Personal Development: Lopsided Friendships

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Personal Development: Gemma Rose believes that sometimes your friends just aren’t that into you with lopsided friendships.

There’s nothing like organizing your wedding to figure out who your actual friends are. We are planning a small wedding abroad. I agonized over the list. I included my big family (they took half the allocated places). Most of my friends have partners, some of them with children. The downside of getting married later in life is that you have to factor all these additional people into friendships. This made the job even more difficult as I really had to cull the friends list to a precious few. In the end I asked myself a simple question: with whom do I want to share my big day?

I understand that some people cannot make it: one of my friends is giving birth around the date; a couple of others have small children, complicating their travel plans. Some may not be able to afford to get there. But there are others, and they are few, who will decline for no exceptional reason or, more graciously, a reason unbeknownst to me.

I have received – what seems to be – such a decline from someone who I had been friends with here in Brussels for three years. She returned to her home country a couple of years ago and has since visited regularly. When my fiancé and I decided on a date, she was one of the first people I contacted, excited to tell her and giving her as much notice as possible (nine months). She emailed a week later explaining that her family had just suffered a tragedy.

She congratulated me but declined to attend: “At this juncture, X and I won’t be
able to make it to your wedding.” The formality and impersonal nature of
this sentence caught me by surprise. “It’s my fucking wedding!” I thought, “I’m not inviting you over for a cup of tea!” When I calmed down, I tried to empathize, recognizing that she was going through a difficult time. Yet, that tiny and plain voice inside me said, “If you really wanted to be there, you would.”

I think our friendship is lopsided: where one person is more invested in the relationship than the other. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has poor judgment when it comes to knowing who my friends are. According to a study published last year, in the scientific journal PLoS One, of the friendships that were reported to be reciprocal, only half of them actually were. Generally speaking, only 50% of our friends feel the same way about us. The study’s findings added that we are poor at perceiving friendship non-reciprocity, because to do so challenges our self-image.

Just as in romantic relationships, some friends are just not that into us, and there’s nothing like declining a wedding invitation to hit that message home. Deep down, I think I already knew how she felt about me and knowing that probably made me want to please her, or convince her of my specialness. I am not sure if we generally are, deep down, bad at judging friendships. In many cases, we know how the other party feels but we try to believe otherwise. We may do so because it validates our esteem. We may admire them and model ourselves on them. So if they like us, then we are somehow just as worthy or as good as them. Any self-help guru would set us straight: the only validation we should seek is from within, not from without.

Of course, I am guilty of being a lopsided friend: there are people whose weddings I attended, who are not invited to mine. I’ve let people down by bailing out of an arrangement at the last minute, not being honest about my feelings, and cruelly, just not caring about them as much as they did me. I’ve been both victim and perpetrator. What I’ve learnt over time is to manage both my expectations and others (of which I am far from mastering the art), to try to empathize or at least sympathize, and finally, be magnanimous, just as I am slowly being with my friend. I hope that those people I hurt will in turn do the same. These experiences also teach me to take people as they are, and only invest in them as much as they invest in me; another piece of advice from the romantic relationship realm.

When it comes to my wedding day, I will be assured that the people who really are my friends, will be there: out of kinship, love, loyalty and duty. If these are what I consider the elements of friendship, then there is no room for lop-sidedness.

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