When I was in college I was starstruck.
Not by anybody famous, but by the “It” girls–the gorgeous, intelligent, popular ones who never really gave me much attention in high school. I followed them around with fairy dust in my eyes, amazed at their ability to attract men, be athletes, discuss intelligent topics, have fun, and still maintain incredibly high GPAs at a Seven Sister school. I relished every moment where they welcomed me in their orbit, never realizing that I served the role of kind, overweight, supportive friend/lackey who made them shine all the brighter because of how they were reflected in my eyes.
However, even then I recognized that sometimes the relationship was uneven. A few of these women would come to me in times of strife; looking for a shoulder to cry on, a comforting word and sometimes even wise advice. They came to me when they were lonely and needed someone to fill up time, which I was always willing to do if I had a gap in my own (very busy) schedule. However, when I struggled with my own issues and reached out in loneliness I got responses like”nobody wants to hang out with someone who is depressed all the time” or “I know it’s hard but let’s talk about me now” (of course I exaggerate, nobody used those exact words).
Needless to say, those friendships haven’t really survived the years. That time period also taught me to protect myself when it comes to friendship, which isn’t really a positive thing. I have a hard time making close friends sometimes, and I find it truly difficult to reach out to friends when I need help. I’m still always there for others, although I have begun to recognize when and how to set boundaries on my support.
I learned to depend on myself and to recognize my own strengths. I realized that part of the reason they came to me is that I have strong empathy and the ability to help. I pride myself in those skills, and often find myself in the position to help and encourage people who just need a non-judgmental ear. I admit that I love being able to help people.
And yet . . . there are some people in my life who still ask me to serve that role of supporting friend without reciprocating in a similar way. As I mentioned, I find it difficult to ask for help. But, in recent years, with a few people who have come to me when they’ve reached difficult challenges in their lives, I decided that maybe they could be there for m as well. Of course, not when they were in the middle of their dark struggles, but after I’d helped them through. I’d reach out a tentative hand, saying I could use some advice and support, only to be dismissed with “Not now” or “I know it’s hard but let’s talk about me.”
Do you see the trend?
Will I ever learn?
The answer to that is a resounding “YES!”
Yesterday my friend and creative partner from Kansas called me with exciting news. She also called to thank me for my (very small) role in helping her get to this exciting news.
“I want to thank you by helping you with . . . “
I don’t know if she realizes how much the reciprocity in our relationship means to me. We helped each other. She inspired me to create and get out of my own comfort zone. I’d like to think I challenged her to expand her own boundaries.
This is a friendship that will last through distance and time.
Last night one of my non-reciprocal friends reached out to me again, looking for a boost and support. I know that I won’t refuse. I’ll be there for her in her time of need but then . . .
I think I’ll reconnect with people who give as much as they receive.
Have you ever found yourself in an unbalanced relationship? What do you do?