There are a few old sayings going around on the relationship between who your friends are and who you are. "Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future," or "you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with." To me, these broadly ring true.
Having good friends is pretty fucking great. Good friends want the best for you. Good friends respect you. Good friends enjoy spending time with you. Good friends
- want you to not just be surviving, but thriving;
- want to support you;
- challenge you to be the best version of yourself;
- are honest and candid and build intimacy with you;
- sometimes know you better than you know yourself.
If no one had ever heard of friends before, the invention of friends would be one of the greatest moments in human history.
What's even more miraculous is that it feels quite natural and enjoyable to be a good friend to your good friends. You would think that doing all of this emotional labor for someone else would drain us, but it instead fulfills us. Friendship both feels good for others and feels good for ourselves. It’s like eating vegetables, or exercising, or if candy were healthy, that. Friendship is one of the few times we really can have our cake and eat it too.
And yet, we do not often direct friendship inwards, towards ourselves. We often
- do not think we deserve good things;
- deprive ourselves of self respect;
- resent being alone;
- neglect and deny our needs;
- are harsh on ourselves, we pressure ourselves, we don't forgive ourselves, we don't accept ourselves.
We barely even acknowledge, let alone cultivate, a relationship with ourselves.
This lack of self-friendship manifested in a few ways for me this past year. For starters, I wasn’t honest with myself: I didn’t admit to myself that I wasn’t doing well, and I spent each morning pressuring myself to feign happiness just to get through the day. Although my friends identified that I wasn’t really happy, I dismissed them, believing instead that I should just be grateful for what I had, and that I didn't deserve to be happier.
Unsurprisingly, my mental health bottomed out, and I had to build myself back up. It was then that I decided to adopt my friends’ perspective towards myself: I started to wish for myself to be thriving, not merely surviving. It then became obvious that my needs weren't being met, and that I needed to make a change.
When friendships sour, good friends are also courageous: they initiate hard conversations that are uncomfortable, even painful, but they do it in spite of it, because they care about their relationship with you more than their present discomfort. In good friendships, communicating your needs and holding each other accountable is a form of respect for both your friend and respect for yourself.
When we think back to "show me your friends and I'll show you your future," the question of whether we respect ourselves provides us direction towards the person we want to become. We want to become people that we ourselves respect, that's why we spend time and build relationships with people who inspire us.
For a long time, I was not courageous with anyone. I avoided confrontation, and I especially avoided the fact that my relationship with myself was not working. When I finally took the time to look at where I was and who I had become, it became obvious that I didn't respect myself. While my closest friends wanted to see me succeed and support me in my effort and ambitions, I wasn't doing the work to make them or myself proud. I wasn't considering what was best for me, and I wasn’t holding myself accountable to the values that mattered to me. In that moment, I realized I wouldn't want to be friends with me. I wasn't becoming a person I respected, and I didn't respect the person I was becoming.
Since then, it's been clear how to revive my sense of self-respect. Like any good friend would, I need to support myself and challenge myself to become the best version of myself. Like any good friend would, I need to be honest with myself, and candid with myself, and cultivate intimacy with myself. And like any good friend would, I need to take care of myself. Writing this, it's also easy to identify that without directing the same grace and intentions of friendship to ourselves, we limit how much we can support everyone else in our lives we care about. If our own needs aren't met, we can't expect to sustainably support the needs of others.
Lifelong friendships are hard to come by. It takes effort, the courage to confront, and the best of intentions to maintain a lifelong friendship. Some friendships are forged by necessity, by time, by persistence, and if you’re lucky, after a while, you know you’re sticking it out with them for the long haul. But while everyone else in our lives can slip by, we are guaranteed wake up with ourselves in the morning, every morning. I haven’t always been a good friend to me, but I’m looking forward to where I’m (we’re?) headed together. And for the first time, I don’t feel like I’m stuck with me. I feel like I’m sticking it out.
 Joan Didion, On Self Respect (1961) - This is a must read, I wish I read it earlier!