On Picking Bad Friends

I've trusted the wrong people. It seems there's no way to avoid it. Allowing someone into your life is always a risk -- one to which I was once completely averse. I refused to personally invest in anyone, then a spiritual transformation, ushered in by a superb therapist, unchained my heart. The floodgates were open, and I was ready to share the best of myself with anyone who would have me.

I'm entering a new phase, so I chose to purge those who were merely taking up space. The process, though laborious and painful, was necessary. To my surprise, turning friends into associates caused me little distress because, to paraphrase Toni, I want to fly, so I have to give up the shit that weighs me down. I'm someone who loves the beginning of things, but I haven't yet mastered how to handle endings. When the platonic love is gone, I drift away slowly creating distance with silence. That's cowardly, but how do you tell a person you used to care for that it's over? When a friendship ends, I ask myself "was it worth it?" The answer is always yes because the lesson necessitates the journey, but it takes time to regain my emotional bearings. While combing through my mental rolodex, I uncovered the reason so many of my interpersonal relationships fail: I call too many people "friends."

When I meet someone and feel a connection, I immediately make them a friend in my head. Once placed in this category, you're entitled to the rights and privileges of all the men and women I adore no matter how long I've known you. An inspirational word? I got you. Gas money? Sure. Access to my most private thoughts and insecurities? Of course. That's what friends are for. In my mind, my unconditional openness demonstrated my superior enlightenment to those who approached every interaction with skepticism. In reality, engaging in these activities without properly vetting those on the receiving end only made me vulnerable.

Heartbreak and self reflection illuminated the immaturity of my thinking. In my eagerness to forge bonds, I forgot we're not in the sandbox anymore. Deep, personal connections can't be sustained simply because of proximity in age or location. Strong relationships require a firmer foundation. Everyone you kind of like doesn't deserve access to all of you. Before I knew it, I'd gone from one end of the spectrum to the other - from emotional chastity to promiscuity. A desire for social intimacy led me to give it up too soon. And while I was giving my "friends" the best I had, I was receiving little in return. Unbeknownst to me, I hadn't yet earned a spot on their team.

Discernment is not one of my gifts. I assume the best until people show me their worst. Unfortunately, by the time someone gets around to showing you exactly who they are, you're in too deep to escape unmarred. The only option is to take it slow, and perform the necessary reference and background checks. Rushed friendships are hardly worth the effort after all. They crumble at the slightest test. I'm taking a step back and allowing things to progress organically. Sometimes I am alone, but I enjoy the calm.

We tell women not to do "wife" things for a man who is not your husband. I'll add don't do "friend" things for a person who isn't down for you. Of course determining whether or not someone is "down" is difficult. Here are my new rules: If you question whether or not someone is loyal, they probably aren't. Be wary of men and women who will drain your emotional energy without offering to recharge. Reciprocity is the goal.

Those who are cautious with their affection spare themselves the heartbreak of alienation, but they miss out on the splendor of camaraderie. I know that joy, and I still long to experience it deeper, so despite my recent poor track record, I'll gladly take the leap again.

Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or Tweet her.

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