Monday, May 23, 2011

on being a friend + doing it all.

I have found myself, lately, pondering what it means to be a good friend, and if I am, in fact, failing at being one.

My entire life, I have considered myself the “good friend.” The one you are lucky to have. The one who will remember your birthday and call you to catch up and write you snail mail that will brighten your day. I will throw you surprise parties and send flowers to your grandmother’s funeral and be there for you when everyone else isn’t.

But lately, I feel inadequate.

As we get older, our circle of friends grows, encompasses time zones and states, and surpasses age limits. We have friends from college, friends from high school, friends from work and from church and from right down the road. Friends with babies, friends without babies, single friends, engaged friends, friends in college and friends in high-powered jobs.

And I find myself suffocating in an effort to be the good friend to all of these and more. I realize, in an instant, that I inevitably have set myself up for failure.

Because, here I am, publicly admitting to you that I cannot be a good friend to everyone.

I just can’t.

I can’t remember all the birthdays, and even if I could, I can’t promise a gift or card would arrive anywhere near on time.

I can’t bake you cookies from scratch because, quite frankly, me not burning dinner every night is a miracle.

I can’t call once a week to catch up because I’m afraid a 30-minute catch-up would turn into a two hour conversation, which would result in time spent away from my husband and from my home and from the work I do for eight and a half hours every day.

And I feel terrible.

Last week, I scrolled through my inbox to find an email from a long-distance friend, someone I love and care about. Her email had burdened me, broken my heart, and so I waited to respond, at first out of fear of saying the wrong thing, and then to pray, because without it the right words couldn't come. But when I finally hit the “reply” button, I realized I had let that email sit in my inbox for 11 days. Eleven days. Eleven days my friend waited to hear from me, waited for my encouragement. She would never hold it against me — she is too kind and we have been friends too long — but I hate that she had to wait 11 days for my words.

It was a warning to me, that no, I cannot be everything to everyone. But there are a few friends worth fighting for, and she is one.

Then Saturday, I gathered with some of my precious “local” friends, the ones I am blessed enough to see on a regular basis. These friendships, I thought I had under control. Because I am a face-to-face communicator. I talk with my hands and make funny faces and raise my eyebrows and roll my eyes, and I will go out to lunch or invite you to my house or go grab a coffee because these things, I can do. And do well. Phone, email, texting? Not so much. But the in-person stuff? I am good at.

Until another sweet friend showed up at breakfast with beautiful birthday cookies, and I realized with horror I had forgotten my friend’s birthday.

Not one moment has passed by in which I missed my Facebook account, until this one. It struck me that without that stupid online social network, I had no idea when my friend’s birthday was, and it almost made me sick.

I have gone from good friend, even best friend, to a mediocre one.

And I hate myself for it.

Then I read this, and I thought: Wait a minute.

Am I a terrible person and a terrible friend, or is the sad fact that I cannot be a best friend to the masses? As my circle of friends grows, is it really possible to answer all the calls and read all the emails and remember all the birthdays?

Or will it have to be enough that for some friends, I am the girl who sends emails, but who will not answer her phone.

For some, I will throw parties and go out to lunch, but I will be the one mailing a belated birthday card.

The struggle then becomes something else entirely: How do I choose who to be the better friend to?

And I just don’t know the answer.

I wonder, though, if it has to do with who God has placed in your life right now.

Because if anything, these 25 years have taught me that like seasons, people come and go. And yes, there are the treasured lifelong friends, but there are some who are in your life for only a short time. And while Facebook and Twitter and blogging and email and the telephone trick you into thinking you can keep in touch with these people into eternity, the truth is, sometimes, you just can’t. Sometimes, friendships end, and it is okay.

I guess what I’m saying is, I am doing my best.

And my best has been poor as of late, because I thought I could do it all.

And I can’t.

No one can.

So I will pick up the pieces, and try again. I will write birthdays in my long-forgotten planner and do my best to return emails within a one week time period. I will continue to host and attend parties and lunches because these friends may not be around forever, and months or years from now, Jordan and I may be somewhere else, or we may be the ones left behind. And I want to remember that I was a good friend to those who were near.

And to those who are far, I beg for your patience.

I probably will not answer my phone (which, in all fairness, is acting up anyway). Take comfort in knowing that I actually am really obnoxious on the phone. My voice sounds like a child’s, and I forget funny stories, and there are awkward silences. Instead, send me an email. Or visit me when you’re in town. (And I promise I will tell you when I am in yours.)

Several weeks ago, we visited Jordan’s parents. His mom has started a new, closer to full-time kind of gig, and as she worked in the kitchen, she looked at me and asked: “How do you get everything done? How do you do it all?”

And I just wanted to tell her: I don’t.

Baby shower decorations stay up for weeks. I forget friends’ birthdays and don’t check my voicemail and sit looking at my email inbox as if it's all written in a foreign language. I have a full-time job, and graphic design projects, and a husband, and a home, and a spiritual walk to attend to. Something is bound to fall by the wayside, and becoming a grown-up is, I think, being aware of which ones can sometimes be set on the back burner.

I'm sorry when my friendships fit into that category, but maybe I should stop feeling so guilty and simply acknowledge that this is me. I am doing my best. If you are patient with me, I will be patient with you.

And isn't that what friendship really is anyway?

* cartoon originally found via A Cup of Jo


Sugar Mama said...

I read in an article that it takes an average of 5 years for women to develop a true solid friendship... one that will stand the test of time. The other people we meet are, like you said, friends that come and go out of our lives.

As my kids have gotten older I have become an awful friend. It's not something that I am proud of. At the time I could use friends the MOST, I have the least. Life is funny that way.

I can imagine your friends accept where you are at in your life right now. You ARE doing the best you can and you love them. Loving them is more important than homemade cookies.

Annie said...

you've put words to how i've been feeling for a while. i've learned since going to college that me being the best at keeping up with everyone is maybe not the best quality to have. i've learned i can't keep up with everyone, and sometimes, as much as you miss the friends you used to have, you can't fight to maintain every single one.

like ecclesiastes 3 says, there is a season for everything. and some friends stand by you past the end of a season and through another one or two or more, and some friends come at the beginning of one season and leave at the end. and that's okay, because that's life, and it's important we don't forget that friendships are blessings, whether they last three months, three years or three decades.

Anonymous said...

A lot of your blog posts put into words exactly whats going through my head at the time. You are wise beyond your years girl! And I really enjoy reading your blog :) Glad I stumbled upon it.

stephanie said...

i'm so thankful you wrote about this topic...i feel SO guilty about how i've handled some friendships. even right this moment, i still need to purchase a gift for my friend's birthday, from APRIL. it seems like i go through phases of managing to remember the birthdays, get things done ahead of time, stay on top of emails....and then things shift so i can't remember anything. i want so much to not be the person who is late and/or forgetful. and i also feel badly that i haven't kept in touch with people who have meant so much to me in the past.

Laken said...

I love this so incredibly much. Because it's from my heart to your keyboard. Seriously. And I feel so, so guilty all of the time -- but at least it's good to know that I'm not the only one who struggles with this.

Sabrina said...

Very honest post. As others have mentioned there are seasons for everything and everyone. Also, the only way to change and grow is to acknowledge where you are currently. You are doing your best and though it does not always look like it is "supposed" is heartfelt and I am sure your friends appreciate that.

Amy Lynn said...

This hits close to home for me - I was just home visiting and finally reconnected with some of my friends from high school, one of whom I hadn't spoken to since our high school graduation, others whom I hadn't spoken to in over 2 years. It was a hard realization for me to come to in college that we wouldn't always be close - and getting over the hurt that they stayed in touch with other high school friends but not me.

This semester I learned more about recognizing "friends of the road" and "friends of the heart" (from the book "Relationships" by Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott) - and that just because I don't stay in as close of touch with some friends, it doesn't mean that they were any less important in certain stages of life.

Thank you for confirming the fact that it's not just me that struggles with friendships and how to keep them all going :)