As the countdown to 2013 swiftly approaches I can already hear the familiar rumblings of change and positivity that so often herald the start of a new year. Perhaps you’ve decided you want to see more of the world, maybe you’re thinking about learning a new language or you’re hoping that 2013 will be the year you finally lose that last half a stone that’s been eluding you. These are just a smattering of the resolutions I anticipate will soon be making their way around FacebookWorld and Twittersphere in the form of earnest declarations and status posts but I wonder, how many of you will give any thought to the notion of changing the friends you currently surround yourself with?
Often, close friends can seem to be so much a part of the furniture that it becomes easy to forget that we exercise more than just a degree of control over their presence in our lives. As I get older, I’m thankful for the fact that everyone who occupies a meaningful position in my life not only enriches my life but propels it in a positive direction. It wasn’t always this way however, and it was considering how different things used to be in this respect that motivated me to write this piece. Here follow six behaviours or traits that I have identified in former friends that had the potential to derail me had I not removed them from my life. As you read, I ask you to consider how many of these behaviours you yourself may have encountered and how much their influence is unwittingly affecting your life in a negative way?
1) The “Oprah.”
The Behaviour: An “Oprah” is the type of friend you can rely on to be there for you during your times of struggle. Having trouble with the boyfriend? Not coping at work? Feeling generally negative and depressed? An Oprah will always be there for you, ready with a box of Kleenex and a comforting shoulder for you to cry on when it all becomes too much to deal with. Armed with agreeable platitudes like, “It’ll all come out in the wash,” and “Don’t let them get you down,” an Oprah has a seemingly limitless ability to absorb the worst of your negative emotional outbursts. Often, you’ll find yourself apologising for the fact that your Oprah has to bear the brunt of your pain on so many occasions, but an Oprah will constantly reassure you that they don’t mind, they like being there for you and they will continue to do so, because that’s what good friends do.
But Wait… Why Is That A Bad Thing?
As a young twenty-something living in what can at times be a very stressful environment, I honestly feel that I would be lost without the handful of close friends I rely on to give me positive, encouraging words whenever I’m going through a difficult period in my life. However, a significant aspect of the joy of friendship is being able to build and make memories with your companions that stem from both the bad times and the good. This is something that an “Oprah” has a difficult time understanding. More often than not, an Oprah will only be interested in spending time with you when you are not at your best. When times are good, and the tears have stopped flowing, you’ll soon find that your Oprah is less eager to meet up and not quite so quick to call you. Oprahs also have a tendency to get very accustomed to playing the role of “counselor” to you during your bad times and when you are happy – meaning that they can no longer act in this role – an Oprah becomes blindsided leading them to feel displaced and in some cases, resentful that their predefined role in your life has been upset. This resentment can sometimes manifest itself in snide comments and subtle attempts to undermine your new-found confidence in the hope that this will somehow push you back a couple of steps and into their loving, comforting arms once more.
How To Deal:
The trick to figuring out whether to stay friends with an “Oprah” is to try and determine exactly where their need to comfort comes from. Sometimes, it’s simply a desire to feel useful, in which case it’s worth sitting this friend down and calmly explaining that you would like it if you could reap the benefits of their friendship without having to be in the throes of an emotional trauma. Try to reassure them that there other more healthy and uplifting ways they can demonstrate their affection for you. Unfortunately, for those not comfortable with confrontation, this can be a difficult conversation to have, and it’s more than likely that your Oprah will feign confusion when confronted with their behaviour. There’s also the very real possibility that their habit stems from a sneaky desire to use your misery to make them feel good about themselves. If so this is a friend you don’t need. Staying friends with an Oprah can make you wallow during your times of difficulty for a lot longer than you need to, blinding you to the positive aspects of your life that are still intact.
2) The “Wing Clipper.”
The Behaviour: A “Wing Clipper,” will usually be a friend you’ve known since childhood. They were there when your dad got mad at you that time he caught you smoking, they were at the same party the night you had your first kiss, and when they come to your house they no longer ask what’s in the fridge or if they can use the toilet because your house is their house and has been for a long time. A Wing Clipper is a creature of habit, and this trait extends to your friendship. Together, you go to the same clubs and wear the same clothes. You’ll be each other’s bridesmaids and your future kids will probably go to the same schools because that’s what you and your Wing Clipper have had planned since childhood. It is exceptionally rare that the two of you ever argue or fall out, because you agree on pretty much everything. A Wing Clipper can be a very comforting friend, because you always know exactly how your time together will be spent, and you know that with them, there are never ever going to be any surprises.
But Wait…Why Is That A Bad Thing?
When I was a toddler my mother used to put me in an elastic contraption that was attached to the ceiling and allowed me to jump and move about until I tired myself out. If I ever tried to move further than the contraption could allow, it would just ping me right back to where I’d started, preventing me from making any progress beyond a certain point. A Wing Clipper is the friend equivalent of that contraption. If you begin to voice political opinions that a Wing Clipper hasn’t ever heard you voice before, they’ll say things like, “Oh shut up you don’t care about things like that.” If you develop an appreciation for contemporary ballet, a Wing Clipper will not only refuse to go with you but will mock you for your new-found interest. If you try to assert that your Wing Clipper isn’t being supportive they’ll simply tell you that they are just “keeping it real,” or some other similar hackneyed phrase. Any signs of growth and development from you will not be met with anything but displeasure and derision and you’ll start to find that the reliable routine you share with your Wing Clipper that consists of having the same opinions and participating in the same activities is starting to feel suffocating.
How To Deal:
A good friendship can only have longevity when both participants are open and susceptible to change. It is very unlikely that all the idiosyncrasies and thoughts and emotions that combine to make a person who they are at 16 will be the same traits that serve to make them who they are at 25. This would seem obvious to most people but for whatever reason a Wing Clipper is completely ignorant to this undeniable fact. In my case, it became very apparent to me that a close friend was a Wing Clipper the year I went to university. Having spent my formative years in a small town, moving to London had a rejuvenating effect on my social consciousness. Suddenly, I was confronted with people from a vast range of backgrounds and a slew of cultural hotspots that, up until that point I had been ignorant of. Coming home for the holidays with a new love of sushi, friends with names from different countries and more than a passing interest in politics, my Wing Clipper was horrified and quickly set about trying to undermine these foreign and new aspects of my character. Suddenly, for the first time in years, we were arguing, and usually over the most trivial things. It can become very wearing having to deal with someone who refuses to see you as the person you are now and stubbornly only interacts with you as the person you were and sadly I was forced to end my friendship with my Wing Clipper in a brutally frank telephone exchange. It wasn’t easy, we had been friends for most of my life and even now, there are times that I still pine for the anchoring presence of my Wing Clipper. If you are struggling to detach yourself from the influence of a Wing Clipper, you have to remind yourself that they are stopping you from doing the most natural thing in the world: growing. By guilting you into suppressing the desire to learn and change you are essentially allowing a very dangerous and destructive force to stay in your life that could have potentially long-lasting effects.
3) The “Club Promoter.”
The Behaviour: A club promoter is a serial social butterfly with about a gajillion-million “close friends.” It is almost unheard of for this person to have a blank sheet in their diary because they are too busy hanging out with friends and making new ones. They appear to have a very equal opportunities approach to friendship in that they will befriend pretty much anyone. They will always be happy to see you and will often remember exactly what you were talking about the last time they saw you, no matter how long ago that was. They never have a bad word to say about anybody and always seem to be able to reach a level of familiarity with you that would normally take someone who isn’t a “Club Promoter” at least a year to reach. This ability makes them a great networker and the way they work a room will often have you envious at times. They emanate an aura that makes you want to spend time with them even though in reality, you know almost nothing about them. Nonetheless, they just have this great knack for making you feel like you’re the only person in the room, which in turn makes you feel special and valued.
But Wait… Why Is That A Bad Thing?
As long as I can remember I have always cultivated a healthy distrust for anyone who has a surplus of friends. I manage to survive on a handful of close friends for the simple fact that I can’t give the amount of time and attention that I give to my friends to an excess of ten people, nor would I want to. I’m also (as you’ve probably guessed by now) very very discerning as to who I spend my time with, because with a personality as neurotic and sensitive as mine, I can’t be friends with every Tom, Dick and Harry. The “Club Promoter” however, doesn’t feel this way. The Club Promoter is a big believer in safety in numbers, and wants to ensure that no matter what, there will always be someone there when they need to fill a void in their life. If you are friends with a Club Promoter and have experienced feelings of jealousy at the fact that they seem to have shitload of people wanting to spend time with them, your jealousy is not warranted. A Club Promoter is to be pitied, because at heart, they are basically a very insecure person who cannot face being confronted with silence or the solitude of their own company, and they will do anything they can to avoid it by surrounding themselves with everyone they know, even people they don’t like. Sure, humans are creatures who crave companionship, but hopefully most of us realise the importance of getting to know ourselves on our own terms and having our own space. The act of having to be friends with so many people has two effects on the Club Promoter: 1) The Club Promoter becomes something of a chameleon, adapting to whichever atmosphere they find themselves in and taking on whichever persona or opinion best suits the situation. You can never really be sure of who this person truly is and as such you may find yourself surprised when you finally encounter their fickle nature. 2) Having so many friends to choose from means that a Club Promoter starts to view their friends like clothes they can put on and take off, sometimes wearing one friend for a week before relegating them to the bottom of the wardrobe never to be worn again. You’ll notice that your Club Promoter can often be found singing the praises of the latest friend to make their acquaintance only for them to barely mention this person the next time you see them.
How To Deal:
The upshot of being friends with a Club Promoter is that you are basically only worth anything to them as long as you serve a purpose. Club Promoters are by their very nature extremely shallow and they have an approach to the act of making friends that echoes the theme song to Pokemon: they have to catch them all. This leaves you in a vulnerable position, the severity of which you may not realise until it’s too late. If you make the mistake of thinking that your friendship with a Club Promoter is anything more than a surface friendship, when they have exhausted their use for you and inevitably discard you, you will be left feeling used, duped and regretful at spending so much time on them. If you’re into superficial friendships that never really go anywhere than perhaps this wont be a problem for you but ask yourself, do you really want to be friends with someone to whom you are completely interchangeable with anyone else on the planet? If you do decide that this kind of friendship isn’t for you, the good news is that you don’t even have to get into the awkward situation of discussing it with them. The easiest way to “break up” with a Club Promoter is to just not contact them because a Club Promoter will always have a reserve group of friends who can take your place when you’re no longer “flavour of the month”.
Tune in next week for Part Two.