Never the Favorite

Early on, we develop a favorite toy, show, cousin, aunt/uncle, neighborhood friend, so on and so forth. Many times, it will be a pairing. Two cousins will each be each other’s favorite cousin, or two neighborhood kids find they are each other’s favorite and the BFFs are born. 

These tendencies don’t leave us in adulthood. We’ve got favorite aspects of our jobs, favorite TV shows or books, even favorite clothes because they are the most comfortable. Having grown more familiar with the kinds of people we like and dislike, we even have favorites here, just with more categories. We have a favorite friend to share good news with, a favorite person to turn to if something bad has happened, a favorite co-worker that makes the job suck less…

One of the greatest joys in life is getting to be a favorite of your favorite. There’s an intrinsic satisfaction that comes from knowing someone who you hold in high esteem also holds you equally high. It is a connection distinct from the typical belonging. I’m familiar with this because I am familiar with not being the favorite. 

I’m usually adored or abhorred…but, never unnoticed.

In many respects, this can be a good thing. My husband is a lot of people’s favorite friend – for what he can do. He is a hypnotherapist with a heart of gold and a child-like belief in the good of people. This draws the people who are into psychology and hypnosis just enough to be interested in self-help, yet aren’t quite ready to do the work. Many expect to be able to undergo a session and POOF – no more resistance to the healthier habits. Because of this, he has to work constantly at establishing boundaries and filtering out who is just using him for what he can do versus wanting him around for his company. (Much like the friend who can sing who is “invited” to perform at a friend’s wedding…you know, because that can just be their gift.) 

For the longest time, I was that friend who is the favorite when tragedy strikes. Having dealt with many situations that friends have not, I’m the first to pop into mind when help is needed. This wouldn’t be so aggravating if it was offset by the occasional social event invitation. Oftentimes, the useful friend can find themselves in this position – invited to more funerals than weddings, or invited to more “moving parties” than housewarming parties after that very move. 

There’s a special place in hell for the people who discuss their social fun around the useful friend but still never invite that friend. Fortunately, I’m now missing my friends’ social events only because I’m too busy to attend them all. Better yet – I’m only invited as a guest, not a servant with a job duty. What changed?

Or, more nicely put, “boundaries”

If you are the useful friend, you are probably more than aware of your status as such. It’s usually the friends of the useful friend who are the last to notice the dynamic (which is usually only denied when confronted). It also means that when you aren’t needed, you aren’t a blip on the radar. This even applies to family relationship dynamics. Out-of-sight + not-immediately needed = doesn’t exist.

When I was in my mid 20s, my family relocated the family Thanksgiving dinner to another state and didn’t tell me. My little brother suggested giving me a call, since I always traveled home for the holiday. In the time it would have taken to make the “just in case” phone call, it was discussed and decided to be unnecessary. I travelled home to an empty house for the holiday. This inspired some major boundaries. 

Those mother-pluckers

I spent so much of my youth spending so much money and using what little vacation time I had to visit home as often as I could, but noticed that the phone only worked one way. After a few years of living in Nashville, I thought I’d test my theory. I stopped calling home around August. I hadn’t heard anything by my birthday, in November, and decided I’d bring this up when we went home for Thanksgiving. I got to my family’s house, but didn’t get to have the confrontation because nobody was home. This told me everything I needed to know as far as where I stood.

I drew a line in the sand that I would never allow myself to be in such an uneven dynamic, again – be it with family or friends. I began to only put time and energy into relationships where people were reaching out to me, as well. This meant finding a whole new tribe, which Nashville offered me. I learned to avoid the impulse to agree to do favors. It dawned on me that people were only using me because I was letting them, so I made it a point to stop arbitrarily doing things just because I could. 

Maybe I’ll put it out.

Today, people who only called when they wanted something have stopped calling. People like that call you when they need something only because you answer. I will do favors for established friends, but not for people who haven’t been in regular contact with me or I who just met (I find it a huge red flag for a new acquaintance to ask for help).

While many say “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.”, I say “If you don’t include me in your highs, don’t come to me during your lows.” It is purely toxic to expect someone to take on your problems and strife if you have spent no time cultivating a relationship, so I don’t let it happen on my end.

It isn’t uncommon for people to say that I’m mean when it comes to enforcing my boundaries. But, it isn’t uncommon for me to be the favorite when those same people decide that it’s time for them to learn how to enforce boundaries 😉 

When people can appreciate what you bring to the table, it’s easier to find someone who will label you as their favorite for more than just being useful. By being the best me that I could be at every situation that I was in, and leaving the places where I wasn’t appreciated for new surroundings, I wound up finding the people who could value me. Over the years, I’ve been a favorite party guest, a favorite writer, a favorite employee, a favorite speaker, a favorite memory, a favorite mistake…so many things. 

Related journaling prompts: Do you have a favorite friend? A favorite for different situations, or for all? Do you have a favorite who you only call for their usefulness? 

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