Felicity is a final year student at KCL.
[Featured image: A Picasso painting entitled ‘the Friendship’. It features two friends painted abstractly in browns, greens, and blues in a somber embrace.]
I used to have a pretty simplistic idea of friendship. A friend is someone who is kind, someone who you have fun with and someone who supports you. Years later, I realised that for a lot of my adult life I have been settling for and continuing to keep friendships that were a lot less than that, because of how long I’ve known someone or for the sake of maintaining consensus in a friendship group. After a lot of self-reflection and taking advantage of the KCL peer support network and counselling services, I was able to accept that those who you spend your time with, how they make you feel about yourself, and your response to this, is a reflection of how you value yourself. I feel embarrassed to say that it took me a long to time to realise that a friend who makes you feel unhappy isn’t worth being friends – but a more subtle and brave realisation that I’ve come to, is that friends that are always late and stand you up are unsupportive.
I always see memes on social media about the friend who is always late or doesn’t turn up, and I always see thousands of people tagging their so-called friends on social media with the words ‘me lol’ or ‘u!!’ as if being late is something to be laughed about, something annoying that we all experience as human beings and are expected to put up with. It’s something which I think is being somewhat romanticised on social media and I think is taking away people’s ability to apportion blame correctly to the person who is late. It is also teaching people to put up with tardiness throughout their lives.
I have had so many occasions where people who I have had plans with would be late. Sometimes people will apologise, other times they won’t and sometimes they won’t even care. I never used to care about tardiness, “they have an excuse”, I would always think to myself, “they’re my friend”, “so what if they are 10, 20, 30 mins, 1 hr late”, “it’s annoying but this happens”. I never used to make a big deal out of it, I would just accept the fact that that people are sometimes late and that it’s not a REAL problem. But what happens when you find yourself in a constant state of waiting? It took me a very long time to come to the realisation that people who repeatedly keep you waiting, whether intentionally or not, on some level do not value your time and do not appreciate and respect you fully as a friend. I started to think about all of the big things in my life I wouldn’t be late to: a job interview, a concert I was looking forward to or a first-date. I wouldn’t be late for these things because I was looking forward to going and I knew if I was late, it would give the impression that I am rude [to an interviewer for example] or I didn’t really care about the other person [e.g. a first-date]. When I think about being late in these contexts, a shudder creeps through my spine. People try not to be late for work because their boss will be mad at them or it will reflect poorly on them at work – but what about your friends, people who want to spend time with you voluntarily. Why is it somehow more excusable to treat people who most likely like you a lot more than your employer, worse off? At some point, I realised I was being stood up and kept waiting perpetually. What I didn’t realise, was the extent being stood up and being kept waiting had on my mental health.
The last time I was stood up, I was the most humiliated I have been in a long time. I was stood waiting around for half an hour. I remember thinking to myself that perhaps I could do something productive whilst I waited but I stopped myself and thought that my friend is probably nearly here and if I do something else I might miss her text telling me that she is lost or is outside and I didn’t want to keep them waiting [ironically]. I remember when I finally asked my friend where they were and they replied saying that they couldn’t make it anymore, I felt so terrible about myself. Not only was I not worth turning up and meeting, I was also not worth being told in advance and that I somehow deserved to be kept waiting around with no plans. I remember feeling embarrassed that I had been looking forward to meeting my friend when in reality, my friend didn’t even think about me. And after repeated instances, I started to believe that there was something wrong with me.
I started to think more broadly about true friendship. I stumbled upon an article which Dr. Lerner stated, ”It is wise to pay attention to your friendships and have them in order while you’re healthy and your life and work are going well,” she said. ”Because when a crisis hits, when someone you love dies, or you lose your job and your health insurance, when the universe gives you a crash course in vulnerability, you will discover how crucial and life-preserving good friendship is.” When I read this quote, I realised that friends who are constantly late or stand you up are not there for you in everyday life so why would they be there for you in a time of crisis. This is an indicator of a tarnished support network.
I think it’s important to apportion blame correctly. If someone leaves you waiting, they have done something wrong and it should be valid to be upset about this. The normalisation of tardiness in society for a long time, caused me to blame myself rather than apportioning blame and instead led me to believe that I am being too emotional. But, I am starting to realise that tardiness is not just an annoyance you need to put up with because it has been normalised. Instead, it can also be an indicator of a wider issue of low-quality friendships in your life. It was through coming to this realisation, I felt a sense of empowerment over being able to accept my feelings confidently and without a sense of shame.
- Duenwald , ‘Some Friends, Indeed, Do More Harm Than Good’ [The New York Times]