By Sakina Poonawalla
“Sakina, I know I’m being a little harsh, but this is the fifth time in the two months that we’ve known each other that you’re telling me you’re nervous about doing something that YOU want to do. It’s your life, dude. Tell them the truth, that it’s been a long night and your energy is drained, and that you are going to go home. Not that you want to, that you’re going to. ”
For about two and a half hours leading up to the moment I read this message, my anxiety was through the roof. I was out to dinner with friends, and I was having an awful time. What did I have in common with these people? Their jokes weren’t funny, they were rude to each other and to other people, and I wasn’t enjoying even a fraction of the conversations that we were having.
I was overthinking every other word that came out of my mouth: “Was that weird? Was that a dumb thing to say? No one is even listening right now.” But there was so much time left to kill. How much longer could my forced laughter and weary smiles last me? I realized that I didn’t want to surround myself with people that made me feel like this, but what could I possibly do to get out? Leave? No, that’s rude, I couldn’t do that.
It turns out, I could do that. And that’s exactly what I did after reading that message. I left, I drove home alone with my music blasting, and I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders. Until now, I was always so worried about upsetting others that I would never do a single thing that could potentially make someone mad at me. I would never do anything without considering how others would be affected by it. This may sound like a good thing, and it is, but only to an extent. You should try your best to protect the feelings of those around you, but never at the expense of your own.
That was one of many valuable lessons that I have learned from my friends. In my time in college, I have learned so much about friendships through the people I have met. I have grown with some of my friends and grown because of other friends. I have learned so much about myself through the people I surround myself with, and I feel that my life would be very different without them. I would be very different if not for them.
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These friends have taught me to stand up for myself and others, believe in myself, communicate and be vulnerable. They have taught me to appreciate the quieter days. They have taught me to be comfortable with myself and to be the best version of myself. These are the kinds of friendships that you should foster. For many young adults, surrounding yourself with the right kind of friends is so crucial for a period in our lives when these relationships often will have more influence on us than almost anyone else.
Before college, I don’t think I truly understood how much could come out of these kinds of friendships. Now that I’m in the thick of this period in my life, here are some telltale signs to know if a friendship is a healthy, good-quality one.
1. Feeling comfortable being yourself.
Having someone who you can shake away the stress with and just have a good time with is so important for a friendship. There is no better feeling than laughing so hard that you can barely breathe, because every other sentence is too funny for you to catch a break. You want to be friends with people who share your humor, or at the very least, appreciate it. You want to be able to let out your goofy side without judgment. (We all have a goofy side, don’t deny it!)
If you are stressed about being your true self around someone, that is not a friend that is worth keeping. Friendship should be with someone who helps you escape the stress and chaos of daily life, even just momentarily, not add to it. Friendships are supposed to be fun!
Do karaoke and sing to your heart’s content even if your voice is atrocious. Make videos and vlogs (if that's what you enjoy), and take pictures of each other. Make cheesy friendship bracelets that don’t make any sense and go for drives. Or, chill at home and watch a movie. Order takeout. Sit there with each other in comfortable silence. You want to find a friend with whom you can feel at home with no matter what you decide to do.
2. Friends challenge you to be better.
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Your good friends will always want the best for you, and they will push you to be better in any way they can. The first time I made friends with people who would call me out for things I did wrong, I was very caught off guard. It was a Sunday, and my friends and I had planned a day trip to the beach for one of their birthdays. The morning of, I woke up feeling unwell. I still had about two and a half hours left before we were supposed to leave, so I decided to wait an hour without saying anything to see if I would feel better.
After an hour, I didn’t feel any better, so I told myself that I would wait just a little bit longer to see if it would let up. Unfortunately, it did not, so I ended up canceling on them with less than an hour left before we were supposed to leave. At first, I didn’t think much of it or see anything wrong with what I did. Later that evening, I got a text message:
“Look, me and you need to talk about some things.”
Uh oh. What happened? She seems mad. I don’t want to fight. The panic began to settle in. I hesitantly sent my reply:
“What’s up, is everything okay?”
“I am feeling pretty annoyed, because today was important and you canceled with barely any notice.”
But I wasn’t feeling well. What was I supposed to do? I replied: “I’m sorry, when I woke up I wasn’t feeling well. I thought maybe if I gave it some time it would get better, but it didn’t, so I had to cancel because there’s no way I would have been able to handle a whole day being out and feeling like this.”
“I know you weren’t feeling well, but I wish you would have just communicated that from the beginning instead of waiting until the last minute. It felt like you were flaking at the last second.”
“I’m sorry, I really did want to come, I was just feeling really unwell and I wanted to give it a chance.”
“Look," she texted, "if you tell us you’re not feeling well, we will understand. We aren’t going to get mad at you, but I just need you to communicate, okay?”
“You’re right, I’m sorry. I will make sure to be better about communicating with you about things.”
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And since then, I have been. At the beginning of that conversation, I expected there to be an argument or a fight. I was nervous because I thought that my friends thought badly of me. I was not used to things being 100 percent fine after having open, honest conversations like that. People would always hold grudges or pretend there was nothing wrong, or say that they were satisfied with the conversation when they most certainly were not. But not this time. She laid out exactly what frustrated her and what I could do to avoid having it happen again, and I listened, understood and apologized, and that was it. There were no grudges or unspoken words, just a mature conversation.
It can be confusing, scary, and even frustrating if you’ve never experienced being called out like this by a peer. However, once you realize that their intentions are pure and they truly want what’s best for you, you grow to appreciate these little reminders; you may even welcome being held accountable. It isn’t fun, but it is part of what makes for a strong friendship. The friends who call you out are much more valuable than the ones that let things they don’t agree with slide. So long as they do so with respect and love, friends like that can make such a positive impact on your life.
It could be about anything. Maybe your friend noticed that you didn’t treat someone so nicely and talked to you about it. Maybe they noticed you slipping into some bad habits and sat you down and told you they were concerned. Even if the conversations are hard, at the end of the day, you are gaining so much and growing so much from being able to get through them. The best part is that being held accountable by your friends gives you the courage and practice to call things out and stand up for yourself, too!
3. Friends you can vent to without judgment.
There will be times in your life when you will need to rant – maybe about silly things you see on the internet or something annoying your roommate did. Perhaps you’ll go through a really difficult time, and you’ll need a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes you’ll want advice, and other times you’ll just need to be heard and understood, to be able to release the words and thoughts swirling around in your head and let them bounce around. When venting, however, it is important to make sure that we are not over-depending on anyone to fix our problems for us.
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Sometimes, when we get comfortable sharing vulnerable things with those close to us, we run to them about every little thing that happens. We rely on them to make us feel better instead of looking for an actual solution to our problems. I have been both the person who is relying on someone else and the person being relied on in the past, and neither is a good position to be in.
While it is essential to make sure you don’t bottle up your emotions and that you let out your feelings, it is equally important to make sure you are able to be okay on your own without completely relying on everyone else. When we fall, a good friend will help us get back on our feet, but at the end of the day, those who are fully healed don’t use crutches to walk.
4. Having a mutual understanding between Muslim friends.
Maybe your non-Muslim friends are super woke and informed, and you can put down your prayer mat in the middle of their living room, and no one will bat an eye. Maybe you don’t have to explain a single religious holiday or trip, or answer the infamous question: “Not even water?!” Or, better yet, for all of my hijab-wearers: “Don’t you get hot in that?”
If that is true, then that is great, and I am happy for you! Unfortunately, most of us do not share that luxury. And no hate to my non-Muslim friends – I have learned so much from their friendships. They are amazing friends, and they have gone to great lengths to make sure I always feel respected and included no matter what we do. And for that, I could not be more grateful.
You may read this and ask, why the emphasis on having Muslim friends if your non-muslim friends are already so great? What more do you need? The thing is, it IS important. Do try and seek out good Muslim friends. (But remember, just because they’re Muslim doesn’t mean their values will always align with yours. What matters is that they respect you and your values.)
The great thing about having Muslim friends is that there’s usually a mutual understanding regarding so many things in our daily lives. Your Muslim friends will just get it. It’s not a matter of acceptance – any friend should be accepting of your beliefs whether they are Muslim themselves or not. However, knowing that your friends will just understand without needing an explanation gives you a sense of belonging that acceptance alone cannot provide. We are sisters, after all!
5. Do friends like this even exist?
The author, Sakina Poonawalla
Now, as human beings, sometimes it is hard for one single person to possess all of these qualities. So now what? The truth is, no single person has to have all of these qualities in order for them to be a good friend. Different friends can fill these needs in various ways. Maybe the friend you can let loose with is not the friend who pushes you to be the best version of yourself. Maybe you don’t feel like you can vent to your Muslim friends without being judged. (But maybe, sometimes a little judging is good when the intention is to look out for your best interests.)
Does this mean that those friendships are not meaningful or healthy? Absolutely not! As human beings, we have many needs when it comes to fostering relationships with others. More often than not, one person is not going to be able to satisfy all of those needs on their own. As long as our needs are being met in a healthy way, it is okay to have them met through several friendships! Different people will be able to support you in different ways, and that will never lessen their individual value.
It is so important to have good-quality, healthy friendships in your life, especially at our age (talking to you, Gen Z!). Right now is the time in our lives where we will learn the most about ourselves and others. Right now is the time in our lives where the choices we make will prove to be the most consequential to the rest of our lives.
It’s crucial to surround yourself with people who will encourage and support you in your good decisions, and call out your bad ones. People you know you can trust that will be there for you, and people that share your values. And, with all of these things, it’s important to have fun and be yourself. Your true friends will want nothing more, and expect nothing less.
Sakina Poonawalla is a third-year student at the University of California, RIverside. She is double majoring in psychology and education with a concentration in learning and behavioral studies. Find her on Instagram @sakina.poonawalla.