You’ve Got a Friend?

By Anna Goldfarb ’00

I recently had a crummy day. Work was overwhelming, another lockdown was looming, and I was in a funk. Looking for some support, I texted a friend: “This week has been brutal. Are you around to chat?” 

She took five days to write me back. In those five days, I panicked. Was she blowing me off? Our friendship, which I thought was solid, felt flimsier than the trendy underwear I impulsively ordered off Instagram.

Her silence wounded me. But to be honest, I haven’t been the most responsive friend to others lately either. Sure, I aspire to be the kind of friend who sends thoughtful text messages followed by a trio of heart emojis but, well, I’m just not. If I had to grade my friendship skills as a woman in my 40s, I’d give myself a C+. In coffee creamer terms, I’m soy milk: not as fulfilling as other options available but better than nothing. 

One reason I haven’t been up to snuff in the friend department is that the older I get, the more things I’ve become to more people. I’m a wife, sister, daughter, aunt, and cat mom. “Friend” doesn’t even crack the top 5 of words I’d use to describe myself. 

I’m also prioritizing myself more. That means I have to tell people no. It can be scary to say no at first, but like skydiving or cutting your own bangs, it gets less nerve-wracking the more you do it. (Unless you’re doing them simultaneously.)

When I attended Barnard, being a loyal friend was a top priority for me. I would’ve done anything for my friends in my 20s. Anything. Provide a ride to the airport, help a friend move to another state, show up at a heartbroken pal’s apartment at 2 a.m. with a voodoo doll of her ex I made using my own hair. These days, of course, I’m still happy to listen to a heartbroken friend, but hopefully there’s wine or at least brownies involved. 

I used to think the mark of a good friend was someone who’d tell you the unvarnished truth. Someone who’d give it to you straight.  

Yes, the dress you’re wearing is unflattering. 

No, I don’t think your boyfriend truly loves you. 

Yes, you’re too old to pull off pigtails. 

However, I’ve learned that most friends don’t want to be confronted with the blunt truth; they just want to feel heard and understood. They want to feel like you have their back.

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Cartoon of woman reacting to text with "what kind of monster answers a 'how are you' text honestly?"

And what I’ve come to realize is that friendships don’t magically maintain themselves. Whether you live across the city or across the country, keeping in touch takes effort. Even if it’s just a silly text or a wacky GIF, you’ve got to put yourself out there to let the other person know you’re thinking about them.

Friendships are 100% voluntary. You can’t force a friendship to stick any more than you can force a fish to breakdance. Both people have to be invested in the relationship. And that is what makes friendships precious — they can be so fleeting. 

So the next time I jump to a conclusion and assume the worst from a friend’s delayed response, I’ll remember to cut my friend some slack. And I need to extend the same grace to myself. Even though I’m a C+ friend today, I’m hoping to be at least a B in the future — a splash of half-and-half for the right cup of coffee.  

Anna Goldfarb is author of the humor memoir Clearly, I Didn’t Think This Through. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, The Cut, and more. She lives in Philadelphia.

Latest IssueWinter 2021

In this issue, learn about three alums who have devoted their careers to racial justice.