Opinion | Most of your friends are just people you spend time with

Two+friends+embrace+outside+of+Bouquet+Gardens+in+2016.

TPN File Photo

Two friends embrace outside of Bouquet Gardens in 2016.

By Sarah Liez, Staff Columnist

In my senior year of high school, amid college admissions anxiety and clearly defined cliques, I learned a difficult lesson. Most of my friends were not actually my friends.

After social upheaval in my senior year, I decided to distance myself from my friend group. As I isolated myself and dealt with personal issues, I realized that these people were no longer interested in me or my friendship. They were my “best friends” throughout all of high school. Yet as soon as the relationships grew rocky and I withdrew into myself — fighting anxiety, depression and painful rumors — they were not willing to work to understand what I was going through, stand up for me in school or fight for the friendships we had maintained for so long.

Though this was a difficult, draining period in my life, I learned a valuable lesson — most of my friends were not actual friends, but instead just the people I chose to spend my time with. Most of the people we surround ourselves with do not genuinely care about us or our wellbeing, at least where it extends beyond their own. In actuality, they only care about having someone to spend time with or to relate to.

Being someone’s friend is taking the time to consider their wants and needs, and occasionally putting those needs before your own. It’s being there for them when it’s not fun anymore. It’s working to withstand the hardship because you care. It’s growing together, sharing together, maintaining the relationship together. This is an idea that we could all benefit from acknowledging, as we resume our old relationships, build new ones and evaluate which are worth our time and effort.

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Every person exists within their own individual universe of which they are at the center. We each see the world from a personalized point of view, watching society shift and people change around us, not around anyone else. Until we bring in the perspective of another, every choice we make is inherently selfish, as it is being made only with our limited vision.

When we form relationships with other people, this perspective changes and we adopt the perspective of others. Empathy, the capacity to understand another person’s emotions, builds connections. Empathetic bonds are the key to understanding what another person experiences, and these bonds are created when we engage in a true friendship.

Friendship means expanding your point of view to include that of another person. It widens your perspective, allowing you to see the world through a pair of eyes other than your own. Once you achieve this delicate connection, your actions are impacted by a perspective outside of your own, allowing you to make choices that reflect shared viewpoints, compassion and wisdom.

You can spend as much free time as you have with another person and call them your friend. You can attend parties together, go on walks together, eat lunch together and call them your friend. But until you build that line of empathy, the relationship is skin-deep. Knowing a lot about someone, having many shared memories in your mental catalogue or doing favors for each other means nothing unless you understand their emotions, their wants and needs, what makes them who they are and how you can help each other. Friendship is void without the capacity for empathy.

Moreover, you can tell an honest friendship from a false one by the decisions you make in relation to each other. If your choices reflect mutual understanding, compassion and even putting their needs before your own, you have forged an empathetic connection. You can trust, value and love each other because you know that when things are tough, you will be there for each other.

Thus, you can tell a false friendship from an honest one by similar decisions you make. If your choices reflect an isolated viewpoint, indifference and consistently ignoring the other person’s needs, you do not have an empathetic connection. You can have fun together, but you will never be true friends without that connection, because you will never take into account that person’s needs when the two of you are no longer having fun. You will never put their needs before your own when it matters most.

With that being said, friendship is a two-way street. Empathy must be built on both sides, or you will create an unhealthy relationship in which one individual takes into account the other’s perspective while the other individual only considers their own.

In thinking more about which friends of ours are real versus vapid, we need to learn not to settle. As young adults — who must balance work, education, family, social life and more — we don’t have time for shallow relationships. With so little free time and spare energy, neither should be wasted on people who we know are only in it for a good time, not a long time.

Since we are no longer limited to our high school or hometown, we have ample options to find the people we truly empathize with — who we want to be there for, and who will be there for us. There is no need to settle for vapid friendships that fill the void. Instead, we should prioritize meeting, and maintaining relationships with, the people we want to keep close.

False friends — like mine from high school — can bring us down. They can leave us in times of need, focus on themselves when it is easy to help others and leave you feeling empty and alone. We simply do not have the time in our busy lives to prioritize the wrong people. Instead, as we enter the spring semester and continue our college experience, we should spend our time and energy finding those who matter, and then exploring those relationships as best we can.

Sarah Liez writes primarily about gender issues and social phenomena. Write to her at [email protected].