“How many of us have real friends? How many of us are real friends to real friends?” ~ Kanye West (Pre-Tr*mp)
That lyric on the song Real Friends from “The Life of Pablo” album always hits close to home because it asks a question I always struggled to answer. What is a real friend, and do any of us have any? Over the years I learned a couple of things about making and maintaining friends:
- Desperation for new relationships breed exploitation.
- Intent is the only thing that separates friends from enemies. “Et tu, Brute?“
- One-sided friendships are an imbalance of effort, reciprocity, and communication; In which case, you are someone’s friend, but they are not yours.
From my experiences, sheer vulnerability is a hunting ground for an opportunist. And what do we call this country? The Land of Opportunity! Since I was younger, any time I tried to attract or maintain friends it always came down to compromising myself in some shape or form. Not a small settlement, either. But an abstract, moral, self-worth type of trade. It came in the manner of constantly choosing someone’s presence over my heart’s desires to assuage any potential conflict or loss of a friend.
Two years ago I decided to actively stop doing that to myself. It’s a form of self-sabotage. I denied my own feelings in order to keep people around. What a terrible compromise to reject myself and accept others, in hopes that they would accept me. Backwards isn’t it? Yet we do it all the time. I can say from endless experience, there is no value in it. Choose yourself first, and always.
Wagering self-worth in exchange for friendships began so young, in Pre-K. I was one or two of the only Black kids in my class. Everyone else was white, Hispanic, or both. Back then, kids justified friendships with a thumbs up or a thumbs-down. I remember I got a lot of sideway thumbs, or a thumbs-up one day. Then a thumbs-down the next. That is when I unconsciously learned the fragility and contingency of friendships.
One day we might be cool because I have a 36-pack of Crayola crayons. Then the next day we’re not friends because I wanted to eat all my fruit snacks without sharing. This sounds frivolous but you can see how this transitions into adult friendships later in life. It develops the “do for me and I do for you” or the “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” model. Clearly, I didn’t get the memo because I did for everyone and got nothing in return. Foolish.
My mother was a bit above average in strictness, like most Caribbean parents. She raised me to be very obedient, polite, and share with others. But the naivete in me always took that last lesson to heart and too far. There is such a thing as too generous. You can be too openhanded with your resources which not only include material, but also time, attention, aid, etc. You get the drift. I shared with people that didn’t like me and only pretended to when I had something to offer.
I’ll never forget this one girl, for any legal reasons, we’ll call her Latoria Warlington. Just googled her and apparently she’s on probation now. I’d be lying if I said I was surprised. Anyhow, she had weird frenemy vibes. Not an immediate threat, but also not a genuine friend. She had this demeanor with everyone though. But I liked her competitive edge and she was a fast runner, just like me. Nonetheless, I believed we would eventually become whole-hearted friends. Good intention, right?
One day I forgot she and I weren’t real friends. During our lunch hour, Latoria saw me with a pickle and I guess she liked pickles because then she promised to bring me a hot sausage the next day if I gave her my pickle. My mom never allowed me to eat hot sausages, so I had to get it how I could. Obviously, I naively agreed and gave away my favorite snack, in hopes that she would keep her promise.
Latoria ate it, laughed, then said, “SIKE!” That was to let me know, clearly, I wasn’t getting that hot sausage. But like a fool, I believed her after many moments of this girl showing her true colors. I learned a valuable lesson that day: People will deliberately lie to get what they want – shocker. I could’ve learned that from my daddy.
Fast-forward some odd years later. What’s changed in friendships?
I noticed this dynamic recently: You’re talking with a friend and when they speak, you listen. You’re engaged, interested, actively listening. But when you speak, suddenly the attention you gave and hope to receive is not returned. I experienced this more than enough times to notice it. It’s a one-way communication line. Where one person in the friendship can make the plans for you both, or call on you when they want or need. But it’s not the same experience when it’s the other way around. That’s an imbalance.
I got rid of all these people. They are leeches. There aren’t many people I find worth the stress. Except for one, who doesn’t cause me much stress at all, and those are the people actually worth it. My best friend, Dakari, aka, Daquiri. He has his flaws like everyone else, but he is the ideal definition of a true friend. Pure-hearted and all. He showed me what true friendship ought to be and I use him as the standard for all genuine relationships now.
In our individualistic culture, the idea of friendship almost seems abysmal. I don’t believe it’s meant to exist or thrive in the ecosystems we cultivate. It can’t. The social structures and dynamics that we actively uphold, professionally and personally, do not allow a foundation for authentic, consistent, and healthy human connection.
There is a prevalent lack of intention, purity, and fairness missing to build a foundation of friendship. Our society functions on power, acquisition, and dominance. People begin to embody these values, or at least ascribe it to their lives. None of those traits can create a healthy human bond because it operates on control, singularity, and goals; Rather than unity and each individual’s needs.
What other friendship dynamics do you see? Tell me in the comments. Part II coming soon.