What We Do for (Sort of) Friends

I had made the mistake of signing into Facebook chat one evening when a message from my grad school friend S popped up:
"r u coming 2 my ordination?"
Ah, the dilemma of such a simple question, a question I'd been asked by S on what felt like a daily basis. One I had successfully evaded for the last month or so.
"not sure. need to check my schedule. gotta run. bye!"
I quickly logged out of Facebook and into my Google calendar, hoping to find some legitimate excuse--a work event, a professional development training, even a teeth-cleaning--for that day so I could give a firm "No" without a guilty conscience. But nope, nothing--just blank.

"Crap," I thought. "I'm either going to have to go to this thing or come up with an excuse to miss a really important event in my friend's life."

Let me just say, I know I'm not a perfect friend. But I am one who generally shows up when it counts, and I'm happy to do so. Everything from wedding dress shopping to apartment-searching, I like to be there when my friends need me. I even went to another friend's ordination (snotting and sobbing most of the time, but I showed up!)  the day that SCL broke up with me last March. For a good friend, there is nothing more special than being part of the highs and lows of life.

But, then there's friends like S. It's not that I don't like her. I do like her. A lot. But, she isn't what I'd call a good friend. We get along well, and we've been through shit together, but when it comes to her actually showing up when it counts, she just can't manage it. She has made bailing a habit, citing headaches or cramps or being tired or just "not feeling like it" for backing out of plans with friends. In fact, she canceled her own birthday party which she'd invited dozens of friends to at the very last second just a few weeks ago. While she has a lot of lovely attributes, reliabilty isn't one of them.

So, when she asks me (repeatedly) to come to her ordination a few hours away, I really don't want to say yes. Part of it is that I don't want to spend the time going there and back, but it's more than that. I think it's more knowing that if I asked her to do the same for me, she'd probably wouldn't show up. Because she hasn't in the past. Repeatedly. It's a pattern I doubt will change. At the same time, should I allow her behavior to shape what kind of friend I am in return?

When I logged back into Facebook again later that night, my newsfeed was littered with messages my friend S had posted to others' walls, very similar to the one she sent me: "r u coming?" "hope u can make my ordination!" "can u sing at my ceremony?" etc. I realized her hurried invitation to me over Facebook chat wasn't really heartfelt or thoughtful, and I wonder how much it would really mean to her if I showed up. I began to think maybe it's more about her getting a critical mass there instead of my individual presence. And if that's the case, I think I can cut myself a break on this one.


  1. Yeah I wouldn't go. It would have been one thing if you hadn't logged into FB later to find all her invites to other people. But it's kind of obvious she just wants people there.

    I find that the older we get the more we realize who the friends are that we can really count on and who the friends are that just end up being on the fringe of everything.

  2. I agree with you, and the above comments, as well.

    I recently have come to the realization of a friend that NEVER asks me a question about me. I hate to sound selfish, but as I stayed with her in the hospital, helped her out while she was looking for a job, let her cry in my apartment for a weekend when her boyfriend broke up with her... I have yet to even get a "How is the new job going?" So, I decided I am not asking her a question until she asks me one first... and I haven't talked to her in months. Quality not quantity, I guess.

  3. I allow myself to get roped into shit like this ALLLL the time. And you're right -- she probably would not do it for you in return. I'm all about being a good friend, but this girl isn't a good friend.

  4. "I like her. A lot"

    No. No you don't. Because if you did you'd be there for her, and you wouldn't be weighing whether or not she'd do the same for you like a five-year-old. Grow up.

  5. You totally need to learn just how to say - "Sorry, I won't be able to be there to celebrate with you, but I will be there in spirit and know it will be an amazing day for you"

    Trust me, as you get older, your time becomes EXTREMELY precious as you need to prioritize without feeling badly.

    Particularly if this is not a friend who would extend themselves for you - then you need to learn to reserve your time for those who will.

    It doesn't make her OR you a BAD friend, but people are different with friendships. Some of my BEST friends are people I hardly see or talk to, but our friendships pick up right where they left off.

    There are others I talk to ALL the time who I don't consider really good friends. Friendship has degrees and you don't need to feel bad about missing this event.

  6. Yeah, you can cut yourself slack on this one. If she was a worthwhile friend, she wouldn't hold it against you anyway. One of my best girlfriends didn't make it to my wedding but it wasn't a big deal because she's there for me all sorts of other times when it counts.

    I also struggle with the obligations I have to others so I can relate. It sounds like your gut is on target here though.

  7. I don't think you need to feel bad about it. I think a relationship is determined by both people, and she's determined that you two aren't close enough for you to feel obligated to schlepp hours to her ordination when you have plenty of other things to do anyway. A friendship shouldn't be one-sided.

  8. @beth--Actually, I think it's a sign of maturity to differentiate between liking, or even loving, a person and that person being a close friend. The inability to do so more resembles the behavior of a five-year-old, like my nephew whose affections are based heavily in who has the newest Star Wars toy.

  9. I've been a long time reader of your blog and absolutely love it! I must admit that I have also done the 'I'm busy' routine to my friend as well... probably everyone has. Don't feel too bad.

    I was recently given a blogging award that I'd love to pass onto you. Visit to see the details :)

    Take care,
    Ms. C

  10. I agree with everyone, but want to add a personal rule of mine. If I have a flaky friend and she has an event that she wants me to attend, I'd only go if I'll get something out of it. For example, if she had a birthday party, I'd probably have fun going to a party so I'd go. If she wanted me to go to some unfun thing such as graduation or something that was far away, I would probably not make the effort.

    I identify with you because I generally like to be there for people too, and struggle with saying no if I don't feel like it. I have to keep reminding myself that I just can't be the only one giving in relationships all the time, because eventually I'm going to be drained and won't be able to support the people who actually deserve it. All good relationships take effort by BOTH people, and it's not immature to remember that!

  11. I have a super flaky "friend" like S. We encountered a blow up when I determined last minute that I didn't want to go out to dinner with her and her boyfriend, and I'd rather go out with a different bunch of people. I cancelled on her last minute (because she'd done so countless times before). Then she asked me point blank why I'd want to hang out with those other boring people, when I told her I'd go out with her & her boyfriend.

    Long story short, it blew over...but I think my actions might have been passive aggressive? I don't really care, it turns out. Flaky friends aren't that great anyways.

  12. Ahhh yes, I have friends like this as well. And it always really bothers me because I feel as though I put so much effort into all my friendships. There are those I know I don't have the chance to see very often but we always pick up where we left off without any strain or hard feelings and we always have a very nice time together and wonder why we don't do it more often. And then there are those who are mostly concerned with having the numbers show up at parties, events, ceremonies, etc. I just can't be bothered with them at this stage in life. It's not that I don't like them, but (as you said): they're not thinking of you as the individual.

    I think sometimes you have to be selfish and do what's right for you. If she wouldn't be willing to make the same effort for you, why go the extra mile?