By Johnathan Lim (23S03M) and Zhang Shuhan (23S03M, 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/RIAAUU and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month.
“What’s the key to sustaining long-term friendships & being authentic around friends?”Real Riley
Dear Real Riley,
You come to school. You see your classmates in the corridors so you wave enthusiastically, like you are excited to meet them. Well, you’re not that excited, but it doesn’t really matter right?
You sat through class and now it’s lunchtime. You head down to lunch with your clique. While walking down, one of your classmates made a sneering remark about how your teacher messed up in class. You laugh, though it wasn’t really funny. But it’s basic courtesy to laugh at people’s jokes right?
During lunchtime, you make extra sure you are listening to all of your “friends” when they are talking. You maintain eye contact, nod and even occasionally raise your eyebrows in “amusement”. They weren’t really that interesting but you should listen to your “friends” right?
Walking to the MRT station on your way home, you message your overworked cheek muscles as you finally get to unwind. You sit in the train cabin, thinking: am I just a figment of what I think my friends want?
What are friends?
Unsure, you look around and observe the people around you who are supposedly friends.
You aren’t born with an innate understanding of what friendship looks like. You see friends who do a secret handshake, which you thought was cool so you decide to do that as well. You hear that it is a “green flag” to compliment your friends, so you shower your friends with compliments about their outfits, their phone case and their hair, even though you don’t really think it’s “the most perfect <insert>” you’ve ever seen.
Eventually, the concept of friendship becomes tethered to your environment’s idea of it. And the success of your friendship becomes measured by how much you tick off the checklist of things “friends should do”.
The point is this: friendship should be something intimate and personal. We need to paint our own abstract idea of what friendships are. And who knows, maybe you will be the next friendship with a secret handshake that people envy.
You answered your own question…?
Honestly Riley, we feel as though you already have most of the answers to your question. Being authentic is the key to sustaining a long-term friendship, relationship… anything.
That said, sometimes, the age-old advice of “just be yourself” seems to be the synonym for “social suicide”. Think children: they barely have any social awareness, and they roam around with their “authentic selves” on full display. But imitate them and… let’s just say that people wouldn’t afford you the tolerance they would afford a child.
Authenticity, while important, should be packaged tastefully for it to be sustainable in the social scene. Now, how do we go about “being authentic” then?
Turtles don’t choose to eat Plastic
Unlike turtles, who have considerably less sentience than humans, your friends will likely not choose to entertain your “plastic” behaviour.
While “be authentic” is an obvious and intuitive piece of advice in theory, it often crumbles when your wants are in direct opposition to others’ wants. Many people don’t take their “wants” as seriously because they feel it is purely internal and malleable.
Imagine that your friends are discussing where to eat after school. They decided on spot A, because it has great food, which you agree with. But really, you wanted spot B, because it is closer to your house. But they already made a decision, and there’s no point suggesting spot B because then you will have to explain that you have to reach home early to rush your overdue tutorials, and spot A will satisfy more people anyway…
So you eat at spot A, and slowly, eat away your autonomy in the friendship.
What we mean is that you should take your wants and your needs seriously, because it’s part of being authentic. You should try seeing yourself as a distinct entity within your friendships, and that your opinion holds weight (because it does). Look at it this way: a “group consensus” is not a “group consensus” unless you agree with it. You could start by advocating for someone else’s wants before progressing to your own.
“I honestly think it’s kind of fun actually, watching them go through the process of weighing your wants, and then coming to a compromise you didn’t need, but appreciate anyway.”Raiha Haris (23S03M)
But of course, there are certain predicaments you may be struck in where politeness and authenticity seem to be a dichotomy.
Maybe your friend is talking about their CCA drama (that you’re barely involved in) for the 231st time. But they seem so passionate about it, you just have to listen even if you don’t really want to, because it would be rude to ignore them.
Look, conversations and relationships are all supposed to be mutually beneficial. But in this case, it doesn’t feel like it. So let’s break this down systematically.
Clearly, the issue is your disinterest in the topic at hand. So how do you make the conversation more interesting to you? Pivot! Draw connections from the topic to related topics that you find more invigorating. Maybe, talk about your CCA, or branch out to similar topics like VIAs, class… It’s still about similar topics so your friend likely wouldn’t become disinterested if you branch off a little. Problem solved!
Besides, your friend probably wasn’t hoping to speak to a wall (that maintains eye contact, nods and raises their eyebrows in ingenuine amusement) anyway.
The world falls apart
Long-term friends are hard to come by. It is a unique breed of people that can make you feel comfortable saying stupid, quirky, cringy things and still have the emotional homeostasis to transition into more serious topics. And because they are so special, they are incredibly rare to come by.
When you’re on your endeavour to find a long-term friend, you put your authentic self out there. And you’ll probably find people to be horrible, shallow, cruel, nasty, that you’d rather sit alone than with them. Mid-way through your journey, you may even question if it’s even worth it.
But if we don’t put ourselves out there (and probably get hurt a thousand times), we’ll probably never find them. And at the end of the journey, when you finally find your long-term friend, it feels like it is all worth it.
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 email@example.com or fill in our request form at our website https://rafflespeerhelpers.wordpress.com!