What I mean by that is, I think a lot of times, we give folks the honor and privilege of having the title “friend” in our lives because we like them and/or we have certain things in common and/or we have similar goals and values when it comes to different areas of life; therefore, we don’t want to offend them by not saying that they are a friend. Oh, but listen here — I would rather find words that are better suited for the dynamic (acquaintance, work buddies, cool people, etc.) than to say you’re a friend only for one or both of us to end up being severely disappointed (if not flat-out pissed), all because our expectations via the word didn’t pan out.
Expectations. Although some people think that the key to life is to walk through it without having any at all, I couldn’t disagree more. To me, the realistic key is to know what your expectations are beforehand, to make sure that they are realistic, and then to convey them to another person as you give them the respect and space to do the same. If both of you are on the same page about meeting each other’s needs (and there is a clear purpose behind why the two of you should be friends, to begin with), go forth. If not, it really is okay to understand and accept that you can still be in each other’s space without partaking in all of the privileges that come with a friendship — especially a close friendship.
Because real talk, if a friendship is special, you had best believe that a close one is all the more sacred. That’s why I thought it would be important — critical even — to tackle what you should look out for before actually calling someone a close friend of yours. Because if someone is going to move into that special part of your life, it’s important that you don’t end up getting blindsided.
So with all of that being said, let’s tackle six signs that if you’re considering making someone a close friend, you probably…shouldn’t.
1. You’re Already Doing Most of the Work
Live long enough on this earth, and you’ll realize that oftentimes, it’s selfish people who can see the most of what you have to offer. In a cryptic and ironic way, that’s kind of their job — to peep out who has what they can benefit the most from.
This is something that I very much learned the hard way. In fact, it wasn’t until I reached my 40s that I realized just how often I was doing most of the giving in most of my relationships — across the board too. And because it also took me years to understand what narcissism and narcissistic abuse looks like (listen, I’ve been around the entertainment industry basically all of my life; it comes with the territory), I didn’t get that some people are so full of themselves that they actually think that all they should really bring to the friendship table is their presence and you being able to say that you know them personally (chile, it’s so wild out here!).
If your self-esteem is low, if you come from a toxic take-only and/or boundaries-violating family, if most of your past friendships have been so unhealthy that you don’t really know what a good one looks like at this point— sometimes people’s egomania will do a real number on you; especially if the individuals you’re dealing with also have a master’s degree in gaslighting and manipulation. Oh, you know the kind I’m talking about too — the moment you mention that you feel like they are not contributing as much as you are, here they come with, “Then you must not be doing ALL of what you’re doing for the right reasons.”
Please stop. A person who values you won’t even come at you that way. They will be more on the tip of, “Sis, my bad. I didn’t pick that up,” or “Let’s talk about what your needs are because I want you to feel seen in this friendship too”…something of that nature. Instead, if you do find yourself keeping tabs, what I say often is that’s typically a sign that there is an imbalance in the relational dynamic — oftentimes a severe one where your friend is reaping all of the rewards of being connected to you while you are famished on a billion different levels in the process.
I have shared on this platform before that when it comes to a person who I once considered to be a close friend for many years, after I tallied our monetary/tangible exchanges, while I had spent thousands on her (and her family), she came up with a five-dollar ring from a local museum and a packet of lip gloss that she ended up losing. Even on the media tip, I hooked her up countless times, and not once did she offer any of her contacts (oh, and she had them) to benefit my career. Not once.
My relationships these days? I’ll be honest, on the professional tip, I still end up being the bigger giver out of my friends; however, what I’m not doing is being the only big and consistent supporter. My friends claim that it can be challenging to figure out how to help me now with their billions of contacts because I’m always up to something new (that’s fair). At the same time, though, not one of them is comfortable with my giving to them and them not trying to figure out how to extend reciprocity in return — no real friend is.
You know what? If any of this triggered you — good. You absolutely should not be going above and beyond for people because you consider them to be a close friend if they are not doing the same thing for you in return. Like I oftentimes say, giving to a friend is investing; giving to someone who is a fake friend is spending — and more times than not, that ends up being a complete and total waste…of time, effort, and energy.
2. They Lean Towards Negativity a Lot
Before tackling this one, let me just say that there are plenty of studies to support that social media is creating more and more narcissists by the day (you can read more about it here, here, here, here, and here). And since folks like to toss around the word “narcissist” like it’s confetti (heads up, just because someone doesn’t like you or breaks up with you, that doesn’t mean they are narcissistic), let’s review some science-based traits of narcissistic behavior (which, for the record is not the same thing as being a clinically diagnosed narcissist):
- Lack of empathy
- Constantly preoccupied with self
- Disrespects others’ boundaries
- Needs lots of attention
- Is profoundly insecure
- Acts entitled
- Isn’t self-accountable/constantly deflects
- Can’t take criticism (oh, but can dish plenty of it out)
- Has an agenda with everything that they do (i.e., there are usually strings attached)
And these kinds of people? They suck at being told about themselves because, unless it’s praise, they don’t want to hear it. This is why I oftentimes say that a lot of people don’t want a partner; they want an audience — but that, too, is another message for another time.
What does all of this possibly have to do with this particular point? Good question. Here’s the thing — someone calling you out on your ish, holding you accountable, and using discernment…these are not negative individuals, although we live in a culture that may say otherwise. No, what I mean by “they lean on negativity” is — they give backhanded compliments; they don’t celebrate your reached goals and triumphs; they are constantly reaching out to unload burdens and bad news on you (and not much else); they are hypercritical about everyone and everything; they are chronically pessimistic; they drain your energy; their skin is super thin (which makes them hypersensitive); they have excuses for everything; they constantly have you questioning yourself and/or they are worry warts.
There are some family members who I had to release because they are these types of people. It’s almost like they enjoy swimming in the cesspool of negativity. That’s on them, but there are tons of studies to support the fact that negativity not only takes a toll on our mental and emotional state, but it can also lead to a weakened immune system which can wreak all kinds of health-related havoc — why would you want that kind of toxicity in your intimate space when life is too short to fight the kinds of battles that can honestly be avoided? Ones like being close to negative people.
Yeah, a negative person shouldn’t be a close friend. Your health can’t handle it/them.
3. It Feels Like They Are Low-Key Competing with You
Next point: Please watch the kinds of people who make it a mission to become your friend. I’ve had more than a handful of those in my own life, and it never ended well because 1) I always felt uncomfortable with their flattery and relentlessness to try and get close to me and 2) it oftentimes seemed like whenever I would do something, here they would come with either asking me a ton of questions about how I pulled it off or I would look up and see them at least attempting to do something very similar.
Listen, I know how the saying goes about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, yet I personally can’t stand it (to me, please learn to just get your own), and I absolutely don’t mind feeling that way considering the fact that the Good Book isn’t fond of flattery either (like Job 17:5[NKJV], for example: “He who speaks flattery to his friends, even the eyes of his children will fail.”).
These days, all of my close friends are highly accomplished and while I’m sure that a part of what keeps us from even having to deal with competitiveness, even on a very basic level, is most of us aren’t in the same fields, another reason why it’s not a problem is because our friendships grew from an organic space. There were no agendas. There were no “let me see what I can get here” strategies. Things also weren’t rushed or forced; they happened very easily and over the course of time. And because of that, time taught us that we could trust each other, that there were no strings involved, and that neither was threatened by the other individual.
Once you hit your 30s, it can be common to cultivate some friendships out of professional scenarios and situations. When both people are confident and secure, that can be beneficial. Just make sure that both of you check both of those boxes because you don’t want to look up and realize that while you were being a friend, the other person was more in the lane of “keep your enemies close” because all they were doing the entire time was copying your entire game plan or using your sources to their advantage even if it was at your expense. Y’all, it happens more than you might think. Please stay hyper-vigilant.
4. They Suck at Listening
There is no way that you can feel heard and respected or build something of real value without being involved with people who will actually listen to you. And y’all, so many folks are poor listeners. LAWD. In fact, it’s getting to the point that good listening is moving so high up on the endangered species list that I think now is as good of a time as any to break down what good listening consists of.
A good listener:
- Listens to your complete thoughts
- Doesn’t cut you off
- Isn’t distracted while you’re expressing yourself
- Seeks to understand where you are coming from
- Retains your needs AND boundaries
- Validates your feelings
- Are intentional about being caring, empathetic, attentive, patient, and objective
Like I said, a good listener isn’t the easiest thing in the world to come by, yet if someone is a good friend to you, they definitely will be one. And why is this of so much importance? Because when you decide to let someone get intimately close to you, this means that you are willing to share with them your innermost thoughts, feelings, and concerns — and if they don’t respect you enough to not only take in that information but hold it close and dear, they are not appreciating the special space that you are extending to them.
I used to consider certain people to be my friend who really didn’t listen to me much at all. I could tell by how they would be dismissive of my requests, only call me to hear their own selves talk (some of y’all will catch that later), and/or would try and tell me what I was thinking instead of actually listening to the words that were coming out of my mouth — and all that did was frustrate me to no end and cause me to feel disrespected on so many different levels.
A close friend is going to honor you by listening to you. That person who you’re thinking about “friend promoting,” how well do they rank in the listening department?
5. Something Feels “Unsafe” About Them
I'm pretty sure that, for the rest of my life, if there is one book that I will be recommending, on repeat, it'sSafe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't (Cloud/Townsend). I was just sharing with a close friend that something that I've taken away from a nonviolent communication class that I'm currently in is if you want to be certain that you are not being violent in your conversations with others (and also if you want to be certain that people are not being violent with you), make sure that you are coming at them from a place of safety, respect, and understanding — if one of those things are missing, there is some unnecessary aggression going down, whether you realize it or not. And that? That is unsafe.
Speaking of safety in relationships…when I first read the Safe People book, it was good for me, not just because I was able to detect some of the unsafe people in my own world, but honestly, I was able to see where I was an unsafe person too. To be safe is to be peaceful. To be safe is to be a space where someone knows that you will respect their thoughts and feelings. To be safe is to hold things in confidentiality. To be safe is to be consistent in your moods and energy (you're not out here "switching up" all of the time). To be safe is to be someone who your crew doesn't have to second-guess.
Safe people apologize/take ownership/make amends for wrongdoings. Safe people also tell the truth — not in a brutal way, but in a way that is respectful of your being. Safe people are also loyal to you, both in and out of your presence. Safe people operate from a place of humility. Safe people don't hold you to a standard that they don't even hold their own selves to. Safe people seek to understand where you are coming from. Safe people don't bring more stress into your life. Safe people are…safe.
Unfortunately, since "safe" is not a word that a lot of us either grow up seeing being displayed and/or is not a word that was thoroughly explained to us (especially as it relates to relationships), we constantly find ourselves either displaying characteristics of being unsafe and/or drawing unsafe people into our world. Listen, I'm currently working on my third book, and when I tell you that there is one person, in particular, who was so unsafe that, in hindsight, I wonder if they were low-key trying to destroy me? Whew, chile.
So, why would someone consciously choose an unsafe individual to be friends with? Well, the thing about unsafe folks is they tend to be super charismatic, a lot of fun to be around, and master chameleons — otherwise, they wouldn't be able to trap people into their webs as well as they (seem to) do. That's why I thought it was important to share all of what I just said because now that you know what a safe person looks like if someone who you're considering making a close friend doesn't check off these boxes — now you know to leave them right where they are…if not to leave them alone…TOTALLY.
6. They Don’t Feel Like a Breath of Fresh Air/Recharge You
I can't tell you how many times I'll be in a session, and a wife will say that she's triggered by how often her husband will be, let's go with the word "sluggish," about responding to her calls and texts. I have been in this counseling thing long enough to (usually) follow that vent up with, "So husband, when you do pick up, what do you usually hear on the other end?" Please know that I'm not shocked when he says something along the lines of constant berating, complaining, dictating, or interrogating — no one in their right mind is in a rush to take in that kind of energy.
Same thing with friendships. Listen, I'm not gonna brag, but when I tell you that I am proud of all of my close friends because they are out here doin' the damn thing, that is absolutely no exaggeration. And yet, no matter how full their lives are, if I call, they either pick up or call right back. I've talked about this before with them (both directions), and we agree that we are readily available to each other, not just because we are committed to the friendship but because we actually ENJOY talking to each other. 8.5 times out of 10, there is no stress (I mean, no one is perfect, right?). We bring good energy, perspectives, and insights to each other. We laugh together. We usually don't want anything from each other. Bottom line, we tend to give each other a much-needed break from the roller coaster of life, even if it's only for a few moments.
And y'all, you need to be able to say the same thing about your own close friends. Yes, there will be times when life is hard, money is tight, and trials are abundant, so you will need your friends to be there to support you. Yet most of the time, your friends should give you a laugh, make things lighter and reduce your stress levels. If the person you're thinking about making a close friend doesn't qualify in this way — you're grown. I'll just say that life is sometimes too long and other times too short to be out here constantly seeing someone's name pop up on your phone, and you already know it's gonna be more burdensome than uplifting.
If there's one thing that we all need in life, it's at least one close friend. And if there's one thing that can really knock you on your back, it's picking the wrong kind. Hopefully, this cheat sheet will help you to avoid some of the pain and nonsense I've been through before — all because I didn't know the things to avoid when it comes to choosing the ideal one(s) for my own life.Friends can be gems or junk jewelry. Please, for your own sake and sanity, choose wisely.
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