When I was in elementary school, I had a teacher who taught my classmates and I a popular hymn called ‘circle of friends‘. If you are Irish, you would most likely know this hymn because it is included in the primary school religious education curriculum. Every week, my classmates and I would sing this hymn at the first communion at the end of mass. Some of you may find this a bit surprising but I attended a very religious catholic all-girls-school and went to church and read the bible like the rest of the girls in my school.
I always remember the words of the hymn whenever I am asked to mention the names of my closest friends. Today, I may be cordial and appear quite close to many individuals in my life, but it takes a lot for me to count someone as a friend in ‘my circle’ and I’ll explain what this means as you scroll deeper into this read.
The trouble about being a good listener or being an understanding person is that people tend to confide in you and will disclose some of their personal problems or would ask for your personal opinion and advice on many things. This can sometimes cause you to make an error in judgement that this person is your friend because they told you something personal and deep about themselves. I mean aren’t your closest friends the ones you share your fears and dreams and dark secrets and issues with? The truth is it’s not in all cases that this is true and this was one of the big mistakes I made when I was younger; implying things. I thought anyone who was comfortable enough to share something personal about themselves with me, must definitely count me as one of their good friends so it would only make sense and be polite for me to also count them as one of my good friends (whether or not I decide to share something equally personal about myself with them). This was how majority of my ‘friendships’ were built when I was younger; they were founded on a confusing and misguided sense of trust and I’ve definitely learnt my lesson from those relationships.
I recognise I might have jumped the gun a little bit so I will take it slow and address the basics of friendship first for my younger readers.
We’ve all heard the popular sayings: ‘show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are‘ or ‘you can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends‘. These are some of the simplest and realest truths you’ll ever come across in the universe. There are very few occasions where you would mention the word ‘family’ without mentioning ‘friends’ and this further shows how important and valuable friendships can be. Many of the problems we encounter or the secrets we harbour are not often shared with our family but with our closest friends. Friends are the family members we get to choose and your family says a lot about who you are and I don’t need to remind you of how great an influence your family can be in your life.
So, who then is a friend?
A friend is someone who remembers you in both this life and the next life. What do I mean by remember? In this life they remember you by mentioning you in their prayers and they also remember to check up on you from time to time to figure out how you are truly doing. In the next life, they will also remember you because we were told in a Hadith that when the people of Jannah enter and they don’t find their companions who were with them upon good in this world, they will intercede for them in front of Allah (swt) and say:
‘O Lord, our brothers used to pray with us and fast with us and do good deeds with us, but we do not see them’. Allaah will say, ‘Go to the fire, and whoever you find with a dinar’s-weight of faith in his heart, bring him forth, and Allaah will forbid their bodies to the Fire.’Sahih Bukhari 7704
A friend is someone that has your best interest at heart. For example, if you have a friend that has been searching for a culinary job for months since she graduated from culinary school, and a former colleague of yours mentions to you that they have set up a new restaurant and are searching for a Head Chef or asked if you knew any potential good candidates; if you truly consider your friend a friend, you would help to speak on her behalf and try to market her to the individual. You will not keep quiet or say because of the minor argument or misunderstanding you guys had a few days prior, you won’t help to plead her case in that given opportunity. A true friend will always have your best interest at heart.
A friend is someone who cares about your success in both this dunya and the akhira. If you have a friend that is writing an exam in a few weeks and you notice she is struggling to understand a particular subject, you would disregard any voice in your head that tries to tell you she’s not your problem or she’s an adult and she should have learnt to make better choices for herself by not skipping classes or by paying more attention during class. As a friend you would try to help her by teaching and explaining to her the things you understand or planning the times that the both of you would be studying together in the library. Similarly, if you hear that a mosque is starting a project to raise enough funds to build a well or to expand the mosque, a good friend would remember you and share the details of the opportunity so that the both of you can contribute towards something good.
A friend is someone that can tell you the bitter or embarrassing truth about yourself and call you out on all your wrongdoings, just so you can fix up and improve yourself. A friend is also someone that is able to shine some light into the darkness of your world by having the power to turn your frown into a smile and to lend a shoulder for you to cry on.
The concept of friendship on an intimate level is something I’ve come to learn is also subjective and not objective. For example, if you have a married friend and you discover her husband is cheating on your friend, some individuals would want their friend to tell them their husband is cheating. Other people would want their friend to hide the truth from them because the truth is something that could break their marriage and ignorance is truly bliss to them. There are also friends who don’t mind if you date their exes and there are others who see such decisions as a friendship breaker. There are also some individuals who can’t separate friendship from their business; for example you have an individual that is a make up artist and she takes serious offence that her closest friend that is getting married didn’t support her business by hiring her to do her bridal make up or at the very least the bridesmaids make up. There are other individuals who wouldn’t take offence or feel entitled and would recognise it’s their friend’s big day and something they’ve been dreaming and planning for years and all they want is for their friend to be happy; whether or not the friend chooses to hire them.
After having reflected on the past few years of my life, I’ve come to learn just how much my personal beliefs and opinions about friendship has changed across the different stages of my life.
Initially, I thought friendships were the easiest things to build. I grew up reading Jacqueline Wilson and Roald Dahl books and watched CBeebies and the Cartoon Network and the child characters I read and watched, all had a circle of 2-3 close-knit friends and they would have their secret meeting spot, have sleepovers, have matching bracelets and did pretty much everything together. In reality, it wasn’t that easy. For example, my parents didn’t support me sleeping over at my friends house and they didn’t support me inviting others to sleep over at mine. The period I schooled in Ireland, I had to battle racism and almost didn’t have anything in common with the Irish girls that were my age; they were catholic and christians, I was muslim. They were white, I was black. The things they did to their hair was different from what I did to mine. The food they ate was different from the food I ate. Their culture and way of life was completely different from mine, talk less of the individual and personal differences we had. How do you connect and build a relationship with someone that is completely different from you in almost every aspect? Neither of the books I read or the cartoons I watched, addressed these challenges and hurdles you would typically face in the real life. It takes a lot more than being the same age and gender or practicing the same religion or being from the same place or taking an instant liking to someone to build the kind of strong friendship that was often portrayed on tv.
Another thing I believed was that everyone in your friendship circle had to be friends. Of course it would be easier if everyone had mutual friends but it doesn’t always have to be like that. I genuinely believed everyone had to know and get along with one another. This is wrong because like I mentioned previously, friendship cannot be forced upon anyone so it’s okay if two people in your inner circle don’t get along or click as much as you do with them.
As I grew older and wiser, I started to learn the difference between having a ‘clique’ and having your own ‘circle of friends’. A clique is a group of people you would typically hang out with and get along with; you have a clique of friends you hang and study with at high school or uni, you have a clique of friends you party with, you have a clique of friends you attend religious gatherings with, you have a clique of friends you would invite to your family events and you have a clique of friends you hang out with at work.
Your circle of friends is completely different. Your circle is like your second family bonded not by blood but by mutual values, ideologies and interests. These are the people you call your tribe because they are truly your kind and words cannot describe the kind of bond and connections you share. If you are to start a movement, they are the ones you will think and call upon first because they believe in almost the same things you do and share similar ideas with you. They are fundamentally similar to you but they come in different & complimentary flavours. What do I mean by this? For the lack of a better description, if you are a potato, your circle will include people that come in the form of potato fries, potato wedges, shepherds pie, mashed potatoes, potato crisps, chicken casserole…the thing is you all have your individual differences that sets you apart but you are fundamentally made from the same substance. They understand you and you understand them. They accept your differences and you accept their differences. You have a good idea of the things they are capable and not capable of and vice versa. These are the people you should keep in your circle.
After experiencing a couple of good and bad friendships in the past, I’ve come to learn so much about friendship and what I find works best for me.
The first and most important thing I’ve learnt is you cannot build a strong and long-lasting friendship with another person if you don’t know who you are, your values, your non-negotiables and if you don’t treat yourself as your ideal closest friend first. This is no brainer; if you truly know yourself or have an idea of the things you like or the kind of person you want to become in the future, you’ll know the right kind of people and friendships to invest in. The truth is it’s not compulsory to have friends in this life but it’s compulsory to have the right kinds of friends should you choose to have them.
As an advocate for self-love, I’ve come to appreciate the value of being good friends with yourself. Tell me is there any company you keep, or a voice you listen to more frequently than yours? There really isn’t so you first and foremost have to work on the relationship you have with yourself, before wanting to build a relationship or friendship with other people. You have to build and cultivate a friendly inner voice because it is that voice that speaks to you the most and if you have a healthy relationship with that voice, it will help push and advice you to make the best choices for yourself. You have to learn to patiently listen and understand what your inner voice is trying to speak to you because it is that voice that will guide you and will give you the strength and courage to pursue your goals and dreams relentlessly. No friend can ever support you as much as you can support yourself. What I’m trying to say is that the friendship you should spend the most time investing in is the friendship with yourself. Before you think to seek an advice from a friend or a family or a third party, you must have asked yourself what to do first. If you have already developed the best friendship with yourself, chances are you would have advised yourself to do the best thing you could possibly do for yourself.
Another important thing I’ve come to learn is that you outgrow certain people and friendships. The truth is certain friendships will no longer support your growth or the individual you want to become, in such cases you have to let them go. I’ve come to accept and understand that certain people are placed in your life at a certain period, for a specific reason and it’s all part of the journey of your life. People grow and it’s completely okay to grow apart instead of growing together. As time passes by you get to meet more people that you will develop a stronger and more meaningful connection with. As Ariana Grande would say, thank you, next. Life is too short to stress over trivial, lost and dying friendships.
I think the highlight of what I’ve come to learn is that a lot of people (not everyone) tend to ascribe value to their friendship based on the period of time they’ve known their friends. I sincerely believe that the same way some couples are reluctant to leave one another based on the history and time they’ve invested in their relationship, some friends are also reluctant to part ways because they believe they’ve known each other for so long and know too much about another so it’s best to just stick and ride out the friendship till the end. It’s the classic example of a ride or die relationship. This is a conversation I don’t think many people are ready to have. Whether we like to admit it or not, there’s a blind sense of loyalty and a lot of emotional blackmail that takes place in many friendships that’s very unhealthy. The fact that you’ve known someone for so long doesn’t mean you have to always live up to their ‘friendly requests’ or stick by their side during arguments or keep tolerating your friend’s toxic behaviour. A friendship or relationship that only contributes and furthers the wellbeing or interest of another person but is at the cost and detriment of your own wellbeing and happiness is not a friendship; it’s an abuse of your emotions and trust. It’s important for all of us to re-assess our friendships and to know the people to cut ties with, including the people we need to keep at an arms length and those we should include in our inner circle.
I’m truly grateful for all the good and bad friendships I’ve experienced in the past. They’ve all taught me the things I truly value and look for in a friendship today. Whilst I’m still learning so much about myself on a daily basis and trying to navigate this thing called adulthood, more than anything I’ve come to value and prioritise stability. I no longer appreciate or entertain friendships that don’t keep me grounded or provide balance into my life. I dis-engage, mute and forget all other person that has proven to be a potential or actual chaos or noise in my life.
I am currently in my early 20s and my circle is one I’m yet to constitute. I have a few great friendships that dates back to high school but I don’t even count the individuals as people to be included in my circle. I see most of them as my adopted family members; they are my brothers and sisters and they will always have a place in my heart even after I go on to start my own small family in the future. For a lack of a better description and based on everything I currently know about myself, I’d say I am a pepper; intense, to be handled with extra-caution, stimulating and can be pretty chilled and mild or crazy depending on how you would like me to dish it to you. So I guess my circle will include people that look and taste like; pepper soup, ofada sauce, pepper chicken, cameroon pepper, bell pepper, habaneros, jalepenos and the rest of the like.
Do you know who you are what your circle would like?
I would love to hear your feedback and comments in the comment section below.
Do stay safe and until next time,