“Always let some prove they are your friend before you grant them that title. It has to be earned.” -Masani Bediako (African mama proverb)
My mother has been telling me that since I was six years old, and guess what? I still make the mistake of calling a person my “friend” too quick. In fact, I just recently lost a college friend who I claimed was my best friend. I don’t think we have beef with each other; I just came to the realization that my definition of a friend, let alone a best friend, is different from his definition.
Anyway, that’s honestly neither here nor there for right now. I wanted to write this story because I’ve noticed that my generation has become obsessed with toxic relationships. That topic mainly revolves around romantic relationships, but friendships can be toxic as well. In fact, most friendships are more toxic than romantic relationships. No one knows how to use, exploit, and abuse you like your friends.
In my opinion those hurt more. And for those of you who were not made aware, yes, this is a post where I will be standing on my soapbox the entire time.
I had this thought the other day that romantic relationships are all about love languages, and teaching someone your love language, and teaching them how to love you and blah, blah, blah. And then it hit me, you need those in platonic relationships too. You have to teach some friends when you need them to be a friend and what type of friend you need them to be. Never, and I mean never, assume that just because you treat them a certain way that means they’ll grant you with that same behavior.
For example, if there are certain emotional boundaries you do not want your friends to cross express them. If you don’t, your friendship can turn into some serious bulldozing action and then it becomes difficult to trust or depend on said friend.
Secondly, believe it or not, but some friends have a serious problem with being empathetic and sympathetic. It shocked me when I found out, too. I think a big reason for this issue is a skill so many have yet to grasp: Listening.
Being an active listener can be considered an extreme sport if you’ve never done it before. The trick is you have to hear that person with the INTENT to listen. If you’re listening to their issues and the entire time you are thinking of how you want to critique them then you are NOT listening. In a sense, you have to be like a therapist.
Therapist straight up listen to their patients all day and pass no judgment. I truly think this is one reason why so many people seek therapy. The therapist is a person who truly listens to you and their sole purpose is to help you want to better yourself, but on your terms and at your speed. Too many friends hear your problems and try to find ways to fix you rather than console you.
I’m not saying you need to coddle your friend, but you did need to be supportive, and there is a difference between coddling and supporting. Again, none of this is developed overnight. It takes time for a friendship like this to grow. You guys remember how Steve Harvey gave women that 90-day rule? I’m not saying you have to give that exact number of days in your friendships, but at the same time, what’s the rush when it comes to claiming someone as your friend?
Which brings me back to my quote at the top of this article. Shout out to my mother for being who she is and always having dope wisdom to drop on me. You have to let someone prove they are your friend, and vice versa. You have to show them you can be the friend they need you to be. All relationships are a two way street, especially friendships. It’s not a one way path. We are not battling it out or racing, but meeting each other in the middle.
Keep in mind that all of this only works if you have someone who is equally willing to work on the friendship as much as you are.
By Abena Bediako, University of Missouri-Columbia Alumna
Twitter: @bediakovernita / Instagram: rastaxgoddess