In praise of low-maintenance friendships

Photo by Helena Lopes on

Do you, like me, have a tendency to attract weirdos? Well, that’s what a particular friend told me as we tried to shake off an acquaintance who insisted on crashing our private chat and inserting herself into our conversation. This particular acquaintance knew me through a campaign group I’d been involved with. I’d made an effort to talk to her as I could tell there was something a bit off about her and she was somewhat lacking in social skills. I felt a bit sorry for her as I’ve often felt like an outsider myself and could empathise so I tried to be kind. It turned out that she was on the autism spectrum which explained the lack of eye contact and the odd behaviour. However, in this instance my kindness backfired as this particular person literally sat down, uninvited, with myself and my friend and proceeded to chat to me and (only me) as if my friend wasn’t there! It was pretty awkward and uncomfortable and eventually I had to say, as kindly as I could, “Sorry, do you mind? We’re having a private conversation and we haven’t seen each other in a long time” before she got the hint that she wasn’t welcome and left.

It was after that that my friend joked about me “attracting weirdos”. However, it’s true that often throughout my life, I’ve tended to attract some interesting and odd characters, including several people with severe mental illnesses. I once had a bipolar boyfriend and going out with him was absolutely exhausting as he talked at a rate of knots without ever letting up. There was no such as a comfortable silence with him. In college, I also had a friend who was bipolar (though I didn’t know much about it at the time) who was equally exhausting and prone to making up extreme scenarios which she seemed to believe in herself. Eventually, I cut contact because the friendship was taking too much of a toll on my own mental health. I do still have a friend who has recently been diagnosed as being bipolar after experiencing a severe breakdown but she lives abroad so we don’t see each other often and only communicate occasionally. In any case, she seems to have a good handle on her illness and is taking her medication and getting support from a therapist and psychiatrist. When I reflect on my current group of friends, I’m struck by the fact that out of maybe 8 or 9, only 2 could really be considered ‘low maintenance’ friends. What do I mean by that? I mean the type of friends that you don’t have to check in with constantly, that you can go weeks or months or even a year or more without seeing each other and when you eventually do see or talk to each other again, you pick up from where you left off before. They’re the type of friendships that are easy and require little emotional investment and/or time. They’re also the type of friends who don’t take things personally and who have a fairly positive, relaxed and easy- going approach to life. They also make me laugh a lot and their presence in my life is almost entirely a source of joy and fun. They’re people I genuinely look forward to spending time with and often wish I could see more often. Surely, that’s what most friendships should be like you would think?! What does that say about the state of my other friendships? When I think of my other friends, I feel a bit more conflicted…there’s two friends who could perhaps be placed somewhere in the middle of low and high maintenance friends as while they don’t require as much as investment, there’s still a certain level of investment needed to maintain the friendship and keep it going. Then there’s 4 friends I have and I would definitely categorise them as ‘high maintenance friends’ as while I often look forward to spending time with these people, I don’t always…. There have been times these friendships feel more like an obligation than a pleasure and they have required a huge amount of time, maintenance and investment. For instance, two of my closest friends (one here in Ireland and one abroad)drive me mad and drain me in equal measure but I stay friends with these people for a couple of reasons:

  1. We’ve been friends for 15 years or more and have a lot of friendship history which includes some fun times
  2. They’re extremely good people
  3. They don’t have a huge network of friends themselves
  4. They know me really well, too well you might say at times!
  5. They’ve been there for me when others haven’t
  6. They’ve some excellent traits- loyalty, generosity and supportiveness which I try to remind myself of when things get tough in the friendship

However, quite often with both of these particular friendships, I find I end up in the role of a counsellor, providing a listening ear to their respective complaints and worries. And yes, that is of course what friends do but it does get wearing and exhausting at times when you’ve been listening and advising these same friends on these same issues for years and nothing has changed and they haven’t done anything to improve their situations, at least as far as I can see. I worry that I’m not putting firm enough boundaries in place or that their negativity will drag me down and then I feel guilty because they’ve listened to my worries and complaints at times too! However, now that I’m in a much better place mentally, am I wrong to want to distance myself from these particular friends and surround myself with more positive influences? Is there a point where spending time with old friends, who you might have a lot of history with but now find you have less and less in common with, stops being simply hard work and starts being actively detrimental to your own health and wellbeing? These are the questions I find myself asking lately…

This is where I feel I am learning to value my low maintenance friends so much more. It’s nice to know that if you go away for a mini-break or trip with your low-maintenance friend, there won’t be any arguments/misunderstandings or tears or intense conversations but you’ll simply have a good time and come back re-energised. Similarly, it’s also nice to know that if you forget to ring them for their birthday or send them a Christmas card, there won’t be any hard feelings and they won’t resent you or hold a grudge over it. Spending time in their company is easy and you’ll feel like you’ve been boosted with vitamin D or sunshine after it. Life will seem better, problems lighter and you’ll feel good about yourself too. My only wish is that I had more of these kinds of friends and could spend more time in their company. If you could be a new, fun, positive addition to my life and a genuinely low maintenance friend, then by all means, please get in touch and let me know and we’ll arrange a friend date!

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