My phone vibrated at 7 a.m. this morning. I had already been awake for two hours, but of course, she already knew that. I needed at least a third cup of coffee to apply eyeliner in a straight line, as my toddler was attempting to climb my pant leg. I glanced over at my screen to see the first few words of a text…
“Okay, I figured out your childcare problem.”
I smiled. Mainly because I knew what would follow would be some sardonic suggestion of taking out an ad for a Jersey Italian Mary Poppins. But also, because of all the things my friend had on her plate, she took time out of her hectic morning to let me know she was concerned about me.
There is only one umbrella for friends, and two categories they fall beneath. Friends are anchors: they either ground you or drown you. It took me until well into my 30s to tell the difference between the two.
Well, to be fair, it wasn’t differentiating between who centered me and who dragged me down, but rather, what to do about the fact after I figured out who was who.
I never knew how to have those kinds of conversations. The really hard ones, between friends. I never knew how to say, “You’re smothering me,” or “your natural bent toward drama is wearing me out,” or “it feels like work to hang out with you.” Yikes. So, I just never had those conversations. I stopped communicating entirely.
I recognize now, perhaps a bit too late, that some of those friendships that felt like anchors dragging me down could have been saved if I had just been unafraid to allow them to have access to me during the hard, candid conversations necessary to grow a friendship.
I have a tight circle of anchoring friends who speak light and truth into my life on a daily basis. They are unafraid to meet me where I am. Unafraid to tell me when I crossed a line, when I hurt their feelings, when I need to slow down, when I should probably see a counselor about that. I am learning through them how to respond in kind. It’s unnatural to me, this raw honesty. It feels overexposed even to admit to that, but I love it so much more than living a lie with a smile and then walking away without a word. It’s enabled me to love deeper, to live truer than before.
Identifying who is dragging us down isn’t really that difficult. It’s what to do with that information after we discover it. That friend might only need a wake-up call about how their behavior is affecting others in order to right their ship and mend your relationship. And it might take meeting them where they are to realize that you’re on two separate playing fields right now, that it might be time to sit this one out. But you can walk away confidently, knowing that you did what you could.
I know now, when my phone rings, whatever message I have there will be encouraging, funny. An invitation, a prayer, a meme. The people who have access to me have access to all of me, and the same goes for them. Being anchored means growing roots, staying put. Not running away. Looking at yourself through the eyes of others and making sure you like what they see.
On a day when I can’t even get myself together enough to remember to apply eyeliner to both eyes before walking out the door for work, I know all the hard stuff is worth it if I get to walk through my days with the people who ground me, challenge me to look at myself honestly, and hold me accountable for the things I’ve committed (or over-committed) to. And even scour the internet on my behalf to find a babysitter with a clean driving record and a penchant for Jersey pizza.
Now that is a real friend.
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