The Friendship Paradox

Written by on February 15, 2018

There is one thing I never really understood about friendships and about expectations in friendships (or every type of relationship between two people): Why am I not supposed to see or mention bad characteristics/behaviour/etc.?

It always strikes me as especially odd, that people expect me to always be on their side, even if they act like lunatics. That friends and partners expect me to shut up about negative or bad behaviour and only always see the good things and ignore. Why?

Not one single person is only good or only bad. There are so many things that create the character of a person and sometimes a little misbehaviour or meanness completes someone and is needed – especially for that person to become successful and rooted. It is impossible to always please everybody.

For me, a big part of a friendship is to live it as honest as possible. Say what is on your mind and what you think about. We all know that little lies once in a while are hardly avoidable, but why should I tell you that it’s obviously his fault, while you are clearly overreacting. The same goes vice versa, why do I need to support you against someone, if you have been an asshole?

I always try to stay out of other people’s relationships/friendships. Reason being that I am not part of it. That doesn’t mean my friends can’t talk to me about everything and can’t come to me for advice or hugs and support. It only means that whatever my friends are having problems with others doesn’t affect my relationship to that other person. I am not part of the relationship/friendship and I think you can be on someone’s side without necessarily being against the person you are ‘ganging up’ against.  

For me friendship, as I said, needs to be built on honesty and this sometimes hurts – obviously, because who likes to listen to someone telling you, you acted like an idiot or you are over dramatic. I consider someone a very close and intimate friend, if I am able to tell that person, I don’t want to go out with him/her for the 10th time in a row. I should be able to tell you, that I think you went wrong somewhere and what my true opinion is. I don’t consider someone a friend, who always just agrees with me. Such a person most likely needs attention more than true friendship (and maybe also a better self-esteem).

Me telling my friends bad things or even criticizing them doesn’t mean I love them less. I am just accepting that bad sites are part of everybody and even more important: Nevertheless, I still love them. No matter their bad sites/behaviour. I expect the same from my friends if I am asking for an opinion I want an honest one, otherwise, there is no need in asking and we can keep on living in a pretentious world where nothing ever changes for the better.

Because that is what you are doing to your friends if you aren’t honest with them. You hold them back, you deny them to grow with their mistakes just out of fear that they might be mad. So what? Isn’t it more beautiful to love the whole package of a person – the good, the bad, the ugly?

I recently had a conversation with a friend (let’s call him Robert), who in his opinion screwed something up with a girl. I told him that I don’t see that he misbehaved (obviously he could have been a little more sensitive, but what happened, happened and it doesn’t change the facts). So, I told Robert that he just needs to be honest with her. Shouldn’t be that much of a problem as the point was ending the fling those two where having. Now here is the deal: She is creating drama and is reeling in another friend of his (Robert’s roommate and the one who introduced the two) to gang up against him and make him feel bad. The roommate now apparently is involved in the drama and against Robert, who is now worried what his friends think about him.

As the unnecessary drama is ongoing I can’t tell how it ends, but my stance on this is, that Robert needs to draw a line. He should be able to tell his roommate that he is not involved and that he should stay out of it. Again this doesn’t mean that the roommate can’t be a support for the woman, but he shouldn’t reflect whatever happened on Robert, especially because the relationship Robert had with the woman is completely different to what Robert and his roommate are connected about.

Boundaries belong to every relationship and they should be clearly set as only that way you can truly start to understand and accept each other. If someone doesn’t respect your boundaries and holds them against you, I would consider rethinking the depth of the friendship and if you two have understanding and respect enough for each other to considers yourselves close or just acquaintances.

The same goes for saying negative things. You can’t always support everything about a person. It is more a: I love that person despite a, b, or c. Also, we are all just humans. Depending on what is said, it also is important in which context: anger, drunk, unhappy, hurt? Feelings or alcohol don’t excuse everything that can be said, but then again if someone hurts you with their words so badly that you can’t forgive or feel misunderstood you might not be as good friends as you are expecting.

Expectations are mostly what breaks relationships. Especially the kind no one talks about. Just expecting something, doesn’t mean the other person knows about it and is hoping for the same. If you don’t say what you want, don’t hold it against the other person if you don’t get it. That is unfair because no one can look inside your head.

To come back around to the beginning: Expectations should never entail, that that person has to love/like everything about you and that they will never say a bad word or spill something they shouldn’t. We are all just humans and we all make mistakes. Important is to be told when we did something that hurt someone or was possibly wrong – and that in a way that enables communication not fights. In my experience most people are more than eager to apologize or change their behaviour if you give them the chance, that means don’t scream and don’t insult and don’t attack. After all, it’s what you felt, not necessarily what the person really meant to do.

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