I Gave the Title “Friend” Away Too Easily

Growing up in Atchison, Kansas, population around 11,000 we were all close. My childhood best friend is still one of my closest (distant) friends.  We waved when we drove past people and spoke to people when in line at the store; pretty much anywhere I went I knew people and it’s still like that.  I had friends. I grew up with love and family and friends who had my back no matter what.

I joined the Navy and after basic training and my first duty station was in La Madallena, Sardinia Italy. I was a young 18-year-old on a completely different continent. This was before social media, before cell phones were common and smart phones existed, when you had to sit down and pen a letter to communicate with your family back in the states. That being said, on a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean, my shipmates became my friends. We were family. We spent holidays together, we went out together, we worked together, we had each others backs – no matter what. The same when I was stationed in Puerto Rico, DC and Germany.  No distance or time can ever break the bonds I have with my brothers and sisters in arms; they will always be my family.

That was the way I spent my entire life – meeting people and becoming lifelong friends. That was until getting out of the military and moving to Maryland when I was 29. I struggled to meet people at first. DC, Maryland and Virginia are big areas and I didn’t have a sponsor when I moved here. Aiden was only 5, so as a single mom of such a young kid, it made it even more difficult. It took a lot of time, but I eventually began making friends.

However, I have learned that I gave that title away too easily.  A friend is a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection. 

The thing about a deadly disease, a tragedy, or even a rough time in your life, for that matter, is that it allows you the opportunity to find out who your true friends are. You will also be able to learn who your acquaintances are, and who are people that you simply know.When I first told my friends about my breast cancer diagnosis I was completely overwhelmed with calls, visits, texts and emails. I was not in a committed relationship, but I was casually dating so I was upfront and honest with anyone in my life, they too were supportive. I also told my Facebook network, who were also so loving and supportive.  I felt so loved. I felt so blessed to have so many friends who cared about me.

However, as time went on the calls, visits, texts and emails dwindled. People who I considered to be my close friends stopped texting, visiting and calling. I reached out to them and they even stopped responding to my texts, didn’t return my calls, never reached out or checked up on me. On top of feeling depressed about having breast cancer, losing both my breasts and wondering if I was going to die, the people I considered my close friends are no where to be found. Well, I guess they did occasionally comment on a Facebook post … the things that people you know do.

A man I was casually dating text me (I’m more of a texter than a phone talker) and told me that he would keep me in his prayers but he was not willing to stand by me during this time. It hurt – a lot – but looking back, I actually appreciate his honesty. He didn’t just fall off the planet and ignore me. He kept it real and although ditching me in my time of need, we were not committed and he wasn’t willing to act as if we were, so I can respect that, even though it hurt my feelings.

Nearly everyone else just simply vanished.  No one prepares you for that. I’m not sure what feels worse – the cancer and chemo or being abandoned by everyone I thought was my friend during the absolute worst and most difficult time in my life.

I find it interesting the people I thought to be my friends were simply just acquaintances.  People who came around to my parties and gatherings and occasionally invited me over, people who wanted to be there for the good and fun Dana. But in my absolute moment of need, they were gone.

I don’t know the reasons. I spoke with an actual friend (who has been here for me through everything) and some family members about how I felt. I tried rationalizing their disappearance. People are busy, people don’t know what to say, people don’t know how to act, people don’t know what to do. Yes, that’s right, people don’t know any of those things. However, friends don’t know any of that stuff either, but they are simply there.

I brought this up to some other folks that I know and they said that it could just scare people and they wanted to stay away. Good point. But at that moment I decided it was my turn to be selfish. I am sorry that my breast cancer makes you scared and makes you uncomfortable. But that is not my problem and a friend would get over their fear and be there. And if I was/am so scary, a simple phone call or maybe even a text would have been a nice gesture. I’m still me.

But honestly, as I sit here it’s not up to me to rationalize anyone’s behavior or come up with excuses. Because if they were my true friends, they would not have simply vanished from my life – especially during and after everything that I’ve had to face and overcome.

I am not mad, but I have been dealing with this pain in my heart for several months. I am hurt. But I have been praying and I am healing because I have learned that I cannot simply hangout – even if it’s a pretty regular basis – for a couple of years and then call someone my friend. That is a titled that must be earned and it must be mutual. I can’t consider you a friend if you only view me as an acquaintance.  I gave that title out too freely. I mistakenly gave people a role in my life that they didn’t want or were not ready for.

As I have gotten older, I have learned that meeting a person who is the epitome of a true friend is one of the most sacred things in life. I have learned that having at least one person in your life you can count on is far better than 20+ who will just … disappear when it’s not all rainbows and lollipops.

So although a painful one, I have learned a lesson. I have only a few people who I am privileged enough to call my friends, several brothers and sisters in arms, many acquaintances, and I simply just know a lot of people.

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