To Anyone Needing the Reminder: You Are Not Your Friend’s Keeper

Mudiwa Mungoshi

There is something so special about friendships. About the intimacy of platonic love. And the extension of someone’s being into your own, into who you are, what you believe in and even the choices that define you. Then there is something so tragic about imagining the loss of all of that. About the fear of the unknown, of being alone. And the realization that, as Rue Bennett states in “Euphoria,” “these states will wax and wane.” I often think about my closest friendships and how many of us have bonded over shared trauma. A dark reality, but a reality nonetheless. Although there is some beauty to this, there is also a lot of heaviness. Friendships often involve caring about other people well out of your control. And I have found myself wanting my friends to make decisions that don’t ultimately lead to their demise. I have found myself trying to be the friend who uplifts and upholds, and sometimes this is a very precarious position to find oneself in.

I understand the deep, immense and pure love I feel for my friends, and how if they disappeared the world would be a grimmer place

-Mudiwa Mungoshi ’24

When thinking about what to write for this Viewpoint, my co-editor mentioned “being there for someone who is not there for themselves.” And that is probably one of the most Sisyphean tasks of life. It is this condition of wanting people to take care of themselves, reach out for help and work on self-development… all while knowing they will not – most times because they cannot. The way I see it, people often start small in friendships and relationships. It usually begins with general information, shared interests, favorite books and movies. And then it becomes inside jokes, road trips, long phone calls and lifelong connections. Because that’s what we’ve been told, isn’t it? That’s the whole premise of friendships, having people who care about you and who you care about, people who make you feel safe and loved and happy. And keeping those people in your life. But this deeper dimension – this strange pang of wanting to see someone heal and wishing them protection from harm, even from themselves, is something we do not discuss as often. 

I once had a friend. More than a friend, in fact. But we began as friends. When I think of her, I think of Edgar Allen Poe’s line, “we loved with a love that was more than love.” I think of Heathcliff and Catherine, of the pains and passions of young love. I also think of how much all I wanted was for her to take care of herself. To nourish herself and to seek professional help. And when she didn’t, well, I went from a friend to a caretaker. I checked in regularly, refused to sleep until she did (which usually ended up being 2 a.m.) and made sure we ate meals together. In many ways I loved the idea of being able to take care of my friend and to hold her hand literally and metaphorically as I watched her states wax and wane. Looking back, I was doing the both of us a grievous disservice. I was preventing myself from flourishing as an individual – I was Atlas and my support was the shoulders upon which she rested. It was weighing me down and I had neither the courage nor the sense of self-preservation to speak up at the time. On her end, there was no accountability. No pressure for her to try harder to seek help. I do not blame her, and neither do I blame myself. I know I did what I thought was best at the time.

Looking forward, I think about my friendships now. I understand the deep, immense and pure love I feel for my friends, and how if they disappeared the world would be a grimmer place. I also acknowledge that I am a friend. I can only do so much to help, and as saddening as that is, it is also a gratifying thought. Friendship is hard enough without adding the unnecessary bits. It is this convoluted, confusing, complicated mess of two or more people trying to fit their backgrounds and beliefs into one cohesive thing. But it’s also this eye-opening, important and magical experience that is integral to the human condition. I cannot imagine being who I am today without all the friendships I have ever had. And I know I am not a professional when it comes to the runnings of life and its complexities. But if you have a friend who keeps making decisions that are actively putting them in harm’s way, maybe having a conversation with them may help. Understanding them and telling them that you care. As simple as it may sound, care goes a long way in a world like this. And to anyone who also needs the occasional reminder: You are not your friend’s keeper.

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