Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: Cracking the Friend Code

Reading Time: 6 minutes

By Faith Wan (23S02B) and Aaron Goh Wei Ming (23S06H, Peer Helper)

Cover image by Johnathan Lim (23S03M)

Your resident Aunties and Uncles are back with our Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset column, this time as a collaboration between Raffles Press and Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP)! Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Submit your confessions to https://tinyurl.com/riadvice and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month.

How do you tell if a friend is trustworthy/suitable to be counted upon as part of your support system? 

Doubtful Douglas

Dear Doubtful Douglas,

Navigating friendships can be quite a tricky affair, especially in JC, where you may have been thrown into situations with unfamiliar faces. 

You may feel dejected or anxious over not having a tight clique, especially if those around you seem to be able to do so easily. The fear or missing out (rather well known as FOMO) may compound the negative feelings and leave you feeling even more alienated.

Even those with many friends may feel that their emotional needs are not being taken care of. Perhaps they have difficulties due to toxic friendship dynamics, or have friends who don’t strive to understand their problems.

In times like these, we all wish for friends who can lend us their shoulders to lean on. These are the people you would seek out in a crowded room, and smile at in relief; the people you text at the end of a tiring day.

Naturally, that begs the question: How then do we find (or choose) these elusive ‘true’ friends? While there is no hard and fast rule for building strong friendships, we have compiled a list of pointers that will hopefully be of use. 

Testing the Waters

The first step to finding that special circle of friends is to put yourself out there and really invest effort into getting to know others on a more personal level. As daunting as this may sound, allowing yourself to be vulnerable (within your own boundaries!) allows you to better connect with others emotionally. Shared hobbies and interests are always a reliable common ground for you to bond with your newfound friends.

Forging long-lasting friendships is not always an easy process. While we may instantly click and get off to a good start with some, it may take weeks or months for us to finally walk out of the awkward zone with others. 

It may be tempting to drop these friendships and pursue other more outgoing or ‘fun’ characters, but such behaviour may come off as ingenuine. Some friendships may be more of a ‘slow burn’ and need more nurturing for them to blossom, and it would be a huge pity to miss out on what could have been an enduring friendship. 

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Passing the Vibe Check

The next step to finding your ride-or-dies, is to see if your personalities gel. As a general rule of thumb, your support system should add joy to your life, instead of causing you worry and anxiety. As much as there is a thrill in opposites attracting, it might be best to have a group of friends with similar value systems to minimise fiery conflicts.

A tried and proven method to take stock of someone’s personality is to see how they act in times of anger or hurt. Here are a few warning signs you might notice when meeting ‘toxic’ individuals, who may not currently be the best people to form relationships with: 

  • Emotionally unpredictable –
    • They might fly into a rage at what seems like the smallest thing; one moment they may be laughing with you, the next moment they may be flaring up at you for a perceived slight. Ask yourself if they often leave you walking on eggshells. Do you spend time deliberating over the best choice of words in order not to offend them? If their volatile moods leave you feeling unsettled and frequently anxious, perhaps this friendship might be too emotionally taxing for you.  
  • Too much drama/gossip – 
    • If your friends enjoy gossip-mongering (more commonly known as ‘spilling tea’) and airing others’ dirty laundry, it may be prudent to reconsider the course of this friendship. As riveting as it may be, the shallow drama and gossip detract from true emotional connection. Once the stream of gossip runs out (usually not the case in RI), how can you prevent this relationship from stagnating? Furthermore, it is difficult to feel secure confiding in your friends if they have displayed past behaviour of spreading what you have said to others.
  • Overly self-centred – 
    • While there is definitely nothing wrong in celebrating one’s successes and goals, there comes a point with some people beyond which it feels they simply have to make conversations all about them. For example, when you vent about feeling disappointed over your grades, they interject to talk about their own scores, or even worse, they use this opportunity to compare their grades with yours. They may also belittle or trivialise your own struggles by convincing you that you don’t have it as tough as they do—perhaps better known as ‘gaslighting’.

If your current group of friends display such tendencies, do not let yourself fall victim to the sunk-cost fallacy; the time and effort you have invested into this friendship should not unduly influence you to hold on to a toxic relationship. It is time to find someone new.

Encouraging and Empathising

Of course, friends don’t only stick by you during the good times — they remain steadfast even through the roughest times. Supporting, and in turn, being supported by your friends can help relieve some of the pressures from the academic rigour of JC life, which can be detrimental to your self-esteem and mental well-being.

One particular characteristic of great friends is their acute awareness of your emotional state. If they notice you struggling without you even mentioning it, they are more than qualified to be part of your support system. 

Sometimes, their care may come in understated ways: offering to buy lunch for you so you can catch a quick nap, sharing their notes with you, or even a simple text checking in with you. If you, upon reading this, realise that you have shown this level of care for your friends, give yourself a pat on the back.

An effective support system would comprise people that encourage you to go further, that push you to strive to be a better person. Think about whether they motivate you to work towards your goals, or inspire you to pursue areas you are passionate in. 

If you find their presence uplifting and motivating (a particularly relevant example would be joining you in late-night study calls) then you can definitely count on them during periods of stress. 

Receiving and Reciprocating

However, we also should not hold our support systems to an unreasonable standard. If your friends accidentally cross your boundaries without meaning to do so, it may be too hasty a decision to immediately cut them off. For a support system to be truly effective, you must verbalise your feelings and make it clear how your friends can support you.

Friendship resembles a handshake—it takes two for it to work. If you have few issues making friendships but struggle in deepening them, you may wish to look back on how you have treated your friends. Once you consider a friend a part of your support system, it is only right that you show the same level of care and concern towards them. 

Ultimately, we would like to reassure you that the process of developing friendships differs for everyone, and that not having a tight-knit circle of friends does not mean you are unworthy or undeserving of support. Friends express their familiarity through various means, so don’t discount those who are not as energetic or flamboyant. 

We wish you all the best in finding that special support system of yours.

Sincerely,
Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you need anyone to talk to about any issues you might be facing, do drop by My Rest Space near Marymount gate and talk to one of our peer helpers! We’re open on Tuesday from 2.30 – 4.30 p.m, Wednesday 11.00 a.m. – 3.00 p.m., Thursday 2.30 – 4.30 p.m. and Friday 1.30 – 4.30 p.m. If you would like to meet a peer helper on a regular basis, do email us a request at rafflesinstitutionphp@gmail.com or fill in our request form at our website https://rafflespeerhelpers.wordpress.com!

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