my nights worrying that I haven’t rang, and knowing I should – but feeling way too tired. I watch my phone light up when they call and feel my stomach drop. I can’t bring myself to answer from fear of being reprimanded, yet I know that by not answering, I’m only making it worse. I shake and breathe heavily in the car whilst I drive to visit them, bracing myself for the lecture I’m about to receive. I mentally sigh relief as we are saying goodbye, as I am done for another week. I collapse from exhaustion when I get home and question why I keep doing this, and how do I fix it?

It’s not as though I don’t love them – I do. They’ve been amazing friends over the years. I want them in my life. I don’t want to lose them. Something needs to change though – and I stay silent out of fear. Out of fear of upsetting them, out of fear of being in even more trouble, out of fear of being painted an even worse friend than I already am and out of fear of losing them.

It’s coming to the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. I have promised myself this year my new year’s resolution will be to fix my personal life. I have to stop living in fear and anxiety. 2018 is going to be the year that I have boundaries and make them clear. I don’t want the future Heinlein speaks of, I don’t want to end up with termites that will nibble away at my life.  I will not allow this to happen. It’s time I take control.