My dear friend,
One of the things I love most about us is that we’re open and honest with each other. We talk about pretty much anything and everything. There are some things, though, that maybe I’ve never told you. Things I’d like you to know. Maybe you already do. You’re a smart cookie! I want to tell you, nevertheless, because sometimes it’s good to hear things, even when we know them already.
You are never a burden. I’m putting this one first because it’s fundamental to who we are as friends. You take me at my word when I say call or message me any time, day or night. You’re respectful of times you know I’m busy or with other friends but if you need me I know you’ll reach out and ask. You understand I’d much sooner you did that, than for you to feel you shouldn’t bother me or I’m too busy. Maybe you do feel that way sometimes. If so, I get it. I feel that way too at times. It says a lot about us that we’re able to overcome those inhibitions and ask for help when we need to.
The flip side is that I know I’m not always who you need. I used to struggle with this one. It’s natural to want to fix things for those we care about when they’re in pain, or poorly, or struggling. We want to take the hurt and difficulty away and make everything okay again. It’s natural, but profoundly unhelpful. Often, you don’t need anyone to fix things. What you mostly need is someone to hear you, to listen to what you’re going through and not judge you for what’s happened or the situation you’re in. We do that all the time, and I know it helps. There are practical things I can help with too. I’m happy to do so. But at other times I’m not the person you need — and that’s okay. Maybe you need professional help and support, or you need what other people can offer better than I can, or space to deal with things on your own. We’ve come a long way in handling these times, and I’m as grateful for your honesty in telling me when I’m not who you need, as when you tell me I am.
I won’t always understand but I’ll always want to learn more. You know I have no mental health diagnosis. I also have very little experience that’s relevant to what you’ve lived through and live with. I used to feel that put me at a disadvantage in being a supportive friend, because how could I understand if I’ve not gone through something similar myself? There are still times when I feel my lack of experience gets in the way, but it’s never been an issue between us. That’s partly because we’re honest about it, but also because you help expand my awareness and understanding. It’s not your job to educate me, but I learn from you sharing the day-to-day realities of your life with me. I want to understand as much as I can. Not so I can tell you what to do or how you should behave — that wouldn’t go down well! — but so I can be the friend you want and deserve.
You’re the expert in being you. No matter how much I learn about what you live with, I will never know as much as you do. The same is true of doctors and other professionals. They are the experts in treating the conditions you’re diagnosed with, but they don’t know what it’s like for you to live with those conditions. Most times I’m likely to encourage you to take whatever help and support they offer you. More generally, if you ask for my opinion, or I’m particularly concerned for your safety, I’ll tell you what I think about the choices you’re making and the options available to you. But my starting point will always be to respect your lived experience and what you want to happen.
It means the world to me that you feel safe sharing how things are for you, but I don’t expect or need total honesty. I understand there’ll always be things you can’t share with me, or choose not to. That used to hurt, if I’m honest. Surely if we’re true friends (I’d think) you’d be able to tell me anything? But I realise now how ignorant, selfish, and plain silly that is! It’s right that you pay attention to your boundaries, in terms of what you share and who you share with. You have a right to expect me to respect those boundaries, just as you respect mine.
I love that you tell me when I get things wrong! There have been several times when I’ve messed up badly, and you’ve told me in no uncertain terms what I did and why it was so hurtful, triggering, or unhelpful. It’s hard to hear, but by being honest you give me the opportunity to learn how to do better in future, not only with you but with other friends. It’s also good when you tell me I’m getting things right! That “thank you for listening” or “what you did there really helped” lets me know I’m on the right track and helps me become the friend you need me to be.
One of the best things about our friendship is its mutuality. We are there for each other. My needs and concerns are often less immediate, critical, or severe than yours, but you never dismiss or make light of what I’m dealing with. Likewise, you celebrate my successes, small and large, as much as I celebrate yours.
There are times I wish our friendship was enough to keep you safe. That’s understandable. Who doesn’t want those they care about to be kept from harm? It’s ignorant, though. It’s also profoundly disrespectful, because it implies you’re incapable of taking care of yourself or asking for the help you need. In a crisis situation I would do everything I could to keep you safe, even at the risk of damaging our friendship. But I have no right to try and take the responsibility for your wellbeing and safety away from you. That responsibility is yours and I honour it as I honour you.
I don’t worry about you but I care. You know this one! Not everyone understands it, because we’re programmed to equate caring about someone with worrying about them. If I’m totally honest, there are occasions when worry gets the better of me, but I recognise how toxic it is. When things are rough, you don’t need me adding my worry energy into the mix. What you need is to know I’m here, that I care deeply, and that I’ll do whatever I can to help you through to the other side. I trust you to ask for help if you need it. You trust me never to turn you away or ignore you. That’s what caring is. That’s what love is.
After all that you’re probably glad I’m almost at the end! What else, you must be wondering, does he want to say to me? What else is there? Perhaps the most important thing of all. I’m glad you’re my friend! More than glad, I’m happy and proud. I don’t know if we’ll be friends for always. I hope so. I can’t imagine not having you in my life and being in yours. But no matter what happens, I will always be grateful for you and for our time together.
Image by Brad Neathery at Unsplash.