Midlife Friendship, Midlife Boundaries. By Mila Duffy

Midlife Friendship, Midlife Boundaries. By Mila Duffy

. 4 min read

For one PrimeCrush writer, making new friends provides insight into how far she’s come.

"That’s when, and I feel bad saying this, I did my best to wean her out of my life."

Like it or not, within every friend group, we all play our roles. We all fit together like familial puzzle pieces, functional and (hopefully!) fun. There’s the one who’s always late because her day was “so crazy”. And the one whose life seems always in peril and needs advice. And the other who needs a little more attention than everyone else. I’ve always fallen into the role of “helper”. This makes me the one you’ll call—out of all of the friends—because you know I’ll show up in a crisis. I’m the listener when someone desperately needs a sympathetic or non-judgmental ear. I’m a great secret-keeper, so I’m the one you can cry to when things get tough.

I know this role, I’ve lived there all of my life, and though I can’t recall a specific memory, I’m pretty sure it started on the playground in the early days of grad school. I simply love and thrive in a group. I’ve moved quite a bit throughout my life, but always reveled in a gang of friends to have fun with, even if I had to assemble this so-called gang on my own, which happened quite often.

A few years ago, a woman from my current friend group was going through a rough time and I reached out to her to offer some words of support. I didn’t know her very well—really not at all—but I knew she was a kind, interesting, and smart person. I called her up and we chatted for a bit, I asked her how she was doing, wanted her to know she had a friend should she need one.

She did need one, and I was happy to chat whenever I could, be there for her. She seemed to really need it. When you’re someone like me, someone who’s honed her skills at helping, it feels good to…well…help.

But pretty quickly she was calling often, usually during my workday, which I explained over and over was incredibly full and stressful. If I wasn’t available—or available enough for her—she’d want to “reschedule” during the weekend. As things in her life became more stressful, the phone calls escalated, with her calling in peril, leaving desperate voicemails to call her back.

If this all makes her sound pathetic or crazy, I don’t mean for it to. She’s neither of those. She’s a good person who really needed a lot at that time. I like to believe she wasn’t thinking straight, which is why she allowed herself to ignore ever boundary I offered. I did tell her how crazy my workdays were. I told her I had major troubles of my own. I let her know this wasn’t a good time. I even asked her if her old friends—some of whom I knew—were available instead of me, because the details of the topics she was discussing were pretty intimate for two people who didn’t know each other very well at all. But none of it really had any bearing. She kept calling. And calling. And calling.

That’s when, and I feel bad saying this, I did my best to wean her out of my life. She simply needed help I couldn’t give her. We did not know each other. It was a new friendship that deserved the time and reciprocity to grow. Crisis, especially one-sided, doesn’t bond people. In this case, it felt very toxic very early on.

What little time I had I needed to devote to decompressing from a stressful work schedule, and dealing with some personal troubles of my own. Looking back, it’s possible she saw my boundaries as bonding, as some people bond through the bad times. I have never been that way. I have some treasured old friends I’ll be there for no matter what. This has been proven through the decades. No matter how far away we are in miles, we’re always right there in a crisis, big or small. But we’re there in good times, too.

If you’re a fellow “helper” like me, you already know that in good times, a lot of people desert you. You’re there for all the aforementioned awful reasons, but you’re not the first phone call when there’s things to celebrate. I’d started taking serious notice of this over the last many years, how much I ran towards friends in need, and then, feeling terribly alone the rest of the time. I knew something had to change.

For anyone learning how to enforce their boundaries, it feels incredibly uncomfortable at first. In this case, there was simply no going back. I’m happy not to be the “helper” who proved endlessly at her own cost. I’ve clearly turned a page on what I need in a friendship. It feels good.

If you love me as much as I love you (and I really do love you!), then please help me grow by forwarding this {love} Letter to a friend!  And I'd love to have you join us on instagram, facebook & twitter.

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter from Dish Stanley curating articles & intelligence on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?


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