Learning to Be a Good Friend (from my Friends)

Over these last few months, I’ve had the blessing to reflect on a lot of things both internally and externally. One thing that has stood out for me that I never expected to notice, was the impact that my friends have on my quality of life.

Growing up as not just an introvert, but a shy, reclusive introvert, I didn’t think it was possible for me to gain true friendships. Not only that, but due to some of the “friendships” that I did cultivate, I thought that as a part of my chronic issues with my depression and anxiety, that I could only gain a certain type of friend. You know–the ones who make you feel worse than before you first spoke to them.

It’s not until you start crawling out of yourself, do you finally notice the number of hands that have been reaching out to you all along.

I can’t make up for how poor of a friend I might have been in the past, but I want to be a better friend to those who are with me in the present. To do this, I’m making a conscious effort to remember the following lessons that all of my dearest friends (and a few former ones) have shown me.

Friendship is a Two-Way Street

The first lesson should be fairly obvious, but–yeah, well, what can you do?

I have one friend who is always on the ball at finding things to do around Atlanta, and she is always happy to invite me to go with her. Seriously, I don’t know how she does it. Sometimes I lovingly refer to her as my connection to the outside world.

That being said, her on-the-point invitations made me realize how much I sucked at asking my friends to hang out.

Like, I have no excuses. I suck at it. I would always wait for my friends, however close they were to text, invite, even just say hi. It literally never crossed my mind to say hi first.

And that…is a problem on my part.

If I want to see my friends, shouldn’t I–oh, I don’t know–make plans to see my friends?

Yeah, Captain Obvious and First Mate Common Sense to the bridge, amiright?

(On a side note…I think I might copyright that last line. 😌)

It’s not as if I don’t know how it feels to be on the other side. I’ve had people in my past where I’ve been told to give them a call or text them; they’re always free!

And then…they’re not.

Or, worse: no matter how the conversations went–even if they initiated it–they’d still wait for me to reach out again…and again…and again.

Which begs the question: why do I feel like I’m chasing them down?

A true friendship is balanced–both parties enjoy each other too much to worry about keeping tabs on who is “ahead.” When it becomes blatantly obvious that one friend seems to be chasing the other (or, the other friend seems to enjoy leading the other friend on), it may not be the type of friendship worth cultivating.

And I certainly don’t want my friends to feel like I feel that way about them.

Being Selfish Can Be Selfless

I mentioned once my thoughts on my own giving love languages (see shameless plug below), and why my order of them differed so dramatically from my receiving love languages.

See “Why Don’t My Giving Love Languages Match my Receiving Love Language?, Theory 1: Self-confidence” 😑

Due to my wobbly self-esteem, I often assumed that I as a person was a very expendable friend, and that anyone else was a better choice to hang out with:

  • Oh, he’s brighter.
  • Oh, they have more in common.
  • Oh, they’re sitting closer together.
  • Oh, she tells better jokes/wears more skirts/looks more mature/wanted to be a neurosurgeon. Why would anyone want to talk with me when they’ve got her around???

And so on, and so forth.

I assumed I was doing my friends favors when I bowed out of some activities. Imagine my shock when one friend just outright told me, “But B, I really want you to be there.”

I stared at her, temporarily dumbfounded. “You…do?” Understanding suddenly struck me. “Oh, you need me to help set up, or be a designated driver, or something.”

But she waved that off. “I don’t really care what you do. I just want you to be there.”

Really? “Really?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she blurted. “This means a lot to me, and you’re one of my closest friends!”

I…am? “I…am?”

She looked ready to swat me. “Yes!”

To which I responded in eloquent, pure B fashion. “…Oh.”

That interaction showed me how my lack of self-esteem had made me handle the friendship poorly yet again. While I thought I was being selfless by keeping my “boring self” away from my friends, my friend–through her “selfish” wish to have me at her event–showed me that my self, “boring” or no, was very much wanted. I appreciated that. And I thank goodness for friends who aren’t afraid to tell me exactly what they want from me–because I can be that dense.

It’s Okay to Be Vulnerable

While I’ve dabbled in the realm of roommates and part-time lovers over the last decade or so, I’ve remained independent most of my adult life. I don’t use the term “super introvert” lightly; I enjoy my alone time and relish in my ability to make decisions about my life without having to consult with anyone else.

Because I’m so used to relying on myself, I often don’t like to spend a lot of time worrying about my emotions or physical ailments. Just take a deep breath and keep going until what needs to get done gets done.

And yet.

There I was, on the phone for the first time in my life, terrified and panicked–and admitting openly to someone else that I needed help.

On the other end of the line was someone whom I hadn’t been good friends with for that long. However, he was kind and considerate and had reached out barely a month before to get to know me better. I had been amazed at our ability to chat openly, to laugh and connect creatively about almost everything.

At the time of my panic attack (which I’d never had before), I hadn’t known who to call. This was just another annoying obstacle, something I needed to just “walk off,” like I’d always done.

But he had called for other reasons…and I’d picked up. He’d just happened to get me at a really bad time.

“B?” He’d immediately picked up on the agony in my voice. “Are you okay?”

I couldn’t talk. I could barely think. Not since my college years had I asked for someone to help me with anything. The last time I had, I’d been told to “figure it out myself.” So, I’d taken that philosophy to heart and learned to care for myself–or at least cope.

But there, in the midst of my pain, with my new friend waiting on the other end of the line, I couldn’t hold in my self-preservation. I opened my mouth…and I croaked out the truth. “I’m…sorry. I’m not doing too well right now. Can you just, maybe…stay on the phone for a while?”

I waited for his sigh of disgust. I waited for impatience to fill my ear. I waited for the sounds of awkwardness, of confusion, of not understanding what my freakin problem was, and why was I wasting his time.

Instead, I heard without hesitation, “Of course, B. I’m so sorry you’re in pain. What’s wrong? What do you need? Do you need me to come over? I can come over right now. I can sit with you.”

My next words caught in my throat. Or maybe it was a gasp. That someone would take the time to come to me–especially in the horrors that was Thursday night traffic–just to sit with me during what was one of the darkest down days I’d ever experienced, shattered me into speechlessness.

But he didn’t rush to hang up. He didn’t make excuses or make me feel low or pathetic. He made me feel like it was okay to show my most shameful side, the side I’d tried to hide from everyone, family included. He did the one thing that I’d never expected someone to do when my “true” self was revealed.

He stayed.

At last, I managed to respond. “Just…please. Stay on the phone with me for a little while longer?”

His compassion flooded me as he spoke again, his tenderness palpable and warm. Under his words and the weight of my cell phone, I began to cry without restraint. “Of course, B. I’ll stay on for as long as you need.”

When to Hold Tight, and When to Let Go

It is always a painful moment to realize that your perception of a friendship may not be the same as how they see it. It’s especially hard when the friendship is with someone you admire greatly.

But then, if you do feel a sort of distance growing between you, you have to ask yourself two questions:

Are you holding onto the friendship because you really like hanging out with this person…

Or…are you simply holding on because that’s “the way things always were”?

Are you using more of your energy to save something that, for the benefit of both of you, may be healthier to release?

The nice thing about friendship is the same thing about life: there is no definite path on how things are “supposed” to go. We cannot–nor should we–control their strength or longevity. Just as we can’t stand in the middle of a river and push the current in the opposite direction, we can’t force a friendship to always remain as it was. It must grow, expand, evolve, redirect, or…perhaps, for a while…taper off.

Good friendships are organic and rich. Before you know it, you’re chatting for eight hours straight in the middle of nowhere and wondering why the sun is rising. You can sneak up on them from behind and literally see their eyes light up when they realize it’s you. Twenty years can pass–and when you meet again, it’s as if you’re still children, tripping over each other in the excitement and pure joy of being together once more.

I’ve got a long way before I feel like I am a “good” friend to my friends. But with all that I’ve seen and experienced from them, I hope that I can show them how much I appreciate their selflessness, their kindness, and their love.

Not for my own conscience, but because, dagnabbit–they deserve it.

3 types of friends:  for a reason, a season, and a lifetime.

Love Languages Pt 2 – The Giving Love Languages

In the first part of this multi-part series, I reviewed not only what the love languages were; I also showcased my love languages and explained why I think I received the results I did.

In this part, I wanted to answer a question that arose due to Dr. Gary Chapman’s own explanation.  As explained by Wikipedia:

He theorizes that people tend to naturally give love in the way they prefer to receive it, and better communication between couples can be accomplished when one can demonstrate caring to the other person in the love language the recipient understands.

In other words, if someone wanted to show affection to someone whose primary love language was, say, physical touch, the latter should respond very strongly if you hugged them.  If their lowest love language was gift receiving, and you gave them a teddy bear, they may not be as immediately or noticeably impressed.  Talking with them and understanding what means the most to them would help clarify this.

The important thing is to recognize your partner’s primary love language and appeal to theirs, not to your own.  I think this is one of the most beautiful, selfless and sacrificial acts you can provide, especially if your partner’s primary love language is a polar opposite to yours.

But I digress.  Back to my original conundrum and Dr. Chapman’s theory:

The love language you want to receive (let’s call it the receiving love language from here on) is the same one that you “naturally” project onto others (hereon called the giving love language) when expressing love to them, right?

But…what if it’s not?

My Receiving Love Languages

Before I go into my giving love languages, let’s recall what the test results were from my recent Love Languages Test for my receiving love languages:

10Acts of Service
8Physical Touch
8Quality Time
3Receiving Gifts
1Words of Affirmation

Pretty standard, right?  My primary love language is acts of service, followed by a tie between physical touch and quality time.  After that, it is a quick drop to my lowest preferred languages, receiving gifts and words of affirmation.

In summary, I mainly and most easily interpret love and affection when a person is physically involved. That being said, it’s not like I don’t like gifts or being told I’m pretty (far from either of those!  Seriously, if you just bought me a present, don’t return it.  And tell me I’m pretty and that my eyes are like chocolate drenched in emerald starlight.  Please.)  I’m not going to accuse a person of “taking the easy route” if they do buy me a thoughtful gift or text me a compliment.  The lower languages aren’t removed; I just don’t relate to them as easily or as openly as my top three.

Sound good?  Got the gist of receiving love languages?

Good.

Now, let’s explore my giving love languages to compare.

My Giving Love Languages

Remember that guy friend I mentioned in Part 1?  Well, about two months ago, I bought him a Nascar-affiliated souvenir baseball hat when my company’s gift shop was having a huge apparel sale. I literally couldn’t wait to see his face light up when I gave it to him.  He did not disappoint.

“Wow, thanks!”  He’d beamed and had immediately taken off the cap he had been wearing to replace it with the new one.  After a beat, he eyed me in amazement.  “This actually feels really good,” he said.  My heart had whoop-whooped in delight.

Yep.  Turns out, I adore giving people gifts.

Even as I write this, more examples rise in my head on how perfectly this fits as my primary giving love language.  Since I was child, thinking of gifts for birthdays, Christmases and other notable celebrations has given me so much joy.  The consideration on what would be the perfect gift for the person and the occasion makes me feel like Sherlock Holmes–for if I get it right, the case will be solved, and I will be able to brag to Watson that the police couldn’t have resolved the trouble without my help.

(I’ve veered. Back on track.)

I’ve even had put a budget on myself, because I will be that person who will forget I’ve only known a coworker for a month but I know she’ll be so happy to receive that solid gold Dragon Ball Z Goku statue collection.  When they lay eyes on the gift I’ve picked out, especially one that matches them so well, their obvious appreciation is almost a rush.

In short–I prefer giving gifts over acts of service.

My Giving Love Languages, Ranked

After much speculation and self-reflection, here is the order that I have determined make up my giving love languages:

  1. Gifts
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Words of Affirmation
  4. Physical Touch
  5. Quality Time

Notice someone interesting?

Dr. Chapman’s theory states that I should, by nature, want to express my love the same way that I want to receive love.  But I don’t.  In fact, my secondary receiving languages (physical touch and quality time) plummet to the last places in my giving languages.

True, my primary receiving love language is only secondary in my giving love languages.  But the order in full is still noticeably different.

Why Don’t My Giving Love Languages Match my Receiving Love Language?

So?  What is the logic behind this?  Why are my receiving and giving love languages so different in order?

I have two theories.

Theory 1:  Self-confidence

As I’ve mentioned many a time in this blog, I suffer through some self-esteem issues.  Part of the inner dialogue that ties in with these issues includes some of the following:

  • Why are you still at the party?  No one would notice or care if you snuck out now.
  • You’ve spoken for too long.  See how bored they look? Just shut up and excuse yourself.
  • You’re not that cool or important, B, and no one is listening to you.

Brutal, I know.  But let’s take this logically for now.

In my state of low self-esteem, I don’t consider it a blessing to give people my physical time and attention.  I consider it selfish to invade their space.  Therefore, ipso facto–I don’t consider it a viable or thoughtful language to “grace someone with my presence.”

This includes physical touch.  It’s hard enough for me to touch people casually–and in fact, I don’t.  If I do, it’s because I had to talk myself through the motion beforehand.  As I mentioned in Part One, I am highly conscious of when I am physically touched, and it is very, very difficult for me to hide my reaction when I am.  I love being touched — but, I am very sensitive to it.

I often assume that, if most people enjoyed (or even wanted) me touching them, they would respond as noticeably as I do.  However, I don’t see this reaction much.  So, I assume they don’t want me to and thus refrain from touching too much.

Usually, I’ll only initiate a touch if a person has touched me first per visit–say, 8 to 10 times.  Or, if I’ve known said person for, like, 20 years minimum.  So, pretty much just family.

And we don’t really touch a super lot.  Can’t imagine why.

Theory 2:  Perception of Majority

After years of disastrous romantic interactions, I’ve noticed a common trend with the guys I’ve dated.  A lot of them complained that, not only did they not know what was going on in my head half the time, they never felt appreciated by me.  In my 20s, I dismissed them as being unobservant and imperceptive.  How could they possibly miss my signs?  I was blushing and giggling all over them!

“Yeah, but you never said how much you appreciated my time or how good I looked at that party or if you noticed my new suit!” they accused.  “I wore it just for you!”

I’d retort, “Really?  But I clung to your arm, and you saw me staring at you at the party.  And I kept stroking your jacket sleeve and adjusting your lapel–with a smile!”

“Yeah, but you didn’t say anything!!!”

The first guy who said things like this got blacklisted as an isolated incident.  But then I kept getting the feedback.  And I realized–a lot of guys like receiving words of encouragement and affirmation.  It apparently impacted them much more than words impact me.

I already gave my explanation on my primary giving love language.  As for acts of service, I had received monumental feedback from my mother and older sister when I’ve helped them over the years.  Either I would enjoy their reactions first-hand as they stared, confused, at the resolved mess, or I would overhear them telling others about the fantastic jobs days later.  Their happiness, whether they expressed thanks directly to me or not, was palpable.  In turn, it made/makes me happy to know how much stress it would remove from them.

People in general like when stress is removed from them.  I like seeing people without stress.  So, I try to remove it.

I be simple gal.  I see problem, I attempt solution.

Conclusion

Re-reviewing the love languages only re-emphasizes how important they are in showing the people we care about, how much they mean to us.  If a person is nagging their partner to do something, they’re not doing it just to be mean (or rather, they shouldn’t be).  They’re doing it because a very vital love language is being neglected.

A wife not being told her hard work matters.  A man who wants to spend time with his daughter fixing the lawn mower.  One sibling who looks forward to that handmade birthday card her little sister gives her every year.

That being said, no one should be compromising their own self-love to make everyone else happy.  You as a person are not exempt from having your love languages fulfilled–not even from yourself.  The love and respect you give to yourself is just as important as the love you give out to the world.

Which brings me to a new question:

Have “self-love” languages been explored?

How do the five love language rank when considering how you best respond when treating yourself?

I performed a brief search on Google, but I did not see anything by Dr. Chapman.  Which means…

This is something to consider.

The Love Language Saga shall continue.  Maybe not next week, but someday, it will be back!

 

Do your giving love languages match your receiving love languages?  I’d love to hear if anyone else is also unique!

Love Languages Pt 1 – What You Want and Why

Let’s jump right in–I am fascinated by the concept of love languages.  They’re not just applicable to romantic relationships–oh, no.  Everyone you know and meet has a set order of preferences to their languages.  And if you can be perceptive enough to learn what that order is, you’ve possibly earned the faith of a family member/friend/coworker/mother/brother/child for a long, long time.

In the last eight months, I have met, engaged, networked, and interacted with more people than I have in the last three years combined.  For a so-called highly sensitive super introvert, this can come as…a bit of a shock.

That being said, I did find myself enjoying the interactions and learning that, despite the crap going on in the world, there are still so many absolutely amazing people.

It wasn’t just the new people, though.  After visiting my sisters, nephew, and mother during the Fourth of July and hanging out with my friends, I started thinking about how people express their love and affection to each other in different ways.  I once had a potential love interest who always wanted me to tell him how amazing I found him.  Sometimes, I just wanted him to sit beside me and enjoy a quiet moment.

Remember that Alanis Morissette line?  “Why are you so petrified of silence?”

Seriously, why are you so freakin petrified of silence?  If you’d just shut your trap for five seconds–

Ahem.

Long story short, that relationship didn’t last–for various reasons.  However, we might have assuaged the pain a bit had we both been more open and responsive to each other’s love languages.

What are Love Languages?

The first time I heard about love languages, my reaction wasn’t the most mature or open-minded.

Ron Swanson Fast Zoom
“Oh, look–another thing with a label.”

“Love languages” was coined in 1995 by Dr. Gary Chapman in his book, The 5 Love Languages.  After recalling a moment of emotional dissonance with his wife (which they thankfully resolved after his wife tearfully asked him to “just hold her”), Dr. Chapman explains that there are five major areas in which individuals give and respond to affection.  They are, in alphabetical order:

  1. Acts of Service (aka doing things for someone else)
  2. Physical touch (aka…physical touch)
  3. Quality Time
  4. Receiving Gifts
  5. Words of Affirmation (compliments, encouragement, etc.)

While we may generally appreciate from all these areas, each person has a unique primary and secondary language that triggers a higher, stronger positive response than the others. To determine a person’s order of love languages, Dr. Chapman developed a straightforward either-or quiz for single people and people in relationships.  Based on the answers in the quiz, the love language results rank by their tallied scores.

There can be various reasons for individuals preferring–or rather, identifying more strongly with–one love language over another.  Maybe your parents gave you an inordinate amount of a certain “type” of love as a child.  A lot of physical touching.  Calling you “beautiful” and “the most amazing thing ever.”  Perhaps you were deprived of a certain love language as a child, and it became the language you now long for in your relationships.

Reasonable Doubt

When I first bought The 5 Love Languages and read it years ago, I was still skeptical.  Love is love, I thought.  When people talk “love languages,” they’re just being nit picky.  They need the wordy definitions and the test results, because they feel like all their needs aren’t being met.

But then I thought back to that old boyfriend–and how he always had some poetic words for how he could see himself in my eyes or how nice my butt looked in jeans.  And then I thought about my response to his words–or rather, lack of response.

And I thought about the failure of that relationship.

And I realized, it certainly couldn’t hurt to take this more seriously.

My Love Languages

I last took the Love Languages Test in August of 2017.  That was my second time taking it, and I recalled that those results were different from the very first time I took it circa 2010.  I was curious to see if there was a difference in my results in a year’s time (it has been a crazy year), so I took it a third time, just before I started writing this entry.

Here were my results:

10Acts of Service
8Physical Touch
8Quality Time
3Receiving Gifts
1Words of Affirmation

The only difference between this time and last time is that physical touch and quality time have flipped–or rather, met in a synchronized second-place standing.  But that makes sense–because they are definitely of equal importance to me.

Quality time.  When I was a child, some of my favorite memories include me sitting quietly in the same room with my family.  One of us is reading a book.  Another one is drawing.  Yet a third, putting a puzzle together.  We didn’t have to say anything; we just knew that we were all there, together and content in each others’ presences.

Goose holding goslings in the rain

Physical touch.  As I’ve progressed into my 30s, my physical sense of touch has heightened immensely.  Maybe it was because I’ve been single and lived by myself most of the time, but I’ve become severely aware of when I’m touched–anywhere.  I don’t respond (too) awkwardly, but I definitely notice.

Handshakes become a world of concentration.

Hugs are breaking news in my head.

And when I’m reaching out to touch you?

Yes, I am giving myself a pep talk.  Doesn’t everyone?

What my Primary Love Language Means to Me

I can see why receiving acts of service would mean the most to me.  In the modern days of click-once-to-buy, ttyl, lol, G-ma, the feels, and other quickened, abbreviated ways of life, it seems like most people are simply in a rush for themselves. Not only that, but I’ve often lived alone and/or noticeably far from people I care most about.  When I find out that they performed some task on my behalf, it fulfills two levels of joy within me:

  1. In their busy lives, with so many wonderful people to care about…they were thinking of me.
  2. They slowed down to do something that they knew would make me happy.

I still struggle with my self-esteem–to the point where I often feel I am the personification of “out of sight, out of [everyone’s] mind.”  I push through this struggle by not wanting to put anyone out and thus taking on everything myself.  Ironically, I grow bitter at my own self-fulfilling prophecy and grumble under my breath, “Not like anyone would help me, anyway.”

Feeling Loved

A couple of weeks ago, I had my gentleman friend over to hang out for a few hours.  “Sorry about the mess,” I apologized as we wandered into my galley kitchen to see what we could find for snacks.  “I’d been meaning to wash the dishes.”

As I walked into the living room to turn on the TV,  I heard an odd noise behind me.  I ignored it at first, because my mind refused to believe it.  But the noise sounded again, and I turned to confirm what was indeed happening in the kitchen without me.

My guy friend was hunched over, half-hidden by the sink and the half wall dividing the rooms.  The duet of china and silverware played from somewhere between his feet.

Slowly, I approached the counter space that separated us.  I didn’t want to frighten this strange, domestic beast while it ventured within my habitat.  However, I couldn’t stop the perplexity from bursting out of my mouth.  “What are you doing?”

He shot up, a white plate in one hand.  “I’m loading your dishwasher.  Well, first I’m emptying it of the clean ones.  These are clean, right?”

I must have been staring, because he impatiently waved me back into the living room.  The plate glinted in the beams of the track lights.  “Weren’t you putting in a game?  Go on, sit down; I’ll be done in a minute.”  And then he watched me–until I actually left the room.

Love Languages:  Want vs. Give

Having (and letting) someone clean for me out of affection was a surprisingly sobering experience.  Even when I popped back in the kitchen a few seconds later to ninja-help, he promptly (albeit good-naturedly) ordered me back out.  No one had ever ignored my “Oh, you don’t have to do that” before.  No one had ever let me…not be in control before.

For once, I was allowed to rest while someone else took care of me.

To my surprise…I liked it.  I appreciated it.

I felt…loved.

According to Dr. Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages, a person’s order of preferred love languages isn’t just geared to what they want to receive.  It also connotes the love languages they like to give.  For example, if someone likes to receive words of affirmations, they’re more likely to give them to others, as well.

But I wondered–were there ever circumstances where a person’s preferred received love language was notably different from the one they preferred to give?  If so, why?  What could/would cause a difference?

These were good questions (thank you, me :3).  And I wanted to know if any of them held true.

This love language expo was not over.  Not by a far shot.

 

Click here to take the Love Languages test!  And feel free to share your results and your thoughts behind them.