The title of this post is not meant to be self-condemning. I AM bad friend, for anyone who requires a great deal of one-on-one time with the people they love. In the words of Glennon Doyle, “I’ll die for you, but I won’t, like, meet you for coffee.” This is a part of my personality I’ve come to accept and even appreciate, and my closest friends also accept this (with varying degrees of appreciation, I’m sure.) But the question I’m asking myself now is: how can I be a “bad” friend (in this particular sense) and still be a kind and caring person? How can I be a “bad” friend, and cultivate GOOD relationships?
Last night, I texted a friend to get the phone number of a woman who, about three weeks ago, had expressed a desire to get to know me better. After that, I responded to an email sent a month ago from another would-be friend, and then wrote a second email to a potential friend who had written me a kind letter over two months ago. Later, I jumped on the blog to post a new article, and discovered the following comment on Reaching Roots:
“I appreciate your thoughts expressed here, Rina.
I have always loved your company, your children and appreciated your many talents.
Your words here caused me to think a little differently about why we, as neighbors only a mile or so away from each other, did not find time to get together more often.
I had this feeling that you all felt that our family was not good enough to be around yours for very long, for fear that we might contaminate your family with the way we dress, or think, or speak…
I understand this thought process that you have shared. I have gone through it and continue to revise mine daily. You and your family are very special people. I am thankful to have you in my life. I realize that you have a lot to juggle, but I hope that in the future you will feel more comfortable dropping by or calling for any reason.
Oh. My. God.
I care about this woman. I admire and respect her family. I have often expressed to other friends my desire to get to know her better, but for various reasons (mostly having to do with being an extreme introvert with a slight bent toward laziness and a greater bent toward social anxiety who hates putting on a bra and leaving the house,) I have rejected most of her invitations and, in doing so, I’ve hurt her. Worse, I somehow managed to make her think it was her fault. And though part of me knows I can’t accept every invitation, or respond to every email, or promptly answer every phone call, another part of me feels there is a balance, and I seem to be teetering too far in one direction.
I recently read a comment on facebook about Fred Rogers:
“Kindness is a cognitive course we commit to (or not). When we have the privilege of knowing those who do, it feels magically make-believe. How can someone truly be THAT kind? Mr. Rogers said he prayed for people by name, read scripture, swam laps, banged low notes on pianos, and kneaded unpliable clay. All to train his mind and body to be present with others. He paused. He paraphrased. He presumed positive intent. He probed for specificity. He put ideas on the table. He was a man. Not perfect. But perfectly present.” –Ashley Perkins
I have not always been kind in this way. I have not always been present in this way. It’s no secret that we have, in the past, steered clear of certain people for fear they would… can I please say “negatively influence” our children rather than “contaminate?” (Damn, it hurts when truth slaps you in the face.) And it’s also true that I still hold certain people at a distance, because I don’t want to subject myself to negativity or bigotry or gossip (not that the friend who wrote this comment exhibits any of these traits, I’m thinking of other instances, now.) There IS a part of me that wholeheartedly believes the words of Maya Angelou who says that if you allow negativity into your life it can take you over. I agree with her advice not to maintain friendships with negative people. But where is compassion and kindness in this approach? And how do I find the balance between accepting my own need for solitude and fostering deeper relationships with the people I care for, or could come to care for, if I gave it just the slightest chance? Obviously, I can’t be friends with everyone I meet. I have neither the time nor the energy (nor, to be truthful, the desire. Who does?) But there are so many people I do want to be better friends with, and so many opportunities I’m missing. As for others, how do I go about rejecting friendships without rejecting people? Perhaps, in the case of “negative” people, I should be more concerned with loving them than protecting myself from them. And perhaps, in the case of those I’m closest to and those I’d like to know better, I should (at the very least) be better at promptly answering emails and returning phone calls and… well, hell… getting out of the house (at least a little) more often.
I feel so sad right now. But thankful, too. I’m glad my friend told me how she felt. She held up a mirror and showed me a side of myself that isn’t pretty and a side of herself that was vulnerable. That took guts, and I’m honored and thankful for it. I don’t have any answers to my questions right now. I just know I have to do better.