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How I became a better friend

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

My experience with friends and friendship has evolved over the years. For years I would say I was widely liked but not truly accepted. I engaged in people pleasing, and at my core, I didn’t feel I would be loved by people who knew the real me.

Do you relate?

I used to be so hard on myself, so I buried the parts of me that weren’t perfect and it made me so resentful because I was trying to be perfect for people who weren’t perfect for me. It filled me with rage and would cause a polarised reaction that would push people away and left me lonely.

It created a toxic cycle of too many ‘friends’ then feelings of loneliness when we would drift apart and I realised they weren’t as close to me as I was to them.

It’s crazy to me now to think my friendships used to be so weak, because now I have people in my life who I love deeply and always want to try for. How did I get here? I became a better friend. How did I become a better friend? Well, I’ll tell you that now.

Let’s start with a warm-up so we’re on the same page. I want you to think about the next question and think of three answers:

What makes a good friend?

Ok hold onto that we’ll come back to it.

How bad is being lonely for you, really?

You may be wondering if being a good friend really matters, but I think it does because loneliness really matters. An often-cited 2010 meta-analysis led by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Utah, concluded that loneliness is as harmful to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Even though there are so many ways to love another person, friendship is on the decline, and the loneliness epidemic is only getting worse.

Although the study is 13 years old now, using common sense, intuition, and observing human experience, I know you reading this can feel the truth beyond numbers and facts that says being lonely is so bad for us.

On average, very close friendships tend to take around 200 hours to develop, but more and more we see people choosing isolation over other people.

If being lonely is so bad for us, you may be wondering: why do people keep choosing to be alone?

Whether that person is you, your brother, sister or parent, we all know someone who is lonely but who turn to things that aren’t people to put a band-aid on the problem, but you and I both know the flicker of a screen will never match the flicker of a smile shared between two friends over a memory you get to keep forever.

The problem is people are never going to be as dependable as the internet - that doesn’t mean they’re not worth it, and I became a better friend when I embraced the ambiguity of friendship and focused on what I could control - me.

Back to the question - what makes a good friend?

The thing about this question is everyone is going to have different answers depending on the friends you’ve had in your life. My friend, whose name you may remember from his guest articles, John Cunningham sent me an article on friendship about a week ago on the importance of presence and being there in friendships.

While for me, being there for someone is certainly a part of what I look for in my friends, good friendships are hard to boil down to three words because there are so many ways to love and be loved by another human.

I feel I have friends I could go to for just about anything. Things weren’t always this way and I felt so unseen that I would try to show my heart to anyone who would listen. As it stands now, I feel loved deeply, and so seen. For all of me, not just the parts which are good.

How I overcame unaware selfishness - by being selfish

For the longest time I was a bad friend because the good things I used to do for other people, were really for me. I would only give because I thought I would get back, even if I didn’t realise it at the time.

I became a better friend because I invested in myself and my happiness and took the time to learn who I really wasn't, which allowed me to give to people without expecting anything back. My cup is already full, and everything else is spillover. I don’t need any more, but I have to constantly care for myself first.

I’m honest about the parts of me that aren’t popular and I have found people who are very different from me who love me anyways. I’m honest about my boundaries and what I won’t do. I will be there for my friends when they’re sick but if they’re going to a club for their birthday party, I’m staying home.

What do I have instead?

You can’t rely on other people. You really can’t. Even though those three friends have consistently been there for me when things have been tough, there will be days where they can’t be and that’s okay with me now, because I have back up plans.

I want you to think of your life like a stock portfolio. Investing only in yourself or only in friends is a risky investment. You will never fall if there is always something there to catch you, but you can’t rely on just one net. Diversify what you invest in and you will stay socially wealthy long-term.

What my portfolio looks like:

Actions you can take to be a better friend

  1. Try a new hobby or religion with a strong community

  2. Do self-reflection work and get comfortable being alone

  3. Invest in self-care

📚 Want to know more about loneliness? Try Philip's read of the week:

Willow Liana lays out the intricacies of loneliness in modern society, dubbing it the "crisis of atomization". How do relationships and connections break down in the first place, and what will it take to return to communities, to ultimately continue building great things together? She suggests the coffee shop might be a good place to start.

In summary

I diversified my time like it was a stock portfolio and made sure I felt fulfilled with or without my friends. By ensuring I could be alone, I haven’t felt lonely since. I became a better friend because diversifying my life’s wealth allowed me to stop expecting gifts from other people and focus on giving without expectation instead.

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