Man. This certainly brings new meaning to the "seven-year" itch. According to scientific research, guess how long most friendships, on average, last? Yep. Seven years. Why? Well, the article that I read said it's due to a few different factors—never having a formal ceremony to profess your platonic commitment (that might sound weird but I get it; it speaks to intention), lifestyle changes that can cause people to drift apart and other relationships coming along that eventually take a higher priority (like marriage, kids, etc.).
All of that makes sense, but when I think of why a lot of my friendships now have the word "former" in front of them, it's usually because 1) they didn't need to be friends of mine in the first place; 2) my and/or their friendship needs shifted and/or 3) I didn't know the difference between what I call "friendship irritants" and straight-up deal-breakers were at the time.
What I mean by that last one is this. It is true that, sometimes there are people who come into our lives, who get closer than they should, and receive more benefits than they ever deserve. Once we come to the realization that they are not good for us, it's time to release them and move on.
But sometimes, if a lot of us were honest with ourselves, some friendships tank simply because we don't exercise enough tolerance, patience and forgiveness. Because, let's be real—even the best friendships consist of two imperfect people who are gonna do all kinds of imperfect things; including to each other sometimes.
That's why it really is important to know the difference between a friend who is toxic and a friend who sometimes simply irritates you. If one (or some) of your friends is guilty of the following friend irritants, maybe these tips will help you to work through them, so that they don't have to be thrown into your every two-, five- or seven-year friendship rotation. So that they can last much longer than that.
Petty is one of those words that is used so much that I think it's important to go over what it actually means, just so we all can be sure if we truly do have a very petty friend or not. When someone is being petty, they are caught up in things that are "of little or no importance or consequence" or they are operating from a place of "having or showing narrow ideas, interests, etc." Whew. I don't know about you, but the first thing that comes to my mind, with both of these, are all of the petty exchanges that transpire across social media.
Anyway, if you were to apply these definitions to interactions in friendships, someone is truly petty if:
- They screenshot conversations and share them with others
- They are passive aggressive (aka sub-tweet a lot) on social media
- They like to be condescending or patronizing
- They continually dish what they can't take
- They hold grudges and seek revenge about things that aren't that big of a deal
Whew again. For the record, all of these might seem the opposite of "little or no importance or consequence" but the reason why I think they are spot-on with that definition of petty is because petty folk are kings and queens of making mountains out of molehills; something out of nothing. In other words, they cause drama out of stuff that, at the end of the day, isn't all that important. And, if they handled things differently, there would be far less fall out (consequences).
Anyway, on the surface, a petty individual might seem like a toxic person to be around. But I'd say that it all depends on how often a friend of yours displays this kind of behavior. If it's only when they're really upset or super stressed out, cut them a break. But if it's a pattern, I suggest bringing their pettiness to their attention, along with some clear examples (because petty people also typically have a bad memory and are never wrong). If they value the relationship, they'll tame their pettiness, even if it's just when it's around (or directly affects) you. If they don't, then it might be time to realign your boundaries. Because something else that people who are consistently petty do is drain the energy of those around them. If not immediately, eventually.
I don't know about you, but I've always been the kind of person who would prefer for someone to be pure evil all of the time than an angel on one day and Satan's cousin the next. Why? Because at least when you're always mean as a bat, I can come up with a way to deal with you. But if you're unpredictable, it's literally like being on a non-stop emotional roller coaster ride. One that gets sickening, after a while.
Although moody friends can be totally annoying in about every way imaginable, the reason why I don't recommend automatically cutting them off is, oftentimes, their mood swings are connected to underlying issues—hormonal imbalances, stress, problems that they're internalizing, sleeplessness, PTSD or Fantasia's version of "PTSD" (Post Traumatic SEX Disorder).
One of the traits of being a good friend is sympathy and, where it applies, empathy as well. If you've got a friend who seems to be any and everything but emotionally stable, set some time aside to treat them to dinner or to go to their house, look them in the face and ask what's up. Sometimes, just by you putting the (extra) effort in to show that you care, it can be the first step to getting your friend to a place of balance.
Know-it-all friends. Oh, you know the type. Argumentative. Patronizing. Condescending. Prideful. Always got a series of hyperlinks to send you to back up their theories on something. Then, if you do prove them wrong, they find some way to minimize your hypothesis. They give advice but can't take it. They're always talking but can't ever seem to listen. They can easily point out your problems but are somehow never fully capable of resolving their own. These are the type of people who always seem to be in a weird form of competition with those around them. You just started a business but, instead of congratulating you, they spend 15 minutes talking about their own goals and plans. Your man just proposed and when you want to tell them about it, suddenly they decide to discuss the trip they are about to go on with some friends. Everything is about one-upping, whether they are self-aware enough to realize it or not.
Still, you don't want to toss the friendship away because they are mad loyal, always have your back and can be a lot of fun, more times than not. In this case, what do you do? Not too long ago, I penned a piece on here entitled "According To Aristotle, We Need 'Utility', 'Pleasure' & 'Good' Friends". Friends who think they know everything oftentimes can't handle an in-depth conversation about humility (which is something that they definitely need). So, maybe scale back a bit on some of the things you typically discuss with them. Also, take some time out to figure out what kind of friend they are. Maybe they're not meant to know a ton about your life. Maybe they are the friends you visit a winery with or pray with. Not every friend has to check every box. Accept that and life—and your friendships—will be so much easier for—and on—you.
An author by the name of Shannon A. Thompson once said something that I totally agree with—"Sometimes an outside perspective is the clearer perspective." If you're truly on the quest for wisdom, maturity and evolution, you will be open to receiving advice; especially from people whose consistency in your life has proven that they really do care about you.
But as someone who has a strong personality and gets paid to give advice, I have learned that when I'm having a conversation with a friend, they say something that seems crazy, counterproductive or I just don't agree with, before forcing my opinions and insights, I'll start off by saying, "Do you need me to listen or did you want me to say something?" If they go with Door B, sometimes I'll follow that up with, "OK. Do you want Shellie at 100 percent or watered down a bit?" It might sound funny, but you'd be amazed how much tension those two simple questions are able to alleviate.
If the thing that super duper gets on your nerves about a friend of yours is they have appointed themselves to be your personal sensei, it's OK to let them know that you are not always looking for a counselor, therapist or teacher; that when you need their advice, you will totally let them know—by asking for it.
Only ego maniacs will take offense with this kind of boundary. And, if that is the kind of friend you're dealing with, trust me, you've got a lot more challenges going on than the advice that they're constantly trying to force on you on your hands. Just sayin'.
Social Media TMI (or Passive Aggressiveness)
While recently watching an episode of Righteous and Rachet (shout out the KevOnStage and DoBoy) on YouTube, they were interviewing a fellow comedian by the name of Akaash Singh. As they were chatting it up about how to pronounce words like "Pakistan" and "namaste" and what real Indian cuisine consists of (it really was an enlightening conversation), Kevin mentioned that he's got some friends who get in their feelings (my words, not his) because he, as he puts it at the 12:50 mark, doesn't like "the social media version" of them.
When you read that, didn't you have a friend who immediately came to mind? Maybe they are constantly telling ALL of their business, they seem to post 10-15 times a day, they are selfie addicts, they sub-tweet their man every chance that they get, or they always have something to complain or throw a pity party about.
If other than this, they are a stellar friend, I say do what Kev does. Although I'm not on social media, back when I was, I always saw my profile page to be MY page. So, when people came over to my side of cyberspace to try and "police" me, that really got on my nerves. Post and talk about what you want to on your page and I'll do the same thing on mine, thank you very much. Here's the thing about that—this is a rule that I shouldn't only enforce but respect. Meaning, just like I should be given the space to do and say whatever, so should the folks I interact with on social media sites.
That said, just because you and someone are friends in real life, that doesn't automatically mean that you have to be connected on social media.
I actually know some married people who don't follow each other; not because there's something to hide but since they also share so much of their lives together, they don't really want to see each other show up in one another's feeds.
So yeah, if the biggest issue you have in your friendship is that they get under your skin whenever they are online, "hide" their profile or unfollow them. If you think they are going to feel some type of way about it, give them the heads up. If y'all are true friends, it really shouldn't be all that deep. It really shouldn't. After all, you're not rejecting them. You're simply letting them be without you getting triggered or irritated in the process.
Here's a "friendship irritant" that is kind of subjective. I say that because, while you may think that friends should talk once a week, you might have a friend who believes that you damn near should be on-call 24 hours a day. In my world, I have friends who I talk to, pretty much on a daily basis. It's not because we're on our phones, though. It's because I write for a living and they are online doing branding stuff, promoting a gig or something along those lines. So yeah, it's nothing for us to shoot a few emails back in forth. Then I've got friends who are not the biggest fans of being online or talking on the phone. For us to stay connected, we have to literally plan out times to connect and catch up.
Before I figured out that that was how some of my friends are, I would get irritated when I felt like I was doing most of the calling or putting in the most proactive energy to make the relationship work. But once I stopped pouting about it and brought it up to them, the effort has had more of a balance to it.
No one person should do all of the work to make a friendship last. If you're currently irritated because you feel like that person is you, before you assume that you are being neglected or taken for granted, talk that over with your friend. If they are a good friend, I can promise you that 1) you come to their mind more than you think and 2) now that they are aware that your communication needs are different, they will figure out how both of you can be happy. Again, if they are a good friend, they will do this.
Me? I'm the one who likes my friends to keep their word. My friends, though? One of them hates—and I mean hates—for you to not show up somewhere on time. Another one feels some type of way if I don't set aside quality time for her. One of my male friends just wants his birthday to be remembered and commemorated, on time. Another friend is big on words of affirmation.
The reason why I know all of this is because I've made the time to study my friends and ask them what they expect from our relationship. Personally, out of all of the things that I shared, I think this point might be the cause of the most irritation in a lot of friendships. The root of this one is either one friend not knowing what the other expects or assuming that a friend should have the same expectations that they do.
I'll give you an example of how this can cause things to go awry. I've got a friend who is pretty sketchy when it comes to her phone. What I mean by that is sometimes it's on, sometimes it's off. Sometimes she brings it to work, sometimes she doesn't. Meanwhile, she's got a friend who is, let's say "hyper-vigilant", when it comes to communication. Because my friend is very "blah" about her cell, it causes her friend to feel as if she is being flippant or dismissive. Then, by the time her friend is able to track my friend down, she comes off as needy or high-maintenance, which totally puts my friend off. Her friend is a good friend, though, so she doesn't want to cut her off, even though this has been a lasting issue that gets on her very last nerve.
From what she's shared with me about the quality of their relationship, she shouldn't let her friend go. But there does need to be an open dialogue about what's going on. Then both of them need to come to a point and place of compromise. That's what friendship is all about. Not necessary getting all of what you expect but finding a way to get what you need while providing what your friend needs too; even if they are not one in the same.
It takes real maturity to want to work through "friend irritants" but if someone means a lot to you, it's worth it. What they bring to your life is of far more value then the nerve that they get on. When it comes to friendship preservation, it's words to live by, y'all. It really and truly is.
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