In college, I got writing papers down to a science.
Even if I didn’t feel like writing, I could somehow manage a five-page research paper that could get me a higher-than-average score. I also managed to make some extra income by writing blog posts about paid ads… which lasted just enough for me to buy my long-coveted PSP.
On the other hand, all that writing also required focus– the kind that meant turning down parties or time with friends outside of class.
It didn’t feel so bad then to choose work over friends. I knew that they would understand. In any case, if they didn’t understand, I felt no greater need to keep them as friends– they were always free to go, always free to return. I couldn’t absorb the idea of friendship meaning giving up my own priorities, or me demanding that they give up theirs.
It wasn’t until I graduated and began working that I had to re-think how I kept my friendships intact. Much of it began as an indebtedness, while others were necessary for work to remain smooth. At this point, it was unquestionable to me that there were times when I needed to give up work in order to maintain some friendships.
You know how some things become so commonplace, that you don’t give it much thought anymore?
That’s what happened to me in the next couple of years. My work became my life, and my friendships, or what I understood to be friendships, defined me. Unimaginable to me today, but at the time I couldn’t see a future where I was without specific friends in my life. I slowly became a workaholic– but the kind that used it to maintain friendships. Not being able to perform well on a task or turning down a favor meant severing a good friendship.
It wasn’t until last year that I had regained my sense of self, by acknowledging that I had reached my limit. It’s an unnerving feeling to look at yourself in the mirror and not recognize the person. But even more unnerving was how I would say it didn’t matter, because there was so much more work that needed to be done and needed doing.
My family knew how much work meant to me. They left me alone when they saw me at my desk on weekends, and were enthusiastic enough to watch Youtube videos I indulged in when I actually took breaks.
Recently, my sister told me how work defined me. She figured I was that kind of person who thought about work more than anyone else did.
So what changed?
For one, I realized that it wasn’t like I worked at a competitive, multi-national corporation. I was in the academe, and the pay was going to be pretty much the same as everyone at my ranking. So what was making me work weekends, if I’ve pretty much delivered what was expected of me and of everyone else?
I started losing friends. Well, maybe not losing more than it was that they realized I had changed, and perhaps that I actually got angry for once. I learned to walk away from the demands and the blackmail, and realized that they needed me more than I needed them. I learned that friends whom you practically gave most your life over wouldn’t think twice about dropping you when you start setting boundaries for yourself.
I needed to learn to pick my friends better. And, more often than not, they were friends for a cause and an end. While I couldn’t absorb that kind of shallow friendship in the past, my older self has learned to be grateful that friendship can and should be compartmentalized. I don’t mean this in order to enable you to use people (although I’ve also read up about people who are very good at doing this), but so that you can keep yourself healthy and intact in relationships. Friends should not demand access to your inner world, or that you trust them– that sort of thing happens over time, and with communication.
While I’m sure that I’ve had my own lack in being a good friend, I know that life is passing quickly with my poor choices. Ever since I’ve been having some “spring cleaning” in my relationships, I’ve learned to appreciate my individuality better. And, though I never thought it could happen before, I actually found friends who have the same eccentricities that I do.
Writing off friendships doesn’t have to be the worst thing in the world. Sometimes, it frees you and clears your blindness to experience better friendships.