I have a theory, a theory about friendships and it's this: we are much happier, and enjoy longer-lasting bonds, when we categorise our friends. I know it sounds strange but bear with me...
The Disney obsessives amongst us will know only too well that the story goes thus: we're alone and lonely then we find a man who turns out to be a total Prince Charming and this is the extent of our happiness. The end.
However this, amongst other influences, instills in us the belief that everyone must be everything to us. Our boyfriend must be our 'best friend' (especially if those nauseating Instagram captions are to be believed), our confidante, a sexual pleasure dome and the best play mate ever. Similarly our friends must be able to keep a secret, be fun loving, dependable in crisis and available on tap with great advice. Do you see the pattern? Everyone must be everyone or we deem them a 'bad friend' or a 'rubbish boyfriend'.
But there's a problem with this because it's not realistic. Everyone, including ourselves, have strengths and limitations. I for one am great at giving advice but I'm unlikely to be the girl you go to for a drunken night out to get over a rubbish day. And that doesn't make me a rubbish friend, it just makes me a go-to for specific things.
We have to learn to accept our friends for their strengths and their limitations. Continuing to turn to a friend for advice who struggles to give it is going to make both of you feel pretty crap and put stress on the relationship. I've had lots of friendships break down because we just couldn't accept that we weren't 100% compatible, because we couldn't do everything together we decided that we shouldn't do anything together.
It just doesn't make sense.
With this in mind, and before I lost anymore friends, I decided to go through each of my pals and really work out what it was that I loved them for. Was it their insatiable appetite for a Sunday brunch or was it their ability to go from couch potato to party animal in sixty seconds flat?
I stopped trying to force long, drawn-out dinners with those friends who were best enjoyed (and most comfortable at) a loud bar and I ceased calling others during a time of crisis because I realised it just left them tongue tied and feeling guilty. And you know what, I am much happier and what's more, my friendships work better. They are clearer and more defined, as they should be as we ourselves grow and define ourselves better.
An unintended side effect of categorising my friends has also been that I save time. Instead of ringing round five different friends to try and get some helpful advice on a work problem, I know exactly who to call. When I feel sad and just want to sit and watch a movie on a Saturday night, my mind conjures up the perfect person easily. If I want to have a chat about something spiritual or an in-depth discussion on literature, I have an immediate go-to.
It's helped my friends too, because they feel valued and although I haven't explicitly told them about my friendship categorising method, they can feel that I appreciate them more – for who they are and what they're good at.
I've come to think of it a bit like a sports team – if everyone was in defence then the team wouldn't work and likewise if everyone was the referee then there would be no game. People need a position to excel in to keep the manager (that's me, or you, in this analogy) content.
The other thing that this exercise lead me to realise was that having lots of friends you confide in is great but being a confidante for lots of people isn't. It's important to remember that we are all being relied upon for different things for different people and just because a friend can't pick up the phone to console you at 4am doesn't mean she's a bad friend, maybe she was up at 3am nursing a baby or talking her partner out of a panic attack. It would actually help me if the friends who wanted to 'get wasted' on a Wednesday didn't keep asking me because I just feel like a guilty bore, likewise if the mate who wanted to discuss the ins and outs of American politics stopped probing me about my lack of knowledge I'd feel a lot less inadequate.
Human connections and friendships are everything, but not every friend is. Try it, I promise you'll thank me.