I can proudly say that exercising empathy is one of my greatest strengths. I can be open-hearted and loving to a fault of my own. Countless times I’ve found myself devastated at how the love I poured into others wasn’t returned back to me. TD Jakes refers to this archetype as “big hearted people” and asks 5 questions to help you know if you’re one of us too (see below). In the midst of these heartbreaks, I would wonder: am I giving too much of myself? Am I giving to the wrong people? Am I doing it all too soon? Why is it so difficult to find friends who would do for me what I would do for them?
Redefining Friendships, Ama’s Story
Ama, a good friend of mine since high school, said it to me plain and clear over the phone: Abisola, you need to be a lot more careful with who you call a friend. Friendship is not something to enter into lightly. My first Big AHA Moment (BAM #1) came when Ama shared her story of why she redefined “friend” for herself. Through her story, that I share below, I began having conversations with close friends and family members asking them to reflect on the actions of their closest friends. It was from my Dad that I learned there were roughly 3 categories of friendships: 1) “2.5-hour friends,” 2) socializing friends, and 3) advice friends. A “2.5 hour friend” is best exemplified through Ama’s story:
Ama had been in the depths and throws of medical school–she was perpetually exhausted, fighting depression, and wondering if this was all worth it. It was a smug Wednesday morning and in 3 hours, she knew that she’d have to go to the hospital and start another tormenting day. Umi, a more senior medical school student, had heard of her distress and called her to cheer her up. Uncomfortable with what she heard in Ama’s voice over the phone, Umi packed some comfort food and made the journey to visit Ama and spend time with her in person before Ama started her shift at work. Umi lived 2.5 hours away from Ama. She knew by deciding to go and see Ama, she would only have ~15 minutes to spend with her, yet she had made the decision happily.
What amazes me most about this story is how selflessly Umi had acted. That was the type of friend I wanted in my corner. I wondered, who is my 2.5 hour friend? Who would drive 2.5 hours just to spend 15 minutes with me at my lowest point? How have I shown them I appreciate them? Have I ever distinguished them from friends in the other two categories? In my haste for friendships, I had desperately tried to turn all types of friends into 2.5 hour friends by doing these grand gestures for them. BAM #2: Most friends aren’t 2.5 hour friends and ought not be. The majority of our relationships will fall into the other two categories of socializing and advising—and that’s okay! Pour that love into your 2.5 hour friendships and treat your other friends accordingly. I’m not saying to be mean to your other friends, I’m saying don’t continue to do 2.5 hour things for everyone unless you’re fine being left with an empty cup at the end of the day.
What does doing this look like in practice?
To immediately put this learning into practice, on my trip to D.C.—where I’ve been fortunate to meet so many incredible fellow humans—I made it my mission to only go out of my way to meet with those who had shown up in my life as 2.5 hour friends. I wanted to be laser-point focused with how I directed my energy. I thought to myself : instead of pouring my love out abundantly for everyone to share, what would it look like if I spent hours (as many as the friend wanted and my body would allow) pouring into those that cared so much about me?
Over the four-day trip, I met up with 3 people each day–blocking by morning, noon, and night. There was a palpable difference in our conversations, the depths of our laughter, and highs of our joy. I felt the presence of God when we spoke about our lives. When I left, I began receiving texts from these friends, saying “thank you” and noticing the change in me too. I felt happier and lighter. I had met up with fewer people and felt so much more full as a result—because I was deliberate about who I gave the privilege of my attention. I left D.C. knowing that I had just quietly uncovered something magical for me. By treating socializing and advising friends like 2.5 hour friends, I was pouring from a cup that never had enough time to be fully replenished. By holding on to what used to be 2.5 hour friendships, with the hope they could reignite, I was fooling myself into chasing old experiences instead of appreciating them for what they were at the time we had it.
Making Space for Myself
Friendships, like the phases of the moon and the seasons of the sun have their time. Appreciate and love what you have, remember what you had, and learn to live in the present moment. It’s taken me a while to realize the value of space—both mental and physical. I crowded my physical world with things much like I cluttered my heart with people. How could there ever be room for meaningful conversations when I always had so many people to see? How can someone become a 2.5 hour friend if I’m continually being that for everyone else? As people in our lives wax and wane, be happy for what you had and even happier for the space they gift you. Space to reflect, to grow, to give more, or allow someone new to nestle into the void they left.
Bishop TD Jakes’ Test to Know if You’ve Got a Big Heart
- Do you have a tendency to put others’ needs ahead of your own? You’ll run to do things for someone else, that you wouldn’t do for yourself.
- Do you always see good where others are critical? You can see good in some of the most disturbed people.
- Are you an intense person? Whatever you feel, you’re intense about it.
- Do you assume others’ burdens as if they were your own? You sit up traumatized of someone else’s situation as if you had no burdens of your own.
- Do you find it difficult to shed pain, worry, or loss longer than others with similar circumstances? Everyone moves on but you.