If you’re on the hunt for a long-term, committed, romantic relationship, I—admittedly—am not the one to ask. Candidly, I struggle to maintain a romantic relationship—not because I’m incapable of passionate, intimate love, but instead because I struggle to allow other’s needs and desires to outweigh my own. I have goals and dreams that often don't allow a lot of free time to dedicate toward building a relationship. I am not incapable, but instead am not in a place—emotionally, professionally, or personally—to make major life sacrifices for another person.
That being said, when Valentine’s Day arrived, I had no valentine. However, instead of being salty about all the mushy social media posts about love, I felt content (it helped that I stayed at work until 9 pm). But, I can feel content because despite my absence of a romantic partner, I have a network of family and friends that never allow me to feel an absence of love. But more importantly, my true family and friends don’t make unrealistic assumptions about what I should be doing for or with them on any given day. While romantic relationships are often accompanied by a list of expectations—buying flowers, texting all day, talking on the phone for hours, engaging in regular physical contact, etc.—healthy friendships don’t have to be.
However, we have all been made to feel friendship guilt. Friendship guilt comes from that friend who makes you feel bad for having to cancel dinner plans because you were called in for a work emergency; friendship guilt comes from that friend who gives you a gift for an insignificant holiday (i.e. Valentine’s Day), then turns to you looking for a gift in return; friendship guilt comes from the friend who complains about you calling only once every few months; and, friendship guilt comes from that friend who views your success as her personal loss. If you have a friend causing you this much anxiety or guilt, this may be the time to get rid of them. A true friends understand your commitment to your career; quality friends give gifts without expectations; a healthy friend is excited to catch up with her friends—regardless of the time that’s passed since their last interaction; and, a valuable friend celebrates all the success of all her friends.
So, I've put together a short list of my personal beliefs that allow me to feel fulfilled in my (non-romantic) relationships:
Be upfront and honestWhile it should be completely acceptable to cancel plans for a last-minute professional or personal obligation (kids, family emergency, car troubles), canceling for anything less is annoying and/or offensive. I've had a (former) friend cancel (at the last minute) for a previously planned date, and that cancellation did not go over well. She had a date planned for days and prioritized her budding romance over our friendship. While I would have been happy to celebrate her romantic success, the fact that she waited within hours of our plans to cancel proved to me that she did not value our relationship as significantly as I had thought. If you have a schedule conflict, COMMUNICATE NOW, and don't wait--it makes a world of difference in both personal and professional interactions.
Don't make assumptionsYou know what they say about assumptions....
If you're familiar with the idea of different love languages, you should also understand that not all people demonstrate and perceive love equally. That being said, one of the most dangerous assumptions you can make in any relationship is assuming that those you love will demonstrate their affection for you in the same way you give or anticipate receiving it. While some perceive love through receiving words of affirmation, others feel loved when they receive gifts. While some friends feel that the amount of time you spend together indicates your fondness for them, others yearn for physical touch or the receipt of gifts. While we could all benefit from taking the time to assess our love language as well as the love languages for those we value most, that's exhausting. So instead, it's important for each person in a relationship to appreciate any and all love we receive--whether it's communicated in our preferred love language or not.
Value interactions (time spent together and over the phone)I am constantly reinforcing the power of nonverbal communication to my students, and non-verbal communication can be perceived both in person and over the phone. In person, nonverbal communication is a combination of body language, eye contact and facial expressions. According to a fact quoted in The Charisma Myth, the mind can detect changes in facial expressions in as little as 17 milliseconds; therefore, it's also obvious when the person with whom you're communicating does not quickly demonstrate an appropriate reaction.
Over the phone, your nonverbal communication is demonstrated through the delays in an appropriate giggle, your request for information to be repeated when your friend says a key word that captures your attention, or the background noise heard as a result of your feverish multi-tasking.Talking to a distracted friend once every three months is offensive, but it becomes much more palatable--and even endearing--when you can perceive that your friend is dedicating his or her complete attention to your conversation.
Give selflesslyThis point is simple. Don't give--time, gifts, a hug, or a kind deed--expecting something in return. Just because you value these behaviors, that doesn't mean your friends do, as well. So give your friends a break; don't make them feel guilty.
Identify each friend's unique strengths and assetsNot all friends are of value in the same areas of our lives. I have reliable friends who I call in my time of need (or list as my emergency contact at the doctor); I have friends I call to accompany me to a party; I have friends I call when I need personal advice; and, I have friends I call when I need professional advice. While some of these friends overlap, there are also friends who I know will pick me up from the hospital, but may not give me sound professional advice, and vice versa. Identifying your friends' strengths early on and deciding on the ways in which they are an asset to your overall well-being is a great way to avoid expecting more out of a friendship than you should.
While this list is certainly not comprehensive, following these guidelines have allowed me to be fulfilled in my relationships. Hopefully, next time Valentine's Day rolls around you will feel enough love from your healthy relationships to avoid sulking in chocolate and ice cream all day. Here's to wishing you a lifetime (and not just a day) full of love!