Become the Best Worst Friend You Can Be

Classic Wooden Boat Festival– one of the many events that takes place right on our doorstep every summer.

Over the past three Harbour seasons, I have learned a lot about friendship– namely, how difficult it is to maintain even cursory relationships when you’re otherwise occupied drowning in the chaos you call your job. Don’t get me wrong: I value my friendships and wish that I could be a much more stellar and reliable amiga. However, for my own sanity and cognitive well-being, I’ve got to start accepting the fact that– for the most part– I am a flaky, preoccupied, over-stimulated, sleep-deprived, sad and sorry excuse for a compadre.

Let’s not mince our words here, shall we?

Sometimes I err on the side of optimism and believe that I’ll have time to “catch up” with my friends during the off-season. During the summer months, I keep guilty tabs on everyone who will need phoning and make lists of all the neglectful wounds that will need patching up come October, but suddenly it’s April again and I’m still as terrible a friend as I’ve been for the past three years. What gives? In the past month alone, I have unintentionally committed three grievous Friendship Code Violations– I didn’t call my best friend on her birthday, I didn’t RSVP to the same friend’s wedding invitation by the specified deadline (even though I had months to ponder my reply), and I didn’t even phone my youngest sister on her birthday last week. Yep. Optimism be damned: I am a rotten, stinking, no-good friend. 😦

Hey! Wipe that smile off your face, you! What did we just say about being a horrible friend?

Here’s the good news, though:

Rather than beat myself up over my lack of social reciprocity or my severe deficits in normal engagement levels, I’ve decided to use my weaknesses to my advantage and become a Horrible Friend Coach. Yes! I’ve got all the experience and tools you’ll need to have yourself deleted from every former friend’s day timer, address book, birthday calendar, or newfangled iPhone. I’ve even distilled my vast knowledge and years of expertise down into three simple, easy-to-follow steps! If you try my program and don’t experienceΒ 100% friend loss, I’ll even refund your money– no questions asked!

Wow! Be a GREAT Bad Friend!

Step 1: Get a job at the Inner Harbour!

Make sure you give yourself super long hours and stupid amounts of work to do. Don’t take any days off unless it is raining goats outside, and even then, use the precious hours away from work to run all the errands you don’t have time to do otherwise (groceries, laundry, banking, cooking, cleaning, sleeping?, etc.). Forget about weekends. Forget about “hanging out”. Forget about attending birthdays, weddings, funerals, baby showers, stag/ettes, or doing anything remotely resembling “fun”. In fact, forget you even know what “fun” is. (That last part will come naturally, don’t worry.)

We were even at work when the sky looked like this, to give you an idea of the Harbour schedule you should keep.

Step 2: Make well-intentioned (but empty) promises and set unrealistic expectations of yourself!

Definitely tell everyone you know that you will call them in November (or get together for tea, or go out for dinner with them– whatever. The details don’t really matter here– the point is to make “plans” with people and to create a false sense of hope.) We’re not just playing with other people’s hearts here, though– no. In order for this program to work effectively, you have to set your standards bar unbelievably high, too. Believe that you will, indeed, follow up with all of these people and attend all of these future engagements. Fill your heart (and theirs) with optimism! You’re a good friend! People like you!

Let’s go see a Super Pod of whales after Harbour season, okay? It’ll be fun!

… Then wait until November. By then, your nerves will be frayed and your eardrums will be begging for silence. You’ll have experienced months of noise– people, buskers, boat engines, float planes, festivals, children, seagulls, and cell phones– so the last thing you will want to do is call anyone, let alone meet anybody in person somewhere public, aka noisy. At this point, you can take your bar of standards down from its lofty perch, clothesline your friends with it, and then take a stab (ha) at impaling yourself with it. The disappointment of letting other people down will be painful, but then again, so was listening to various buskers sing ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ 8 million times during the summer. It’s all relative.

Disclaimer: If any of your friends will happily attend a silent retreat with you come winter, The Best Worst Friend program is considered null and void.

Step 3: Move!

Maybe you’ve done a half-decent job of keeping in contact with your friends over the winter months, and maybe you’ve even made good on some of your phone call/tea/dinner promises. If you’re serious about burning bridges and losing friendships, though, the best thing to do is pack up all of your belongings and completely uproot yourself! So what if you just moved in December? It’s April now– move again!

Most of your friends probably have birthdays and wedding anniversaries in April, anyway, so it will be perfect timing for you not to have any phone or internet access. Keep ’em guessing! Did she really not have internet/phone access, or was she just being her regular Bad Friend self by not phoning on my birthday? Who’s to say?

Take it from me: you’ll be so busy packing, unpacking, cleaning, and oh yes,Β working at the Harbour!–Β you won’t have much time for frivolous things like “friendships”. A big part of you will feel sad and like you’re missing out on the most important aspect of life, but don’t let it get to you. We’re all good at something in this lifetime, and maybe you’re just an All-Star Horrible Friend. Own it!

**********************************************************

Pitiful ed. note: I have been wracked with guilt about my non-availability and my non-awesome friendship skills lately. To my friends in real life: thank you for your understanding and for your continued ability to take my super crazy schedule in stride. To my online friends: thank you for being my friend! (And consider yourselves lucky that you only have to deal with Flaky Online Me, and not Flaky In-Person Me, too. Heh.)Β  Β  Β 

41 responses

    • At least we maintain decent friendships online, though. I think you’re a great and supportive person online– luckily we live far enough apart that we don’t have to let each other down on a regular basis in person. πŸ™‚

    • Yes, Cindy– I’m a little worried that my coaching skills won’t have any outlet at this rate. If *everyone* is a bad friend, who can I possibly teach to disappoint others?

  1. Me thinks it is one tall order to spend twelve-hour days on the causeway.
    Burning the candle at both ends.
    Only a handful of folks attempt to pull it off.
    I say once a week, we all pack up early, hit the Strath roof-top and get shit-faced.
    Or some such departure.

    • I haven’t heard anybody use the term “shit-faced” in a long time, Dean– thanks for the laugh this morning!

      We probably work ‘normal’ full-time hours when you spread it out over the full 12 months. (Okay. Maybe more than full-time hours, but we definitely don’t log in 12 hours on a blustery Februrary day!) I just wish sometimes that “non-Harbour” people could understand a little more how crucial it is to make hay while the sun shines, as they say. I’m not a terrible friend on purpose, but my job keeps me very busy in the summer months.

    • I did call my sister, Peg– a day or two after her birthday, yes, but I had to remedy that violation STAT! Besides, I’m the oldest sibling– I have to set an example! If I don’t call my younger sisters on their birthdays, who’s going to call me on mine? πŸ˜‰

  2. Good thing you only know me through the internet, we have a solid chance at maintaining the relationship. I am so bad. My closest friend called me twice last week and I keep putting off calling her. Not because I don’t want to, but once we start talking we’ll talk for four hours straight. At least you have a good excuse!

    • That’s the beauty of the internet, no? We can be less flaky and more reliable online than we are in real life– everyone wins! (Well, except for our in-person friends and family members, but you get the idea…)

  3. I have the same problem. I’m terrible with birthdays and RSVPs. I make an announcement really early on in the friendship that I’m terrible with birthdays but that it’s not representative of my love for them. I’m also a bad phone-person. Maybe I can be VP of your club?

    • Haha– by the looks of it, my Horrible Friend Executive core will be filled up in no time! πŸ™‚ When I was a teenager, I LOVED talking on the phone. I think I used up all my phone love by the time I was 16. Now I have a hard time chatting on the phone. E-mail (and blog comments) work best for me…

  4. Dana – I loved this tongue-in-cheek post because in an admittedly odd way, it’s positive, uplifting, constructive, and healing. How so? By showcasing what not to do in relationships, you’re actually highlighting what to do. I equally enjoyed reading the comments and your responses.

    So here’s my bottom line on top: “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.” And you’ve clearly shed light on some really good choices (by showing us what not to do).

    • Great point, Laurie! I am certainly choosing to make my living this way, and in doing so, I suppose I am also choosing to prioritize my ability to earn an income over attending my friend’s parties and weddings. It’s a double-edged sword, this Harbour business, but for the time being it’s what I’ve decided to pursue. It hasn’t always been this way and probably won’t always be this way, either.

      … Does this mean I’m choosing to be a Terrible Friend? πŸ˜‰

  5. Dana, gosh, aren’t we always the hardest on ourselves? Telling ourselves we should do this, shouldn’t do that, a good friend should do this, a good friend shouldn’t do that. And of course every time we’re hard on ourselves it’s DOUBLE the trouble. Now, not only are we are a bad friend, we’re not racked with guilt. I don’t know, except I like you exactly the way you are. Thank you for being the on-line friend that you are.

    • Aw, thanks Kathy! It’s actually really helped me in my angst-ridden periods to remember that I have a really great and supportive group of online friends. I haven’t met most of you in person but that doesn’t mean I don’t cherish the comments and friendships that we’ve established in the ether.

      And yes, we tend to be our own worst critics. I know I always set very high expectations for myself and feel terribly disappointed when I don’t reach or exceed them. My time at the Harbour so far has taught me to be more realistic/practical with my goals and not to beat myself up (very badly, anyway) when I’m not a Super Woman.

      Thanks for your great comments and for your friendship, too. It means a lot to me! πŸ™‚

  6. I know this feeling so well! I too often feel like a horrible, negligent friend, but I’m sure that most people feel this way at various points in their life. With the hecticness of everything we have to do, should do, and want to do in life, we are often left with very little time to maintain a consistent friendship. Heckβ€”I often feel like I don’t spend enough time with my spouse who I spend the most time with outside of my co-workers.

    Sometimes I really miss those long summer days where I was able to spend time with my friends all day, every day. It was so easy and natural as a kid so struggling to maintain friendships was not something I anticipated would happen as an adult….sigh.

    • At least I’ve got the spouse base covered, seeing as we work together as well. That way, I know I’ll always have a minimum of *one* friend in real life– ha! πŸ™‚

      I guess I never really gave much thought to maintaining friendships when I was younger, either. You’re right– the relationships back then were much easier and carefree. Perhaps I’m not *such* a terrible friend after all, seeing as we’re all in similar (busy and hectic) situations. I can’t be the only person who’s pressed for time, right? (Right?)

      • Nice that you work with your spouse! Very convenient!

        Yeah, you’re certainly not the only oneβ€”and I’d be willing to claim that *most* people feel like their busy life lends to being a crappy friend 😦 Or maybe it’s that we have really high expectations (created by ourselves or society) of what we should be as a friend, which is impossible to attain…making us always feel like we’re falling short. It definitely is relieving hearing that so many of us feel the same way…makes me start to think that I (and all of us) are not the bad friends we think we are.

        • I think you’re right, Christina. After reading the responses to this post, I’ve decided that I’m an “average” friend– average as in “like the majority of others”, not just “meh, so-so”. In this case, good enough will have to be good enough!

  7. Well, it’s different for me because I met you after you guys started working at the harbour so I accept our friendship as it is – and I’m okay with it! Thank goodness for the internet though.
    Sometimes I think I’m a bad friend too. I have a birthday gift for a dear friend I have yet to mail – her birthday was March 22. Another friend in Vancouver had a baby two years ago and I haven’t trekked over there to meet her yet. Ugh, sometimes it’s hard.
    But then again – true friends don’t harp on stuff like that and value you as you are, realizing that you are busy just like they are.

    • That’s a really good point, Jabba. Part of being a good friend is recognizing/accepting that the relationship changes along with life circumstances. I guess I always compare myself to some made-up “Ideal Friend” and feel badly when I don’t stack up.

      Also, I’m happy we met when we did. It’s not like I was super social before I started working at the Harbour (not at all, really), but I like that you know what to expect every April to October. πŸ™‚ Hooray for understanding!

  8. Okay, Dana: “I’ve got to start accepting the fact that– for the most part– I am a flaky, preoccupied, over-stimulated, sleep-deprived, sad and sorry excuse for a compadre.”

    First of all, I’ve been in that club for a LONG time. In fact, for so long that I – and I shudder to even put this in writing – just wrote my 30 year old GODSON (my sister’s son) at Christmas time, and apologized for never, you heard right, never sending him a birthday card, graduation card (high school or college, no less), or called him from the time he was about two until … this past Christmas.

    Secondly, I believe there are more people who are in this situation, now, than there ever has been over the course of history. There are way too many distractions.

    Third, why do you think I moved! hehehehehe ;). Okay, that’s not really why I moved. But, I have friends and family that will ask me from time-to-time if I’m still at Address X – usually one that’s two moves ago. If they have a paper address book, they write our address in pencil so it can be erased easily.

    Fourth, don’t beat yourself up. Here’s my tip: Just don’t say you’ll call them by _____, or visit them in the _______ (insert winter, spring, summer, or fall here). I stopped doing that after I kept falling short of the expectations I put on myself.

    Wow, this is a long comment. I’m guilty as charged, but not feeling guilty. And yes, your welcome for the advice! πŸ™‚

    • Glad to know I’m not alone, MJ! I was actually thinking about this some more and wondered “Was I *ever* a perfectly available, supportive, cheerful, and accommodating friend, or is that “friend” just a prototype I made up or feel some strange nostalgia for?” I’ve always been a bit of a hermit, and I’ve never been the type of person to go out every weekend or hang out with others on a regular basis on weeknights, either. I don’t know, exactly, what sort of person I’m striving to be, but I don’t think I’ve *ever* been like that in my life! Like you say, time to stop beating ourselves up. (The time will be better spent packing or unpacking boxes from the latest move, anyway.) πŸ˜‰

  9. I wish I had your excuse. I’m a dreadful friend, without excuses for it. I somehow manage to forget to email friends when I said I would, and/or respond to text or phone messages. Birthdays? Forget about it. Well, not always. Often I remember a few days later and end up sending belated birthday wishes. Ah well… for some reason, a few of my die-hard friends put up with me anyhow. πŸ™‚

    • Die-hard friends are great, aren’t they? I think they’re so wonderful because they don’t sweat the small stuff. I sometimes get caught up in the minutiae, even though I think I’m a decent “big picture” sort of friend.

  10. What an amazing, refreshing post! I am constantly struggling with ‘forgetting to remember’ events and people. My internal clock says a couple of days have passed since I talked to someone, only to discover it has been months! πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Ted! A teensy part of me felt like I should be making amends with my friends instead of writing a satirical blog post about my situation, but everything in time… (Actually, one of the big reasons why I have a hard time keeping up with my friends is because our schedules are so different. If I knew I could phone somebody at 1 am on a Wednesday evening, I might have a better friendship track record. As it stands, though, I’m often in the friendship dog house!) I appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to comment– thanks!

  11. I get so caught up in my own little world that it is a wonder I have any friends at all. I too make the lofty plans that never happen, I am full of great promise that I will not suck at being a friend but the truth is great friends understand and when you have the time they’ll still be there. Again great post. I just love your writing. You really should be submitting these works. Cheers. from the other coast.

    • I’m blushing, Lesley– thanks! It’s so true that great friends are more understanding and forgiving than I sometimes remember. I usually want to be THE BEST friend in the history of the world and then feel terrible when I fall short. My true friends don’t want me to be perfect; they just appreciate me for keeping it real. πŸ˜‰

  12. In my opinion good friends are those that even after not spending time with each other for quite some time, when you finally get back together, it is so fun and harmonious as if you just saw them a couple of days ago. I’m fortunate to have such types of friends!

    • Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Frances! I’m fortunate because the friend I wrote about in this post (the one I never phoned on her birthday or to RSVP for her wedding) is exactly this type of good friend. Sometimes we go for six months without speaking with each other (because of busy schedules), but when we do get a chance to reconnect, it’s like we’ve never had any time apart. I treasure this friendship, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling badly when I can’t call her as often as I’d like! πŸ˜‰

  13. YOU’RE HIRED! Oh wait…I already practice all the same principles (job at the Harbour aside). Lol…I too beat myself up over this stuff but in the digital age of over-stimulation, it’s practically inevitable. Thanks for providing a humorous forum for us to relate to one another on these all-too-human behaviors!

    • Thanks, Jenn! It was such a relief to post this and figure out that I wasn’t the only person suffering from a terrible case of Bad Friend-itis. I think everything you mentioned (digital age, overstimulation) contribute to the global pandemic of shoddy friendships. Thank goodness we’re not alone! πŸ™‚

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