Why is it that the people we care most about are always the ones that we pester the most? Friends are always there for friends, but I often feel as if I’m taking advantage of someone when I ramble on and on about my personal problems. In a way, they’re obligated to listen and I know it. I can hear myself getting whinier and whinier but can never stop myself from spewing out whatever trivialities are making my life less-than-comfortable at the moment.
Usually, whoever I’m talking to will listen patiently, and then try to say something appropriately reassuring in response, although more often than not the response is, “I’m really sorry and that sucks, but I don’t know what I can tell you,” or “I’m not really qualified to tell you what to do, but I’m sure it’ll get better.” Other times I get a hug or just a sympathetic shrug.
I once had a discussion with a friend during which we arrived at the conclusion that no matter how trivial our own problems may be in the grand scope of things, they are still very real and personal to us. Ok, maybe there are thousands of orphaned children around the world and I should be fortunate to still have both my parents, but I still get frustrated at my mother and complain when she is overbearing and overprotective. Those other children may be suffering, but thinking about their suffering doesn’t alleviate mine. If anything, it only makes me feel guilty.
And for every friend who whines, there is a friend who listens. I feel much more comfortable as a listener. When it comes to my friends, I sincerely strive to be patient and non-judgmental (to clarify: I judge people for their integrity and motivations, not their personal preferences or decisions). A friend is a confidant, a trusted secret-keeper, a support system, and an honest advisor. As a listener, no matter what the complaint is, if it’s important to a friend, it becomes important to me.
Growing up, my mother would always say that friends are not for real, and that family members are the only ones that we can truly depend on. Every fibre of my middle school, friendship bracelet-wearing, secret handshake-sharing self refused to believe it. What had happened to my mom for her to lose faith in friendship? There is no altruism outside the family, she insisted. Never count on anyone to do something you can do yourself. Everything you share can be used against you. I understand the importance of self-reliance and independence, but I always found her philosophy to be a pessimistic and extreme. But at the same time, I can’t deny that what she has said hasn’t affected me. I tend to be a more private person. To all but my closest friends, details of my personal life are shared on a need-to-know basis partly due to introversion but I will (reluctantly) acknowledge some possible trust issues (it’s a self-defense mechanism).
I think that good friendships should be fulfilling, that both friends should truly enjoy and gain from each other’s presence, but also that sometimes the best friendships reveal themselves when maybe one person isn’t at their best, yet the other person is genuinely understanding and patient. With my close friends, comfortable silences replace awkward small talk. When I feel like I’m not smart, pretty, likable – when I feel overwhelmed and my self esteem is shot to hell – my friends bring me back down to earth. With my best friend, I feel completely comfortable discussing my personal life when it gets a little messy (and a lot exciting), because sometimes her personal life is even messier (and more exciting).
Sometimes I just can’t help it and need to whine for a bit, but if you’ll be patient and forgive me, then I promise that I’ll return the favor and be a good friend/sibling, friend/classmate, friend/lover, friend/housemate, or just plain friend.