A few weeks back, I published a post called, “read this when you feel like quitting.” I like the concept of “read this when…” articles, so I thought I might make a series out of them and offer my advice on pivotal moments that happen that lead to a need for encouragement. Hopefully, I can be that encouragement for you when the things that I write about happen (when you feel like quitting or when someone disappoints you).
If you read my article on dating, you know I have “unrealistic expectations” about relationships. When I was younger, and well into adulthood, people have also told me I set too high of a bar for friends and other people in my life. I’m impossible to please. I, personally, don’t think this is true, but do we ever think negative things about ourselves are true? Regardless, I do expect a certain amount of respect, understanding, compassion, and authenticity from the people in my life. If someone misses the point and allows me to second guess their intentions, their character, or their investment in our relationship, I will cut them off. Cold turkey.
This might seem harsh, and it probably is, but as I’ve gotten older, I do not stand for being made to feel silly, unimportant, or betrayed. I don’t really throw the “bully” word around with much frequency, but I didn’t have an easy childhood when it came to friends. I was consistently friends with people who made me unsure of where I stood. Would I walk into class and have my best friend smile or glare at me? Then there was the time in middle school that I got to school and no one would talk to me and no one would tell me why they weren’t talking to me. It was like the scene in Gossip Girl when Serena is trying to talk to Nate after Blair finds out about Serena and Nate’s hookup, and Nate literally refuses to acknowledge Serena. He just won’t speak or look at her. I’ve been there and it’s the worst feeling in the world. I later found out that some girl was annoyed at my friendship with her friend, so lied and told her that I had said a bunch of stuff I had never said. Classy, right?
Then came high school and friends weren’t much better there. I had a few people who I really liked, but some hurt me and I continued to be wary of trusting friends too much. Then came college and holy shit. I had female friends that were badasses who I trusted wholeheartedly and who were so positive. They also communicated with me when we did have disagreements or something happened that hurt one of us. It wasn’t me guessing what I did. Instead, my trusty friends said simply and calmly, “hey, you did a thing, it hurt me, and I want to talk about it.” So we talked about it. We apologized when we knew we should, talked about misunderstandings when they were the cause of the argument, and validated each other’s feelings. It was crazy. I mean, who knew female friendships where you built each other up and respected each other existed? Before college, I didn’t know they did. I don’t want to glorify my college friends, but most people pale in comparison to them if I’m transparent. But what I want to talk about today is the moments when you get that call or text or cold shoulder that you don’t understand and how to handle it.
We don’t intentionally hurt people (unless you’re a psycho, in which case you have bigger problems). However, sometimes we just do. We just hurt people because of a miscommunication, misunderstanding, etc. When we’ve hurt someone, we have to be accountable for that. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, it’s a matter of recognizing you hurt someone and apologizing and trying to understand their point of view. The absolute worst thing you can do when someone expresses that you hurt them is getting defensive and saying, “I’m sorry you’re hurt.” That’s essentially the most mansplaining way of apologizing. So, what happens on the flip side? When we haven’t hurt or disappointed them but they hurt or disappointed us?
Well, let me begin that conversation by offering a little anecdote. When I was an RA, my team and I had a strategy for dealing with residents who broke the rules. Rather than say, “I’m so mad at you! How could you?!” or get really heated, we said calmly, “I’m just disappointed.” There is something in the word disappointment that hits people in the gut. Well, it hits them in the gut if they respect you enough that they don’t want to disappoint you. So, when residents acted out, we pulled that ever-present parent card of “you disappointed me.” That line elicited far more actual apologies than anger, annoyance, etc. The residents who didn’t apologize didn’t really like me, so I wasn’t surprised when they didn’t apologize or express upset at disappointing me.
In friendships, we hurt people. Friendships with no disagreement are like relationships where the couple never argues. It seems fake and unrealistic (see? I don’t think perfection is indicative of strong friendships or relationships!). When you’re friends with someone, especially for a long time, you’re probably going to have issues at some point. There are certain areas that lead to conflict in friendships: religious differences, political differences, moral differences, personality differences, the girl code, etc. I remember when Landon on Southern Charm said there was no girl code, and I disliked her even more than I already did. No wonder she doesn’t have many female friends, right? She doesn’t believe in having respect for other women’s relationships and lives. All of the differences can be mitigated. Your friend is very religious and you aren’t? Well, if religion isn’t discussed 24-7 it probably won’t be an issue, especially if you have mutual respect for each other’s beliefs. However, there are some things you just can’t come back from and that is when that gut-wrenching, head spinning feeling of disappointment washes over you.
I’ve woken up feeling hungover on more than one occasion, and not because I drank too much, but because someone I considered a friend massively disappointed me. It’s a terrible feeling, but you know what’s worse? When you bring that disappointment and hurt to their attention and they explain your feelings away. Like I said earlier, conflict in friendships should never be about who is right or who is wrong. It should be about understanding why and how the person is hurting, apologizing for causing that, and acknowledging that regardless of intention, the hurt happened. Apologizing to a friend isn’t about going through the motions. If the words, “I apologized, what more do you want?” leave your friend’s mouth when you’re hurting, take a good, long look at them, appreciate the good moments, and then walk away because they were never really your friend. Your feelings are not an inconvenience and even if they believe that your hurt is irrational, they should care enough to make it right, genuinely and fully. The ‘friend’ doesn’t get to decide whether or not she hurt you, all that she gets to decide is how to make it right and if she fails, she fails. A good friend will listen and apologize when you’re hurt. She doesn’t get the right to say what is and isn’t hurtful to a person. When a friend wrongs you, s/he loses the right to tell you s/he didn’t wrong you.
The feeling of disappointment that comes after an argument with a friend is hard to recover from and feels a bit like you’re just floating, weightless and unsure, trying to find a firm footing, but realizing the rug’s been pulled from beneath you. Trying to recover is difficult. My advice when someone massively disappoints you? Allow them a chance to explain. If they are receptive to your hurt, attempt to understand, and genuinely say you are important to them and that they will make it right, give them another chance but be cautious. If, however, they explain away your feelings, tell you or imply you’re irrational, or insist hurt is a matter of right and wrong, you have the answer you needed and that answer is that your life will be better, healthier, and more positive without their influence. Again, it can be a very difficult battle to fight the urge to let someone like that back in because you — at one point — thought they were important. I’m here to tell you, they are not. In ten years, you’ll be happy you let them go now. This is an active step, which helps you lead a more active life.
How did you deal with a friend disappointing you?
For more on toxic friends, see here.