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

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Lately, I’ve been receiving a lot of letters and seeing a lot of topics in the forums about friendship — specifically, trouble making and keeping friends. As I get older — I’ll be 37 (!) in a few days — I’ve noticed several things about friendships: they are harder to make and keep as your life fills with more responsibilities (career, spouses/partners, kids, aging parents, and a mortgage and other 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 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’re 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 and coo over new babies. 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 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.

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 for and show up for and show up for let you down. And sometimes they show up and show up and show up 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. Because life is too short to keep friends around just because you go back a long way and partied together when mom jeans were in style.

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avatar TECH August 29, 2013, 2:44 pm

I really love this essay. Show up. It really is as simple as that.
It seems so many people are caught up in their own worlds and can’t be bothered to extend themselves at times.

avatar Addie Pray August 29, 2013, 2:44 pm

Lovely.

bittergaymark bittergaymark August 29, 2013, 2:52 pm

Seriously. Well said, Wendy. Well said. That recent whiney letter about the film premiere left me astounded. Its truly amazing how precious little effort so many are willing to put forth…

avatar Addie Pray August 29, 2013, 3:26 pm

At 3:26 ET, AP-3 v. BGM-3. *But* my words (well, word) as elicited 3 likes, that’s a 3-like per word ratio, whereas your 3 likes must be shared over 31 words, which is a only 0.0968 likes per word. Ouch, sucks for you.

avatar Addie Pray August 29, 2013, 3:30 pm

At 3:30 ET, AP-4 v. BGM-3. That’s FOUR likes per word. I’m on fire.

Diablo Diablo August 29, 2013, 3:34 pm

BGM has stamina – he can use as many words as it takes to garner the likes, even though he does not appear to be asking to be liked. Also, he gets likes for comments that contain sometimes quite nasty words, so I think a likeability quotient needs to be applied to your math. For example, if you are, say, 1.25 times more inherently likeable than BGM, then your likes count for only 80% as much as his.

Wow, relationships are so complex.

bittergaymark bittergaymark August 29, 2013, 3:49 pm

Well said. Very well said, Diablo.

avatar Addie Pray August 29, 2013, 4:03 pm

No, that’s too complicated. Let’s stick to my “likes per word” assessment which is good here. If in the future I leave a really wordy comment then we can reassess…. Sounds fair.

Cassie CassieB August 29, 2013, 11:20 pm

So we’ll reassess tomorrow is what you’re saying.

Cassie CassieB August 29, 2013, 11:20 pm

:P

bittergaymark bittergaymark August 31, 2013, 12:45 am

25 to 9, Addie. 25 to 9…

avatar sarolabelle August 29, 2013, 4:33 pm

What letter is that? Did I miss it?

avatar bethany August 29, 2013, 4:37 pm

Click the link in the 2nd paragraph above. It was in the forum.

mylaray mylaray August 29, 2013, 2:54 pm

I love this! And I also want to extend that to family. My parents aren’t in my life anymore and one of the last breaking points was when they didn’t show up to my college graduation, which was a huge deal for me. And while I love my future inlaws, I don’t always want to take time out to drive far to their house and spend a late night there, but I still show up to their parties and brunches and I think that helps strengthen our relationship. I sacrifice a little but I get so much more out of it.

Some of my closest and most supportive friends are people I wouldn’t have typically seen as people who would be my friends. But they support me, my passions in life, show up to things, as I do my best to do the same. And I agree that’s what matters most.

avatar kerrycontrary August 29, 2013, 3:55 pm

I’m so sorry your parents did that to you! I can’t understand when family can’t put in effort for each other. My boyfriend’s parents hardly EVER visit (we’re 3.5hrs driving) even though they work less hours than both of us. Yet they always ask when he’s coming home next and if he can come to such and such family event. I just think it’s so important to be present for family events.

mylaray mylaray August 29, 2013, 4:15 pm

Yeah, it bothers me when people expect you to always come to them. It should go both ways.

Classic Classic August 29, 2013, 2:59 pm

Wait, you mean mom jeans are not in style?

avatar Addie Pray August 29, 2013, 3:22 pm

I know you and Sue Jones rock the mom jeans like no other – you’re my favorite DW moms!

lemongrass Lemongrass August 29, 2013, 11:53 pm

Ouch!

Classic Classic August 30, 2013, 12:36 am

You just need to put on some mom jeans and a thick mauve turtleneck and then post a pic, lemongrass. That’s how I did it.

Classic Classic August 29, 2013, 3:01 pm

Seriously, I love this advice. It is beautiful.

iwannatalktosampson iwannatalktosampson August 29, 2013, 3:02 pm

There are so many things I can take from this essay. Although I show up for the important things in my friends’ life I need to have a better attitude about it. I think I just assume I will always have lots of great friends, but reading forums around here makes me feel like I take that fact for granted. I definitely also need to be better at communicating what’s important to my friends. I have been really bummed by friends not showing up to my races, but the thing is I didn’t really tell them I cared one way or the other. I always phrase it as “oh if you are down there anyway and want to stop by I’ll be finishing around this time!” – instead I think I need to say, “I would really love it if you can make it – I’ve never had much of an audience and it would mean a lot to me”. But also leave it at that. If they don’t show up after that I plan on not taking it personally.

avatar bethany August 29, 2013, 3:56 pm

You’re right about how you phrase it. Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to be a burden, so I give people an easy out… “If you’re not doing anything/If you feel like it…” Sometimes, I think you need to let people know that you really care if they’re there or not.

avatar applescruffs August 29, 2013, 10:27 pm

Noted. :)

iwannatalktosampson iwannatalktosampson August 30, 2013, 10:51 am

Haha no sorry! That was not a hint at all – I don’t think I’ve even told you about either of my halfs this summer! Although now I feel really bad for not coming to your birthday party last weekend because I had to get up at 5 the next day at hike. (I have my tail between my legs – figuratively speaking)

avatar applescruffs August 30, 2013, 12:58 pm

Pssh, no worries. But we need to hang out soon! I’m going to need a mani/pedi for my brother’s wedding in a couple weeks, let’s make it happen.

avatar ktfran August 29, 2013, 3:02 pm

Awesome piece!

I want to reiterate that it’s ok to speak up to a good friend if you’re not getting what you need. As long as you want to keep that friend. If you don’t, it will fester and you will resent that friend.

For instance, I love birthday’s. I love everything about them. I wanted a fun gathering for my 30th. I also wanted my best friend in the world to visit me and be there. She was wishy washy about it and when I told her it was important to me and why, she came. She had a blast. And she met all my new friends. And even is she wasn’t able to come, I would have been happy telling her how I feel. It’s OK to ask for what you want/need.

avatar TECH August 29, 2013, 3:18 pm

Yeah, I agree. It’s ok to ask for what you want and need. Also, if you know you haven’t been “showing up” for your friends, I think it’s really important to own that. Acknowledge it. Just say “I’m sorry I’ve been caught up in my own little world and haven’t been there lately.” Something like that. It goes a long way and can diffuse resentment.

Miel Miel August 29, 2013, 3:03 pm

Well said Wendy. So often, it’s not about having great conversations together, or liking the same kind of things, it’s really about “how much energy do you both want to put in a relationship”. I had a friend who almost didn’t show up to her own birthday party (that I had organized) because she had some shopping to do. That’s when I realized it wasn’t just about having a good time around that person, it was also being able to count on her.

avatar TECH August 29, 2013, 3:10 pm

Also, what I really like about this essay is that reminds us that while it’s important to show up for the big things (weddings, birth of children, etc) it’s equally important to show up for the “little” things like giving someone a ride to the airport or picking up the phone and calling them. Even when you’re “busy” and even when it’s inconvenient.

iwannatalktosampson iwannatalktosampson August 29, 2013, 3:19 pm

YES on the inconvenience thing. It seems that people can be so selfish that if something is even the slightest bit inconvenient they feel justified in saying no. And of course you can always say no, but what is a little bit of inconvenience to you if it makes someone’s life happier and easier? Isn’t that what relationships are all about? I hate that we live in a society where even the simplest favors seem like a big deal to people. I took a friend (not best friend – just casual friend) to the airport once, and had to ask to leave work a little early. It wasn’t a big deal at all, at the time I had a really flexible schedule so I just had to make up the hours later. She was over the top thankful, and it made me sad that she felt so terrible about me doing it. Why was that a big deal? It wasn’t, but we’ve set up these standards with our human interactions where no one asks anything of each other and no one expects anything, and it kind of makes me sad. I think it’s why we’ve become the social media generation that is the loneliest generation.

avatar TECH August 29, 2013, 3:27 pm

“we’ve set up these standards with our human interactions where no one asks anything of each other and no one expects anything, and it kind of makes me sad.”
I think that’s a really interesting point. Friends should go out of their way for one another once in a while. Friends should make an effort. Friends should be nice and kind and do another unexpected favors.
When your friend felt so terrible that you drove her to the airport, I think that’s a prime example of how low the bar has been set on friendship.

KKZ KKZ August 29, 2013, 4:29 pm

Even with my closest friends, I feel bad asking them for favors sometimes and always show excessive gratitude. When I do ask, I stress the “are you WILLING and ABLE” as in, don’t break your back trying to make this work for me. And I guess I expect the same from them, that they wouldn’t ask me to do anything that I’d have some sort of trouble doing.

Two of my best friends just competed in a major pole dance competition in Chicago. Several of the studio girls arranged to go up and cheer them on. The only reason I had for not going was that Bear was back from his first two weeks gone for this current contract and we were aching for some time together. (They competed last year too and I missed it because I was teaching a class here in town.)

They kicked ass and won 1st and 2nd place in their division, and I couldn’t be more proud of them and felt a little bad for not being in the crowd to cheer them on when there was no obvious “I can’t” reason. So I took them both out for drinks on Tuesday, arranged the night and paid for it, as a way of celebrating their achievements and making it up to them that I wasn’t there. So I think we’re even.

I do tend to prioritize a lot of stuff over my friends, though, especially work, and I’m not sure why – looking back I can think of many times when I turned down invitations or didn’t show up because “I had to work” — like, it didn’t even occur to me to try to get the time off or swap shifts or something, I just saw work as an un-get-out-of-able thing. I’m not so bad with that anymore, except with my creative writing classes because I legit can’t get out of those, but I feel bad for friends I’ve blown off in the past because I “had to work.”

avatar rachel August 29, 2013, 3:15 pm

Awesome Wendy, well said.

avatar lets_be_honest August 29, 2013, 3:16 pm

Wendy, I found a perfect birthday gift for you! Glad I remembered. I saw a commercial for a new Broadway show last night with Nina Simone’s music!

avatar Addie Pray August 29, 2013, 3:22 pm

Hey my birthday is coming! Ahem.

avatar absurdfiction August 29, 2013, 3:17 pm

I almost posted this on one of the forums today, but there were already so many replies: http://captainawkward.com/2013/08/26/508-509-friendship-attachment-styles-boundaries/

Captain Awkward gets a little wordy, but I thought this was great specific advice for people whose friends are not meeting their expectations, from both sides of the situation. If you have 20 minutes to kill, it’s worth a read if this is something you’ve been struggling with.

Wendy’s advice is much more succinct, and really gets to the heart of the matter though!

TaraMonster TaraMonster August 29, 2013, 3:29 pm

I love Cap’n Awk, but sometimes my eyes start to glaze over. Wrap it up already!

avatar absurdfiction August 29, 2013, 3:35 pm

Yeah, I have to admit I only skimmed the last third of the column I just posted, haha. I guess the people who write in really need the specific advice/scripts though, and what she says is usually pretty solid.

I am such an advice junkie, it’s pathetic!

avatar Banana August 29, 2013, 3:42 pm

I read that as well, and it helped me when I was trying to talk to a friend who always seems dissatisfied with the amount of time we can spend together (whereas I always feel like it’s just enough time). This is always a tough one for me because I honestly have trouble reading what’s important to some people and what’s not. There are no-brainers (weddings, etc, which I have sometimes gone to great lengths to attend) but then sometimes I’m blown away when I realize that something I thought was a casual, flexible date with someone was highly important in their mind.

TaraMonster TaraMonster August 29, 2013, 3:28 pm

I love this so much. This tops my lists of values. Lately I’ve been reevaluating some friendships, and I wasn’t quite clear why a few of them were nagging me so much, but this puts it into words perfectly. And though it was a romantic relationship, this was possibly the biggest deal breaker I had with my ex. He never wanted to go to anything. I actually wrote into Wendy about it when she was on TF (and the commenters all speculated he had social anxiety, which LOL. No. He was the life of the party.). And it wasn’t just for my events, but his friends and family as well. Everyone knew if they wanted him at an event, they had to go through me or he’d never show up. And when he did, people would just fall all over him because they were astonished to see him. I don’t like to bag on him too hard, bc he was a great guy in a lot of ways, but this part of him was so DOUCHEY. Even with holidays he’d refuse to confirm until literally the night before and tell me to go without him if I felt the need to RSVP a few weeks in advance. So goddamn selfish. His outlook was this, “If you don’t cater to people all the time, they won’t expect anything from you.” He may as well have been wearing a sign on his forehead that said “commitment-phobe.” And I put up with that crap for over 7 years. Ahhh hindsight.

Whoops. THAT was quite a rant!

Lyra Lyra August 29, 2013, 3:41 pm

My best friend needs to read this. She’s holding onto a friendship with one of our high school friends, who was her childhood best friend and they have a pretty extensive history. Essentially, my best friend told our “friend”‘s mom when she was drinking mouthwash to throw up her food in college, which led to the biggest fight everrrr. Then once that blew over, our “friend” took advantage of us by scheduling things but not following through, so she just wouldn’t show up to anything despite having scheduled them. Then “friend” breaks up with her significant other and asks all of us if we can help her move…when she has never stepped forward to help any of us move when we needed the help. She’s asked all of us to help her move about 4 times in the past 3 years. I’ve just avoided it.

So essentially…I wish my best friend would just let go of the friendship and the history they have because I know she’d be a lot happier.

Diablo Diablo August 29, 2013, 3:41 pm

Nice one, Ms. Wendy.

avatar lets_be_honest August 29, 2013, 3:44 pm

It was here I learned that just because you’ve been friends forever, doesn’t mean you should keep that friend around. Great advice.

avatar bethany August 29, 2013, 3:52 pm

Wendy is sooo right about this. When my wedding went to hell I literally expected no one to show up. Who in their right mind was going to drive 10 hours and take 2 ferries just to get there?
Who did? The people who love me. And I can’t ever express how much that meant to me. So, I try to be there for those few people who really, really matter. To me, that’s what caring about someone means. Even when it’s not convenient or even necessarily fun, you need to be there, because it’ll mean the world to that person.

othy othy August 29, 2013, 8:49 pm

I had a tiny wedding, and invited the 25 people in the world who I loved most at the time. A friend of mine had been out drinking the night before and missed the entire ceremony. I was so pissed. He never mentioned it or apologized. Then there was the friend who has a serious fear of flying who traveled across 2 continents to make it for the wedding. Guess which of the two friends is still in my life?

avatar bethany August 30, 2013, 9:28 am

That sucks. People can be dicks sometimes. Something similar happened to a friend of mine- one of her “good friends” no showed to her wedding because he wanted to go to HAPPY HOUR at the beach. He never apologized, and they never spoke again.

Paki Paki August 29, 2013, 3:53 pm

Wonderfully said. It makes me realize one of my friendships is one sided. I show up for important and daily thing. 4 AM ride in the snow to the aiport, I can do that I have 4WD! Births, Birthdays, Showers, moving, painting, etc, I can do that! But it is actually never returned. Kinda of eye opening and will let me reevaluate the importance I put on this friendship.

KKZ KKZ August 29, 2013, 3:55 pm

That reminds me, I need to arrange a ride home from the airport next week. Oh BFF…

I’m in an awkward situation now with a newer friend, someone I get along with pretty well but we’re not very close yet. She’s the girlfriend of one of my college friends. She just recently joined a burlesque troupe here in town and while I expressed congratulations and support and enthusiasm when she joined, and took her to help her find some costume stuff, I didn’t expect that she’d assume I’d be at her shows. Her first show is coming up soon and she basically thrust the tickets into my hands (which I’m expected to pay her back for) and a “see you there!” And I’m having a hell of a time finding someone to use the second ticket on, because Bear’s made it clear he’s not interested in going either. It’s not like I don’t like burlesque or don’t want to support her, but it’s in an area of town I’ve never been to and am not comfortable going alone. And I’ve been so busy lately, adding one more thing to my calendar is stressing me out.

I’ll go this time, but I’m thinking of a way to tell her that I don’t want to be expected to be an automatic ticket sale every time she has an event. I’m a little bothered that I wasn’t *asked* but rather *assumed.* If we were BFFs already that would be one thing, but … well, it is what it is.

Red_Lady Red_Lady August 29, 2013, 8:42 pm

That is kind of weird that she just assumed you’d go. Or rather, is almost forcing you to go. I think you’re right in going this time, though, especially if it’s a friendship you’d like to cultivate.
And, I know you’re having some sort of issue w/ Bear right now, though I haven’t read everything, but why can’t he “show up” for you and join you for the show? Especially if it’s in a sketchy part of town, you’d think he’d want to make sure you’re not going there alone? Again, I don’t know exactly what the issues are that you’re dealing with, so if this is completely out of line, I apologize.