How to be a good (?) friend

It’s been 50 days since I hugged a friend

It’s been nearly 50 days since I went into lockdown. Nearly 50 days since I hugged a friend. I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships and how they’ve evolved in the last few weeks. We’ve all started to explore our relationships and friendships more and figure out how we communicate through this because as humans we are so resistant to change: in a time where everything is changing, we want to know that nothing has changed.

As we all struggled with staying home and social distancing, some of my friends and I have somehow ended up spending more time talking to and supporting each other (probably because there are no pesky managers looking over our shoulder while we WhatsApp on our laptops…). I’ve supported my friends and they have supported me. We’ve cried over losses, celebrated accomplishments, and sure as hell held on to each other. We’ve experienced friends who’ve stepped up, and friends that suddenly weren’t there. We’ve been a lot more open and forgiving because guess what, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and now isn’t the time to centre yourself in your relationships.

We’ve been a lot more open and forgiving because – guess what – we’re in the middle of a pandemic and now isn’t the time to centre yourself in your relationships.

Regardless, I’m so grateful for all my friends – those I talk to every day, and those that I check in with once every few weeks, and those that I know even when I haven’t spoken to them since I went into lockdown we will still be as close when we come out.

After all, every friendship is different and they don’t all require the same amount of Houseparty interaction. But I’ve also had to go through a friendship breakup at the start of the lockdown and that really really hurt and I’ve started looking inward within my friendships.

What is a ‘good’ friend?

The question I’ve really grappled with is “How do I be a good friend?” But it took me bumping my head a few times to realise, guess what, that’s me putting myself at the centre of that friendship again. What I should really be asking is “Is my friend getting the support they needs from me?”

A “good friend” isn’t an award you can achieve by clearing level 29 of the Friendship Chain, then moving on to claim the “best friend” badge by keeping to a 542 day streak. Some friends almost immediately become a good friend, and others just stay as best friends, whereas others over years become a best friend. So why are we be so fixated on trying to be a “good friend”? Let’s focus on being a better friend.

Being a “good friend” isn’t something that you can achieve by clearing Level 29 of the Friendship Chain, then moving on to claim the “best friend” badge by keeping to a 542 day streak.

Friendship can’t be sustained at the same level all the time, it needs to ebb and flow. It’s not just about being there for your friends when they’re having a tough time – it matters when they’re in a good place too!

If you’re in a position to be able to support your friends in this time (because YOUR mental health come first), then there are a few things that you can do when your friend shares something with you:

  • Put down what you’re doing – don’t multitask: if your friend has come to you with something that they want to share with you, good or bad, they’ve taken the time out of their day to tell you something because you are special to them.
  • Listen but truly listen to hear – Stephen Covey said “The biggest problem in communication is that we don’t listen to hear – we listen to reply.” The first time I heard this, I wrote it down in my notes app. That was in 2015 and I haven’t deleted it since.
  • Take the moment to spend it with a friend – you don’t have to give advice right away nor should you feel like you have to. Only offer it if your friend needs you to do so. Otherwise, take the moment with them and be present for your friend.

Friendships require nourishment and care

A friendship is like a plant: you have to look after it, you have to nourish it, you have to make sure it stays hydrated (water is the source of life). And on that, here’s a #science fact: the first law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another. And on the planet of your friendship:

  • The energy needs to flow between you two, it doesn’t go anywhere else so when you receive some, give some back
  • If all one of you do is take without giving… that’s not a planet that’s a black hole and try not to get sucked in!!

Know that when you are friends with someone, friendship is a true gift. Cherish it, enjoy it, and remember to get that energy flowing! A bit of a rambly one but felt I had to put it on a page.

If you want to chat, my inbox is always open, or you can ask me on @whatwouldqueeniedo Wednesday. Sending love out to you, through the screens and I hope it brings a little bit of light to you. If you’re reading this and you’re one of my friends, know that I love you and even if we haven’t spoken, I’m thinking of you. One day we will meet again and you will get the squishiest hug.

– Q 💌

Personal growth Relationships

Don’t ask women when they’re having kids

As a woman in your twenties, it’s likely you’ve been asked when you want to have kids. It might be something you’re thinking about, exploring or even trying to do. It might also be something you really don’t want to do. 

When I got married, I noticed people asked me one thing a little too often: “So, when are you having kids?” I’d been asked this before, but never so persistently. As it turns out, there’s a whole lot of reasons this question is at best: stupid, and at worst: really damaging to ask. 

It’s asking when, never if

In my experience, the question is always “When are you having kids?”. Not ‘if’. When.

This assumes the person you’re asking wants kids. Bit presumptuous. In the year of our lord 2020, motherhood is still seen as aspirational and expected for most women. This loaded question makes it harder for me to go “Actually – I don’t want kids”. 

While we should’ve moved past an institutionalized desire to reduce women to walking wombs, this hasn’t happened yet, so it’s still unsettling to society when women simply don’t want children. Our reasons don’t matter because they’re not really listened to. 

9/10 times I’ve told people I don’t want kids, it’s a dice roll between the following responses. Seriously.

  1. Is it because you’re overweight / have PCOS / have endometriosis / your husband’s infertile?
  2. Is it because your husband doesn’t want kids?
  3. You’ll change your mind. It’s different when its yours! Just wait and see
  4. Don’t you feel bad for your husband / parents / next door neighbor / Mark Zuckerberg who’s entire social network is now based on moms posting photos of their kids, and mom memes?

While I would love to talk about this with a trusted friend, or even a respectful stranger – the overly casual “When you make babies?” doesn’t lend itself to warm, friendly discourse on such a personal topic.

So: you shouldn’t ask when, because you’re throwing a bunch of societal expectations at someone who may well not want to stick to them.

What I always want to see on one of these pee sticks

It’s personal and invasive

Picture this. You’re at a family barbecue. You just grabbed some juicy wings fresh off the grill. There’s sunshine and good music. And then, your great aunt walks over with “Hey so, when are you getting your front butt waxed?” 

Hopefully, you’re thinking “Woah, that’s really personal and invasive, Auntie! My butt waxing routine is totally not your business! Let me eat these wings in peace, damn!

While butt waxing stands out as an invasive, rude and downright inappropriate topic for family conversation, the same scenario with the question “So, when are you having kids” really doesn’t. I’ve been in that scenario at least fifteen times. I’ve always had to justify a really personal decision that ultimately is for my partner and I to make. And really, it’s mostly mine. How. Uncomfortable!

While the butt waxing stands out as an invasive, rude and downright inappropriate topic for family conversation, the question “So, when are you having kids” really doesn’t.

It doesn’t affect anyone whether you decide to reproduce or not (barring your partner and other children, if they exist). The ferocious determination aunties pour into this question might make you feel like their entire happiness depends on your vagina – but it really, truly doesn’t.

The extent to which this question is so normalised (and usually well-intentioned) really belies how much of a personal decision it is to have children. I feel as uncomfortable discussing my reasons for not having children with my extended family, as I would discussing a butt-waxing routine. 

It’s insensitive, and potentially triggering

I have PCOS and endometriosis. With 1 in 5 women diagnosed with PCOS in the UK, it’s really not so uncommon. Both conditions affect your fertility. Here’s the thing: I’m grateful for this because its nice to know I’m less likely to fall pregnant accidentally. 

But if you’re someone in your twenties struggling to conceive – this question really rubs it in. While working in fertility telemedicine, I was lucky to speak to women from all walks of life, struggling to conceive. A huge trigger for lots of them: being asked when they’re having kids, or whether the “plumbing is faulty”.

Especially around Christmas, I’d see a spike in demand for mental health services, as women were asked invasive questions at the dinner table about why their bodies were failing them. Our service received several questions on how to cope with this triggering time, where it seemed like everyone and their mother was quite literally asking women when they’d produce children. 

So. Imagine experiencing the grief of miscarriage, or sinking thousands of pounds into IVF while trying to conceive. Dealing with this incredibly, lonely and private issue. And while trying to eat your sprouts in peace, being asked why you haven’t yet accomplished what you’re so desperately trying to. 

Don’t be insensitive. As with all things, you don’t know what someone is experiencing. So, don’t ask when they’re having kids because for all you know – they’re trying really hard to. With 1 in 7 couples struggling to conceive in the UK, you’re likely to really hurt someone’s feelings when they’re already low.

It’s not just infertility that could make this triggering. Reasons like being a trans woman, being gay and struggling to adopt, having too low an income, having a disability…there’s a laundry list of why this question can be so hurtful.

Normalise our power to choose what we do with our bodies

If you’re feeling bad because you’ve asked your friends when they’re having kids – don’t. Feeling bad is besides the point, just don’t do it again. 

However, knowing my own group of loving friends where nothing is off limits – TALK ABOUT IT. Really, ask your friends if they’re okay to talk about wanting children. Accept it (really, accept it) when people don’t want kids, but let them talk openly about their reasons if they want to. Talk to other women about the expectation that if women want children and a career, they’d better grow 8 extra limbs and train themselves to sleep an hour a night because “men simply aren’t the primary carer”. When we talk respectfully, and really listen, good things happen.

And that’s a wrap. I hope you can kindly call out great aunt Beverly next Thanksgiving when she whips out the ol’ “When are you spawning?” over the turkey.

xoxo, butter girl 🥞