One usually experiences feelings of guilt after failing to accomplish a task or foiling future plans, ideas such as not going to the gym or not sticking to a healthy eating plan. Looking back on this past year, however, I noticed that shame taints my conscience the most when I was with my closest friends.
It wasn’t that I was keeping deep, dark secrets or that I was attempting to sabotage them behind their backs. It was that, though I always did my best to be a reliable and supportive friend, I felt like I was lacking and, in consequence, I felt guilty.
As an introvert who often needs alone time, I’ve not always been down for hanging out after school or over the weekend, and that could be misinterpreted as my not wanting to put in extra effort to see my friends. School also easily overwhelmed me, which caused my patience to diminish and kept me from being able to fully support my friends when they were feeling the same way. I truly appreciated my friends, but I also felt like I was letting them down and not spending enough time with them.
As the year went on, the lingering feeling of guilt developed into an itching paranoia that I was invariably disappointing my friends. I was terrible at opening Snapchats and lost a lot of streaks; I forgot to reply to texts; I didn’t want to talk during class in fear of missing information; I couldn’t make it to every club meeting we’d plan on doing together or to all of their play performances, and I wasn’t comfortable enough with driving to go to their houses whenever they invited me. Though there were valid reasons for why these things didn’t or couldn’t happen, I was worried I wasn’t giving as much attention and love to my friends as they were giving me.
This perception that I was a culpable disappointment influenced how I acted around everyone else in my life, too, the most significant instance being Christmas. Since late July, the only thing I wanted for Christmas was a pair of the most aesthetically pleasing shoes I had ever seen in my life. They are white with black stripes along the sides, similar to the popular Adidas Advantage kicks. I wanted nothing more in the entire world than those shoes, yet I never asked my parents for them.
They were $80 plus $40 in shipping, and I could not get myself to ask my hardworking parents to buy such expensive shoes for me. What had I done to deserve those? Was I a good enough daughter to spend that much money on? Still haunted by a cloud of guilt, I could not request such costly present because surely if I was a disappointment to my friends, my parents felt the same way. I only fantasized about the shoes with my friends whenever we talked about things we dreamed of getting that holiday.
So when Christmas rolled around, I wasn’t surprised or upset when the shoes weren’t under the tree, but I was completely satisfied with the things I did end up receiving.
Yet, the holiday season did not end there.
Since freshman year, my friend group has come together for a Secret Santa exchange. Normally, in a Secret Santa swap, everyone brings presents for only the person they were assigned to. But my friends are notorious for being extra and bringing everybody a personalized gift bag.
Because I was trying not to be an inadequate friend, I made everyone gift bags with handwritten notes telling each person how much they meant to me and why they’re important people in my life. I also bought a surprise present for one of them because she really wanted something that I knew her Secret Santa was unable to get.
But that wasn’t the only surprise of the night.
After we opened our presents, I was preparing to give out my gift bags and the extra present when one of my friends called for everyone’s attention. From there, my memory is foggy because I had begun crying as she spoke. She said, in summary, “Katie, because you mean so much to all of us and because you could not stop talking about them, we pitched in together and bought you the shoes.” And sure enough, she revealed a black and white box, and there they were, neatly packed in there.
I was at a loss for words. They had gone out of their way to buy me an expensive pair of shoes, something I could live without, just because I was a meaningful person to them because I was a good friend.
Trying to accept that reality, that they appreciated me as much as I appreciated them, was really hard. For months, I had been beating myself up about being a bad friend and not giving enough to those I cared about. I was astonished and hugged the life out of all of them.
When I could finally wipe the tears away, I handed out my gift bags and the special present, which, consequently, made my friend cry because of the surprise of the gesture. After the party when my friends read their notes, they texted me how they teared up or full-on cried and how much the notes meant to them. The friend who I gave the extra present to wrote back to me, describing why our friendship was so special. She included a personal narrative woven with similar feelings of the self-doubt I had been experiencing. (That, of course, also made me cry.)
Pushing past all the tears and gifts, the most valuable thing I received from this experience was not the shoes but the assurance that my friends aren’t disappointed in me and that I give them as much love as they deserve. I didn’t have to feel guilty anymore about ruining my friendships; I was doing just fine.
Plus, genuinely opening up to my friends in the letters and getting responses back from them, verbal, text and written letter alike, brought us closer; being conscious of how important a relationship is to both sides emphasizes the importance of that bond.
All friends should try to emulate this experience. This does not mean they should buy each other expensive gifts, but they should, in their own ways, express their appreciation for each other. Even if people look confident and act sure of themselves, they still probably have worries and internal conflicts about their worth as a friend. I suggest writing little, informal letters like I did. Writing those notes helped me express my gratitude for my friends and allowed us to share how much we care about each other.
In that respect, showing appreciation toward friends brings so much happiness and allows for more room for growth. I think it’s easy for people to disregard or forget about how meaningful and imperative a friendship is when society only emphasizes strong relationships for couples or families. Doing or showing a small act of thankfulness toward friends can enhance that friendship, limit fears of disappointment and give both people worth and value.
Friendships are important relationships, and people should acknowledge them more. Though I really love the shoes my friends gave me, nothing means more to me than their love and support.