Showing Up: The Single Most Important Thing a Friend Can Do

As an advice columnist, I receive a lot of letters from people about the trouble they have making and keeping friends as adults. As I get older -- I'll be 38 in a few days -- I've noticed several things about friendships: they're harder to make and keep as your life fills with more responsibilities (career, spouses/partners, kids, aging parents, aging bodies that need more maintenance and mounting bills, to name a few); friends' support is more important as your life fills with more demands, challenges and successes to celebrate; the best friends aren't necessarily the ones you've known the longest or have the most fun partying with, but are the ones who SHOW UP. Showing up is THE single most important thing you can do as a friend.

Show up for film premieres and plays and races and weddings. Show up for your designer friend's fashion show and your artist friend's gallery opening and the dinner to celebrate your friend finally getting her PhD. Go to baby showers even though they can be kind of a drag. Better yet, offer to throw one because you love your friend and this is a big deal. Go to your friend's mother's memorial even though it's a two-hour drive away and it will eat up half your weekend. Go to retirement parties and milestone birthday parties and parties celebrating the end of a nasty divorce. Offer to pet-sit or babysit or house-sit . Cook casseroles (or pick up some take-out) and coo over new babies who have just arrived home from the hospital. Drive to airports and weddings and reunions. Drive your friend to her chemo appointment and sit with her afterward and talk to her about whatever she wants to talk about. Show up. Show up.

We all have days when the weight of our responsibilities is enough to deal with and it's a challenge to summon the energy to meet one more demand -- to show up, even for something like celebrating a friend's success. But it's those moments that matter the most. It's showing up for that kind of stuff that solidifies a friendship and increases the odds of someone showing up for you when it's your turn to celebrate or mourn or hope against hope. Because it will be your turn eventually and you will wish there was someone there for you.

For every good friend you have or good friend you want or casual friend you'd like to be closer with, budget enough of yourself to show up when it's necessary. If there's only so much of yourself to budget or you have people who require more than you're willing to give, then whittle your friends down to a manageable amount (manageable for you) so that you have the time and energy to maintain quality friendships. Quality is better than quantity. And resentment is the fastest deal-breaker in friendships, so ditch the friends you resent... or the ones whose resentment of you is making life harder.

Another thing I've learned about friendship is that you will often be surprised by who shows up for you and who doesn't. Sometimes, the people you show up and show up and show up for let you down. And sometimes they show up and show up and show up for you and you let them down. And sometimes the people you've blown off or that you would blow off if given the opportunity are the first to show up for you. The key to long-lasting friendships, I think, is to weed out the ones who keep letting you down -- not just once, but over and over -- and to hang on to those who keep showing up, as long as they are people whose company you enjoy. The key to long-lasting friendships, particularly for the introverts who guard their personal time like it's the last Twinkie on Earth -- is to say no to enough things that don't matter so that you have the energy and time to say yes to the stuff that does matter. Quality is better than quantity.

Be clear to your friends when stuff really matters. Obviously, you would hope most people would know that things like a wedding matters or a close loved one's funeral matters or a milestone birthday party matters, but other things that maybe aren't as universally meaningful or important can be overlooked and that's when feelings are hurt and friendships are strained. So make things easier on your friends by telling them when something is important to you and if they still don't show up and they don't show up and they don't show up, then MOA (move on already). Because life is too short to keep friends around just because you go back a long way and partied together when overalls were trendy the first time around.

This post was originally published on Wendy Atterberry's relationship advice blog, Dear Wendy.

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