Did you come across the fascinating revelations of Australian nurse Bonnie Ware a while ago? If you are a digital Native, chances are you did. Under the title “ The top five regrets of the dying”, the palliative nurse revealed what she had learned about some of people’s most significant desires, showing themselves in the form of regrets that people had expressed on their death beds while Mrs. ware was caring for them in the last 12 weeks of their lives.
One of the top 5 regrets was the following: “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
At first glance, it’s understandable to think ‘ oh well, staying in touch with friends has never been easier than nowadays through social media, mobile phones and media connectivity galore!’ And yes, this is definitely an advantage that previous generations were not able to enjoy. However, the patients questioned by Bonnie Ware emphasized that they would have loved to “give the friendships the time and effort they deserved”. Now this, in my opinion, is a key phrase. How many of us fool ourselves into thinking that scrolling through our Facebook news feed and obligatory liking the newest of our friends picture, leaving an encouraging comment on a good day, equals maintaining a friendship?
How convenient would it be, if real, lasting friendship could be maintained this way? Undoubtedly, it would save a lot of time if it was possible and if the friendships of former days just had magically transformed themselves into these forms of human contact that merely needed a second of our attention every so often. Unfortunately- or fortunately – it isn’t this way, though.
How many ‘friends’ can we cope with?
The lines between real friendships and fleeting acquaintances have become blurred in the virtual world, not just but also because many Social media users showcase more than 1000 friends on their profiles, while the realistic maximum number of people we are able to maintain relationships with lies at 150 people. Our brains are just not wired to cope with more, as evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar proves in his fascinating study.
Many people don’t seem to know anymore what they can expect in and of friendships in times like these in which so much of our social interactions are happening in an online world. In my mind, the current times require more than ever to not just increase our connectivity, but also and more importantly, to strengthen our conscious approach to communication and to our relationships. It’s an important task to establish for yourself what real friendship means to you and then create a conversation with people you consider friends, becoming clear on what your desires and values are in a friendship, what the other one’s consist in, and if and how you can bring those needs together or create compromises.
With some friends, this might never be necessary -it can’t hurt however to have an honest conversation as we all have a limited amount of time and energy at our disposal, and our resources are best spent in alignment with our core values and needs and communicated in a respectful and compassionate way.
“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
Are you in need of some inspiration as to what could define a real friendship? Ultimately, this is a thing just you can decide on, and something that might vary considerably from person to person. Here are some ideas though that work for me:
- Communication is key: Keeping each other regularly updated on how your lives are going is crucial in order to not lose sight of each other, especially if your friend is a really close one. Just assuming that 5, 10 or 20 years of friendship are enough to trust into an eternal duration of your friendship can work for some, but to me has a very fairytale like quality and definitely doesn’t work for all friend pairings. You need to water a plant to make it grow or even just to keep it alive – give your friendship some attention in regular doses, let them know if your life is too crazy right now to write much or call often but that you think of them. As with everything in life, you generally receive what you put out! If you treasure your friend, don’t treat them worse than your pot plant.
- Express your feelings– by the way, another regret that features in the top 5 regrets of the dying is that they wished they would have been more open expressing their emotions. Sometimes this is easier said than done of course, but to make any long-term relationship or friendship work on a prospering and enriching level, this is a crucial learning process! Your feelings and needs are such an integral part of who you are -don’t shy away from giving them some space. If you admire something about your friend – say it! If you feel hurt or disrespected, discuss it. How often do people get passive-aggressive because they have swallowed their feelings one too many times? That type of emotional suppression is definitely not conducive to a fun, loving vibe in your friendship.
- Self-care: Don’t expect anyone to fill your void. Heal and tend to yourself, and yes, let others be there for you, but do not expect anyone to be your saviour. That’s your role!
- Talk, be there for each other, especially after a break-up, loss or other huge transformations, but also schedule in some fun times to let the inner child run rampant and just let go for a while! Life can be tough as it is – make sure you can enjoy yourself with your friend as well and not exclusively talk about problems.
- Check in with yourself– does the friendship generally uplift you, or do you feel drained after a talk or catch up? I am not referring to times of crisis – they are perfectly normal and an essential part of life and growth in which a friend’s support can make a world of difference. However, if the general gist of your friendship is leaving you sucked and dry, and the person goes on and on about the same stuff without trying to work on it by themselves (be it through books, meditation, therapy or the like) – it might be necessary to call it quits or to at least reduce your interactions considerably. Limited time and energy, remember? There are plenty of beings you can shower with love, time, and compassion without feeling drained afterward!
What is key in a real friendship? What are your no – goes? Looking forward to your insights below ! And also make sure to enjoy cultivating the probably most important friendship you can ever create – the one to yourself!