I’m tired. No. I’m exhausted, really. Between the tears and late night phone calls, I have somehow absorbed my friend’s issue as my own and it’s now taking a toll on me. I feel her anxiety as if it were mine; the uncertainty of what’s to come; and the overbearing sensation that this dark period will never be over. I dread when the phone rings and I realize it’s her. I choose not to pick it up just so I won’t have to delve back into that abyss with her. And yet, I also want to pick up the phone and just say straightforwardly, “Girl, listen, I’m tired!”
I think at some point in our lives, we have all experienced this issue with our close girlfriends. We try hard to live by that code of sisterhood: honesty, loyalty, and unwavering support. But in that unwavering support, we can take on too much and find ourselves overwhelmed and burdened with our friends’ issues. How do we maintain that fine balance? How do we construct boundaries that allow us to maintain healthy relationships with our girlfriends as we maintain ones with ourselves? I believe that there are three major steps that a good girlfriend must take and maintain to achieve these goals.
The first thing you should always keep in mind is that, your friend’s issue is not your issue. I know, I know. You’ve been besties since kindergarten. In the third grade, you guys became blood sisters. She was your roommate in college for all four years. I understand how our ties can make us feel more bonded and permanently entwined to one another, but at the end of the day she is still her own individual person. Know that there is only so much you can do to help her out when life comes calling with those painful knocks. You can be her shoulder to cry on, be her rock to lean on (for a while), but at the end of the day, this is her experience and her lesson that she needs to learn – not yours.
You should also remember that sometimes it’s best to not offer advice and just listen, while other times it’s very necessary (even if you’re pretending). One of the first things we do when a friend is in crisis is offer advice – whether they have asked for it or not. And there is nothing wrong with offering advice, but it can lead you down a slippery slope. Before you suggest ideas to your friend, listen to her account completely. Don’t cut off or dismiss her story. Not getting the full dish of what is going on can lead you to offer solutions that she may have tried before or might find insensitive, unrealistic, or feel that the suggestions don’t pertain to the obstacles at hand. Also, you have to be prepared for the case in which your friend does not consider your advice at all. People tend to learn from their own trials and errors, therefore your words of wisdom may go through one ear and come out the other. I’ve learned that it is best to cease with the well-meaning counsel if it has been offered more than once and been ignored. Remember, your girlfriend doesn’t have to take your advice and you definitely are not required to provide it.
Lastly, you need to be aware of how much you can take and communicate that to your friend. Let her know that every time you talk to her you don’t want to hear a story that starts with, “GIRL, let me tell you what happened!” If you find that her 3 a.m. phone calls filled with panic are wearing you down, let her know. There is a fine line in being a rock of support in times of need and being a spine. It is your job to be there to comfort, not to hold her up completely. At the end of the day, you can’t be a good friend to anyone if you are not a good friend to yourself. Remember to not over-extend yourself to her to the point where you are experiencing the same symptoms she is or find yourself face to face with her drama. If you find yourself balancing off the tip of a cliff with her, it is definitely okay to let her know the following: “Hey, I can’t do this with you. I’ve come too far. I love you, but this is not my fight. I can support you when you need it, but I can’t sacrifice my wellness to do so.” Of course, these words will most likely not be the words your friend wants to hear, but at the end of the day honesty is one of the principles that keeps sisterhood afloat.
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