A day before my book, “A Piece of Peace,” turned one-year-old, I got to sip chai and work remotely with a friend who was a big part of my healing journey when I fell sick. He annoyed me, made me laugh, got me riled up, cooked poha for my husband and I, and stood by my husband when I was at my lowest. To respect his privacy (Many of my friends are very private people), I won’t share his name or details. But he and I have been friends since we were 17 or 18 years old. To my husband and me, this friend is family.
I visited him in upstate New York, where he lives and teaches. It was his mom’s 79th birthday, and she was visiting him from across the pond. My mom died in her mid-sixties. The pandemic engulfed my dad’s 75th birthday celebrations; we partied on Zoom and prayed for everyone’s safety. But I didn’t get to see him in person. For aunty 79th, I got to sing happy birthday, take her out for ice cream, gift her a box of gourmet teas, and share a copy of “A Piece of Peace.” I showed her the acknowledgment section where my friend’s name is mentioned.
Studies have shown that “those who enjoy close friendships over their teenage years have a lower rate of depression or anxiety later in life.” If we have science telling us that these old bonds keep us mentally healthy, why do friendships fall apart? My friend and I have been friends for 30 years. What adds to the longevity? What makes friendships tick? I have also lost old friends, and no one person was at fault. Why do people drift apart? What dissolves friendships? Are there any rules to friendship?
I am no relationship expert, but I pride myself on being an awesome friend. Call it bragging or stating facts, but my friends call me their 911. We often joke how my tombstone would say, “World’s best friend keeping an eye on you even from beyond.”
I have realized that good friendships are rarely all rosy. There are ups and downs. There are differences because we are all constantly evolving and experiencing the world differently. We might not be the same people we were when we met as kids or even as adults. But if there is trust at the core of the relationship, your friendship survives everything. My friend of 30 years and I have had our fair share of I can’t deal with you right now, moments. But we know that come what may, we have each other’s backs.
For all my friendships that have ended, there was one thing in common: I couldn’t trust the person anymore. At least from where I was standing. Be it a friend cheating on their partner and asking me to be their accomplice by meeting with their boyfriend. Or a friend saying they will be there at my most vulnerable moments and lying about not showing up. Because I put a lot into my relationships, the expectation was I’d show up even if the other person was treating the friendship as a parking place of convenience. Eventually, I felt depleted.
As an author, storyteller, healer, Ayurveda counselor, yoga teacher to survivors of violence, and a global speaker, trust is the element that helps me help people feel safe. If I can’t trust you, you can’t be a part of my life. Period. I don’t want to be part of an equation where I am unsure of someone’s intentions.
I think the bigger question we need to ask is: How can each of us be better friends? Can you call yourself a good friend if you aren’t reliable? If you feel every friend has failed you, maybe it’s time to turn inward and ask what you could do differently? Instead of constantly expecting something from your friendships, how can you be selfless for a change?
(1) Don’t tell people they matter; show them they are important: I took a 5-hour bus ride in a dirty, stained transport to see my friend and celebrate his mom’s birthday. I worked remotely and studied for my upcoming exams on the bus. My friend drove a few hours to attend my book launch on a weeknight. Once my husband wasn’t feeling well, so I called this friend. He was at a wedding in Princeton, but he drove all the way to NYC.
(2) Friends can’t be an afterthought based on your needs and moods: Let’s have the decency to be honest with each other. Sometimes, things come up and priorities change. We all understand. A friend offered to be there after my surgery to help my dad and husband. I told my cousins to show up a few days later, so we had someone around for a week or 10 days. This friend lied (got caught), didn’t show up, left us stranded when I was out of the hospital, and till date hasn’t owned her mistake. If she had communicated her truth instead of playing games, we would still have been friends. Honesty is my driving principle.
(3) Help center, not uproot people: Good friends increase your sense of belonging and rootedness. I think it’s sheer privilege and a gift to love and be loved. Can you ask yourself what you can do to make your friend feel more valued, visible, and loved instead of ungrounding them constantly with your needs and drama? Be less self-centered.
(4) Hold space: We don’t need to agree with all the choices our friends make. It’s your responsibility to point out to your friend when they are messing up their life. But a true friend will tell you when you are in the wrong with compassion and give you the space to make your decisions. Don’t forget that we are all individuals. We’ve our own unique traits of coping and navigating life.
(5) Friendships should feel light: We all have traumas and baggage. Part of friendship is being able to communicate what’s bothering us. But don’t treat your friends as your therapist. I had a friend with whom no one wants to stay in touch anymore, and it’s because she constantly broods. The glass half empty attitude gets exhausting fast. Hearty friendships bring a sense of “lightness” into our lives.
Remember: No matter how old you are or what you’re going through … healthy, trustworthy, and close friendships encourage positive mental health and well-being. But like anything, good friendships require each one of us to show up. Friendship is anything but luck. Anything that “works” in life usually is backed by commitment, care, and efforts.
“A true friend accepts who you are, but also helps you become who you should be.” ~ Unknown