Wednesday 19 June 2024

Five Reasons Being My Friend Means You Have Permission to Get Things Wrong

This blog post was inspired by a recent conversation with my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson. We’d been chatting for a while when I asked for clarification about something she’d mentioned a few minutes earlier. Aimee replied, pointing out that she’d told me already. I thanked her and we continued chatting. I didn’t think any more about it until she messaged me back a little later.

Are you angry I told you I’d already said something you asked about?

No! I can’t really imagine you doing something that would make me angry! (This is not a challenge to you lol)

Hahaha kinda took that as a dare.

I thought you might!

That little exchange is typical of our friendship, with its mix of respect, care, and humour. On reflection, what I told Aimee was incorrect. I can imagine her upsetting me or making me angry. It’s happened before, just as there’ve been times when I’ve upset or angered her. What I meant was — and I know Aimee understood perfectly — on this occasion you didn’t upset me at all, but even if you had, it would be okay. We’d be okay. The idea that being friends with someone gives you both permission to get things wrong is something I’ve long believed but haven’t really explored. Here, in no particular order, are five reasons I believe this is true and what it means.

I Trust You Not to Hurt Me Deliberately

For me there’s a big difference between issues that arise between friends and those that arise with people outside my friendship bubble. The same hurtful thing might be said or done, but with friends I trust that they didn’t intend to upset me. Being friends doesn’t mean I trust you to never hurt me. It means I trust you not to do so deliberately or carelessly. With friends, my default is to assume no harm was intended.

No One Is Perfect

If two people are close, honest, and open with each other there are going to be times when something’s said or done that the other person doesn’t like or takes exception to. I don’t enjoy upset and conflict but I’ve learned that it’s okay to feel frustrated, cross, or even angry. Upset isn’t something to fear or run away from. I spent much of my adult life afraid of anger and upset, but that’s not a healthy attitude. Turning a blind eye to how we feel means irritating attitudes or behaviour go unchallenged and unresolved. Walking on eggshells isn’t fun, as anyone who’s been in that kind of situation knows. Accepting that no one is perfect is far more honest and ultimately more healthy.

Not Every Upset Is a Big Deal

Giving my friends permission to upset me doesn’t mean I can’t challenge them about it. It actually makes it easier to do so because I trust that challenging them won’t put our friendship at risk. I get to decide whether I want to do so, when, and in what way. It’s tempting to believe that being honest means challenging every little slight and disagreement, but that’s refusing to take responsibility for our reactions. More often than not, what happened was innocuous and doesn’t need me to challenge it at all. Maybe my friend spoke a little thoughtlessly. Maybe they were too caught up in their own situation to fully pay attention to mine. Maybe it was a simple misunderstanding or momentary lapse. In such situations, I can acknowledge that my upset reaction is valid without needing to do anything about it. I can take a deep breath, “drop the hot coal” (a lesson I learned from Fran) and move on.

A Red Line Is Still a Red Line

All that said, friendship means respecting boundaries. Sometimes, challenge is appropriate and necessary. I don’t do this very often, because it’s rare for my close friends to cross my red lines, but I have done so in the past and reserve the right to do so again. It’s important not to think of such challenges as a problem or a failure. Bumping each other’s boundaries — and even crossing them at times — is inevitable and healthy. It’s the only way you can discover where and what they are. It’s never fun to be told you got it wrong, but I want and need my friends to challenge me where my attitude or behaviour has crossed their red lines. If you take it in that way it can be a positive experience, for you personally and for your friendship. I’ve written in the past about a few occasions where I’ve got it wrong with friends including Fran and Aimee.

Our Friendship Is More Important to Me Than Our Disagreement

Every friendship — every relationship of any kind — has its ups and downs. Times where things are going brilliantly and times where either or both of you are struggling. Maybe you doubt whether the friendship is still working for you. Maybe you’ve moved on, or your friend has moved on without you. Maybe you’ve had a big argument or bust-up. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with friendships adapting in response to change, or even coming to an end. Things happen. Life happens. But I also believe in the resilience of my friendships and their potential to weather difficulties and continue, stronger and more honest for having done so. My most valued friendships have survived break-ups and disagreements that appeared serious, even terminal, at the time. As Aimee said after one such moment in our friendship, “It wasn’t an argument, [really]. It was a misunderstanding. And I think it made us stronger.”

I want to be very clear that the “permission to get things wrong” I’m talking about does not include tolerating toxic or abusive behaviour, whether that’s psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or any other kind. If you are in that kind of situation or know someone who is, consider seeking professional help. The NHS provides information and support links for the UK. Wikipedia has an equivalent listing of global resources. If it is happening in your workplace, there should be a reporting process for bullying or harrassment.

Over to You

In this post I’ve talked about how being friends means granting each other permission to get it wrong sometimes. What do you feel about that? Do you agree? How do you approach disagreements and difficulties in your relationships? Do you find it easy to challenge other people’s behaviour or do you find yourself walking on eggshells, scared to bring issues into the open? How do you feel when friends challenge you on your behaviour? What are your personal red lines and boundaries? Fran and I would love to hear your thoughts, either in the comments below or via our contact page.


Photo by Guilherme Gomes Dos Santos at Unsplash.


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