Do Your Friends Make the Grade?

by Alycia Ripley
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A mentor once shared his opinion that the best thing I could ever do for my mental and emotional health was spend time with people who really liked me. Confused, I wondered, who spends time with people who DON’T like them?

Turns out, his emphasis was on the adjective…really. As in, an individual who appreciates our unique selves, what we bring to the friendship, and prioritizes spending time with us in the same manner we do for them. How many of us work to spend time with certain people, an endeavor more stressful than fun due to unequal effort? By Labor Day of some summers I feel as if I’ve been in charge of State dinners rather than casual get-togethers due to chasing down flaky people rather than prioritizing those who make an effort to be there.

I became intrigued by the difference between friends and acquaintances, a distinction often blurred in the age of social media. Friends are instrumental to our well-being. We feel our most confident, connected, and understood during quality time spent with a good friend. When a person truly likes us, illustrating through actions or comments that they find us special, interesting, fun, and invaluable, it reinforces a positive self-image and healthy self-talk. While spending time with a friend, consider how you feel during and after the interaction as opposed to beforehand. As a member of Generation Y, I enjoy sharing with millennials just how much effort once went into the growth of a friendship. My best friend Shelly and I met through an internship program in D.C during the summer of 1999. Cell phones were full of data packages that ran out quickly. Social media hadn’t been invented. Once back at school, we relied on frequent short phone calls and long emails to share the weekly news and laughs from our respective colleges. This continued throughout our first jobs and apartment living. There was no Facebook with which to share photos. Our phones were for calling, not Snapchatting. We printed photos at local drugstores to send each other in the mail. Each week we’d call to hear each other’s voices and make plans for who was flying to NYC (her) or D.C (me) to see the other. We were accustomed to the effort that went into maintaining the bond of friendships, not relying on photo-texts or social media ‘likes.’ This ease, while helpful, has bred a certain laziness and complacency.

Frustrations arise when we overestimate our numbers of good friends. Time spent on social media can mistakenly place acquaintances on the same priority level as friends. Reading someone’s comments on our photos makes them feel like a true part of our lives, forgetting that it only takes three seconds to press ‘Like’ on a post or write “I love this!” under a photograph. This interaction can even be completed while on the phone or making dinner. While fun and encouraging, social media interactions don’t necessitate the same effort that goes into making a plan and spending face time with or hearing the voice of an actual friend.

Close friends know our lives well. Even if we see them infrequently, the relationship is one of depth and shared intimacy. Our friends lives don’t need to be similar to ours for them to be happy and encouraging of our goals. Acquaintances tend to be those with whom we share only superficial news and shy away from exposing our vulnerabilities. This becomes problematic when we look to mislabeled acquaintances for a listening ear or stressing ourselves over whether they can make it to an event we are planning.

A simple test can determine close friend designation. Consider a quantifiable period of time. If during summer then use Memorial Day to Labor Day as bookends. During that time, if someone has 1) invited you to spend time with them, 2) accepted your invite to spend time & 3) has supported your goals/wins in person or on social media, they’re a friend. If within 3.5 months they haven’t invited you, accepted an invite, & have little idea of what’s going on in your life, that’s a person for whom you aren’t currently a priority. The litmus test for long-distance friends is whether you’ve heard their voice within the summer and whether the information shared contains authentic sentiments or superficial commentary. If you notice on social media that the same people consistently attend fun events and never extend you an invite, that’s because, very simply, you aren’t on their minds. These are acquaintances. Friends would always think to ask or include.

These observations were eye-opening. I’d been placing much importance on acquaintances and bending backward to make a party date work for them when, after four weeks, they hadn’t bothered to secure a babysitter or provide an RSVP response. Friendships are an interaction of equality. Each side expends the same amount of effort to maintain it. It can be an emotionally draining exercise to place importance on people who do not do the same for us.

Positive effects arise from spending time with those who truly like, appreciate, and support us, effects as important as eating healthfully and drinking eight glasses of water each day. The same way fatty meat can damage our hearts, so can stress incurred from chasing down those who don’t prioritize us or spending more time with those who like our style or one-liners than with those who are equally grateful for and happy to have our friendship. Friendships need to nourish, not drain our energy. I once heard that if by forty years old, a person had ten good friends, they were in very good shape. Take time to decide who in your circle is deserving of your time, energy, and effort. Both your body and mind will thank you.

Alycia Ripley

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