St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message


Be a friend, but be mindful of your needs

Navigating between friendship and priorities.

By CAROLYN HAX, Washington Post
Published February 17, 2007


Q: One of my greatest gifts in this life is my ability to be a good friend. I've been in so many weddings, it's hard to count, and I rarely have just acquaintances. Being a good friend has become an integral part of my identity. However, lately, I'm feeling burned out. It's not that my friendships aren't reciprocal - my friends have certainly been there for me - it's just I'm tired of feeling like the moon around a planet, like my whole life is about everybody else. I'm not sure how to start easing away from this role without hurting my friends and friendships. But, more importantly, I don't even know what is required to make this transition.

A: Priorities. That's it, really. You need to set new ones that reflect what you want and need. It's what your planet-friends have done.

The difference for you, I'm guessing, is your consciousness of the process. Where others support their friends and buy them birthday dinners and go to their weddings, for example, without much thought as to what these gestures Really Mean, you do it with an acute awareness of your role - and image - as good friend who's there to please.

Likewise, the shift from being an omnipresent, ultra-sympathetic schoolyard-type friend to the more casual, job- and home-centric but still loving friend of later years, is gradual for some - a delayed callback here, a sorry-I-can't-make-it there, an interstate move in the meantime. But for you it will stem from a conscious decision to stop basing your choices on what will make everyone like you.

That may make it feel unnatural. But it doesn't make it wrong, and it doesn't spell an end to your friendships, at least not to the healthier, more reciprocal ones. All it means is that you start accepting invitations only when you genuinely want to go - and making calls only when you genuinely want to talk, and sending gifts only when you have something you genuinely want to give, and offering a shoulder only when you're ready to bear someone's burden - as opposed to saying yes to any and all.

It's taking your current, general ambivalence, and breaking it down, deliberately, to the decision level. It's learning to ask yourself, each time a friend comes knocking, whether it involves time you'd rather spend on something else. It's letting yourself say no when you want to say no.

And when you screw up and say a reflexive yes to something you don't want to do, it's figuring out why you said yes so you're less likely to make the same mistake next time.

All of this will take time. But if you let it, it will also take the shape, I hope, of someone who looks more like you - and who will make a much better friend.

Common denominators

Q: What does a woman want? I know this famous question has as many answers as there are women, but surely there are some qualities in a man that most woman find desirable. How about giving us a short list?

A: Good shoes.

Noncompetitive mother.

Enough self-confidence not to be what he thinks women want.

A woman is a person, not a representative of a category. You can do fine knowing nothing but that.

E-mail "Tell Me About It": fax: 202-334-5669; or write: "Tell Me About It," c/o the Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

Washington Post Writers Group

[Last modified February 16, 2007, 09:24:26]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters