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Aug 02 2017
by Neeti Joshi

Keeping in Touch With High School Friends: When To Do It and When To Let Go

By Neeti Joshi - Aug 02 2017
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I’m going to get straight to the point: Why do we care so freaking much about what others think? I understand it, but I also hate it. Caring is extremely important when forming any kind of relationship, but sometimes we go blindly into our caring and accidentally step past the boundary because we’re so focused on the other person that we don’t see anything else. We go from letting others appreciate our caring to letting others take advantage of our caring. It happens so slowly and gradually until eventually, we’ve managed to walk so far past the boundary that we turn around to look back and can’t see it anymore. And by then, we’re lost and can’t find our way.

Right now, I’m in a situation where I’m lost. There’s no light, and I can’t retrace my steps because it has been too long. But I’m starting to see a little bit of light – college. Once I leave my home state and get to a different coast, a different WORLD of people, I have a feeling I’ll have a brand new path carved out for me to walk on.

Over the past four years of high school, I’ve met so many people and made so many friends that have influenced my life in ways I had previously thought unimaginable. They’ve taught me new ways to view the world, and new ways to view myself. For that, I’ll be eternally grateful and I have no regrets. But when I dig deeper, I realize that those aren’t necessarily good things. They’ve taught me new ways to view the world, but not necessarily better ways. They’ve taught me new ways to view myself, but not necessarily in a better light. And the most astonishing thing is, they’ve taught me all these things without caring. They’ve taught me these things because they don’t care.

When I was a freshman in high school, I met a group of five other girls in my gym class. We immediately hit it off after realizing we had a lot in common. They became my best friends. Over the next four years, we stayed a pretty consistent group, and I was happy to have that in my life, but soon, I started to notice some changes. They would randomly forget to include me in group chats, but I was always very forgiving. They would sometimes forget I was in the car with them and close the door without looking to see that they left someone behind. They wouldn’t include me in conversations and I would have to force myself to be a part of them. They would constantly ask me for favors, and I would gladly oblige because they were my friends and meant the world to me. But I was the only one they would ask for favors.

I was the only one expected to do anything for anyone else. And I use the word “expected” because they acted as if my favors to them were an obligation. They would always rant to me when we were alone and tell me about all of their problems, and I would always help them out because it made me feel like they trusted me. But I soon realized that they only did it because I was the only one who cared about their lives more than I cared about my own. I was willing to drop everything and listen, which is something I’ve always prided myself on, but there’s a reason why not everyone does it. I’ve always been an extremely independent person, so I don’t really share my problems with others, but they all shared theirs with me. And soon, I began to feel less like a friend and more like a diary.

I have felt this way with most people I’ve met in my life, but it was different this time because it made me feel like I had a role I needed to fulfill. A role I was usually happy to fulfill, but it’s human nature to expect something in return, even if it’s just gratitude, and I never got any gratitude or appreciation. Since this was always happening to me, I began to wonder if I was the problem. I mean, everyone treated me this way, so it must be something about me, not something about them. Every time I thought about it, my mind always wandered back to how caring I was. But I would always brush it off and tell myself that caring isn’t a bad thing. That can’t be why. Maybe it was because I closed myself off and didn’t open up to them (which I still think might be true).

But the feeling continued to nag me in the back of my brain, and the friends continued to use me as something less than a friend, less than a human, until one day, I was alone in my room and I just broke down. Nothing specific triggered this meltdown of mine; I just let my walls down and let myself feel this self-pity I had been trying to hide from myself. I realized that even though I wasn’t taking drugs or smoking or drinking alcohol, I was still engaging in self-destructive behavior. And it had to stop at some point, but I didn’t know how to go about that.

Most of the people I’ve grown up with are comfortable with being confrontational and saying how they feel. Not me. I have always shielded and guarded myself like my life depended on it. Because it did. I wanted my friends to like and appreciate me so much that I never really said what I felt. I said whatever they wanted me to say in an effort to get them to show me how grateful they are. It never worked, though, because I was letting them treat me like a diary and not making it clear to them that I didn’t feel wanted. Because I was afraid they’d say I was overreacting and that it’s not a big deal. Or worse, I was afraid they’d tell me that they didn’t need me anyway. Not saying it out loud let me continue to feel needed. But I never felt wanted.

Finally, we graduated high school. This was when I began to see the light. By this time, our group had expanded to about 10 people, and they were all making plans to meet up and hang out before leaving for college (even though most of them were going to the same college). The thought of college made me realize, “Hey, no one from my high school is going to the same college as me. Maybe this is my chance to start over.” During school, it wasn’t easy to avoid my friends because I constantly saw them, but I don’t have to stay in touch with them anymore. Maybe I can make the healthy decision and stop myself from suffocating before it’s too late. Maybe I can let go and just stop caring.

It sounds horrible, to just stop caring. But sometimes it’s necessary. You can’t continue to care more than you should while others continue to care less than they should. It’s toxic to never be in a state of equilibrium. Soon, you’d end up giving yourself away to them with nothing left for yourself. You’d look back and realize that you can’t see that boundary you stepped over anymore, that the path behind you has been erased and you can’t go back. But if you keep moving forward with your life and keep on trying, maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of a new path, a new future in which you can make things right for yourself and treat your new friends the way you want to be treated. Many people say that moving doesn’t solve anything. Ultimately, peoples' behavior doesn’t change, only their faces do. But I say that if you get a chance to do something again, you’ll do it better the second time.

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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Neeti Joshi - New York University

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