In Which Bob Harper Gives Me Something To Ponder

I was catching up on Biggest Loser last night (love that show. Love Bob. Love Jillian. Love all of it) and noticed that the theme of the episode seemed to be selfishness and why we should have more of it.

There’s been a shift toward promoting selfishness lately, at least in media directed towards women. Not in a “think only of yourself and screw everyone else” way so much as a “put on your oxygen mask first” mentality. It’s about helping yourself so you’ll be well equipped to help others.

I get this. I support it. Sometimes, no matter how much we want to say yes, we have to say no. Take care of number one before you run yourself into the ground. All that good stuff.

But it can become easy to use this pro-selfish stance as an excuse to get out of things we should be doing. Oftentimes when we’re tired, we really need to rest. Other times we need to get over it and go out.

The selfishness they talk about on The Biggest Loser is do-or-die. These people have put everything and everyone before themselves for so long that they compromised their own health.

When it comes to friends, putting yourself first is rarely a life-or-death situation. But as with any relationship, figuring out when to tend to yourself and when to tend to others is the key to a friendship’s longevity.

Some examples. I’ve had plenty of  plans with friends who’ve bailed at the last minute because they had a rough week and needed to be alone with their boyfriend or their family or their couch. Fine. Totally get it. I’ve done it myself. But there are also some friends who seem to always have had The Roughest Week. It constantly becomes about them. And then when you need them, they aren’t around because their own stuff couldn’t be set aside.

I wouldn’t say I’ve had any relationships end over this, but I’ve seen my attitude toward certain friendships change. I’ve gotten to places where I just accept that “Oh, this is that kind of friendship. Ok. Good to know.”

The tricky part is figuring out when selfishness is acceptable—healthy, even—and when it’s simply, er, selfish. It’s not always the big dramatic death-in-the-family/house-is-burning-down/boyfriend-breakup stuff. Take a birthday party. Most of my friends do their annual celebrations at a bar of their choosing. If I show up, it’s likely that I won’t get to talk to them much. But I know that no matter how tired I am, no matter how bad a day I’ve had, they’d be genuinely upset with me if I didn’t make it. So I do.

But then, some might say, the mark of a true friend is the person to whom you can say “You know, it’s been a rough few days. I’m down, I won’t be any fun, is it ok if I’m a no-show?” And that true friend will say “Of course! You take care of you right now. No biggie.”

See? It’s complicated. Most relationships are.

So my question for you: In the context of friendship, when is it ok to put your own needs first, and when must you buck up and do something you don’t want to for the sake of a friend? I can’t imagine there are hard and fast rules about this, but how do you gauge the line?

9 Comments

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9 responses to “In Which Bob Harper Gives Me Something To Ponder

  1. Ana

    Good questions. I think, like you mentioned, its about balance. Yes, you have to “put yourself first” if its about your health, sanity, or other longterm goals (yes, my longterm goal is achieving some semblance of sanity & calm!). You can’t go to everything you’re invited to…some evenings you gotta go to the gym, or go to bed early, or do extra work… And, yes, a true friend should understand when those times come up, and cut you some slack, whether it be a night you are tired, a week before a deadline, or 3 months when your baby is up all night.
    But, for me , maintaining friendships is a major priority (and a huge part of the whole “sanity” thing)…& keeping friend-dates and attending birthday functions, is part of that. If I decide that I need to work out/study/etc… in the evenings instead of going to happy hour, I make plans on the weekends, or at lunch. You don’t have to give up your other goals in order to be social, you just need to plan better! If someone is constantly bailing out, regardless of the excuse, she goes in my book as a flake, and not really BFF material. To me, she is basically saying that our friendship is not a priority.
    Besides, once you overcome the initial inertia I almost ALWAYS feel better after going out & doing something fun. And I’m a true-to-the-bone introvert!

  2. Well, first off, in the case of the Biggest Loser, it kind of rubs me wrong when they refer to taking time to exercise as “selfish.” Like you pointed out, it’s about basic health–letting yourself get obese and pre-diabetic (or full blown diabetic) is the truly selfish thing, because you’re endangering your life and your loved ones would be devastated if you passed on.

    Ok, rant over. Sorry.

    Anyways, in the case of friends, I usually understand if life gets crazy for them and they cancel, but I have one friend who ALWAYS assumes her life is busier than everyone else’s, and it’s annoying as heck.

  3. I love The Biggest Loser too! Thanks for reminding me of the episode on my DVR – something to look forward to!!

    This is a great question – for many people actually having social time with friends is an indulgence in itself. But when it comes time to decide whether I should reneg on plans with a friend, it usually depends on the friend and where her line is too.

    If it’s someone who has had to make major arrangements for us to get together, like coordinating with a spouse for childcare, I’m not going to cancel unless I’m contagious.

    On the other hand, if it’s someone with whom it would be easy to reschedule, I’m more like to opt for that.

    But I agree with your birthday policy, Rachel. It’s kind of like a wedding. And in those situations, making an appearance can be enough to show you care; you don’t have to be the life of the party.

  4. Debbi

    Selfishness or self preservation? I think we have to empower ourselves to put ourselves first. Obviously this is not always possible but most women don’t consider it a possibility. As I get older I’m realizing that I can’t/don’t want to be everything to everyone. It’s a work in progress that will take time, but I can already see the long term benefits

  5. Natalie

    Definitely be selfish and take care of yourself if you are sick!! Please, I will wait to hang out with you until you feel better. Also, if that friend is not well enough to take care of their own children, this is when we should go out of our own busy way to make dinner for them or take their children out of the house for a few hours and allow them to rest. That’s what I would wish for from my closest friends, some help.

    I don’t think exercise is selfish. It is part of what keeps us healthy and energized.

  6. Ooh, I agree with Kelley, who said that it can often depend on the friend…. If it’s a friend who’s rescheduled on me before, then I won’t feel bad asking her to reschedule. But yes, for a birthday party or wedding (obviously!) or something super important like that, you gotta get your butt out the door and go.

    Something to add fuel to the fire and complicate matters even more (and you may have touched on this in an earlier post, not sure): the baby factor! I feel as though every friend I’ve made in my new city this past two years has now had a baby… and that’s changed the equation entirely. Social outings are just inevitably planned around nap and feeding times now, and of course that makes total sense, and I’m more than happy to accommodate that (besides the fact that I’ll undoubtedly be in that position myself at some point, it just makes sense)… but anyway. That’s been a little bit of a hard thing to adjust to…. anyone else experience that?

  7. Megan

    I think the ‘usual’ should be sucking it up (if you can call it that) for a friend, and the exception should be bail-out. Otherwise, what do you mean by “friend”?

  8. San

    I am a big “suck it up” advocate. Of course, if my friend bails on me because she had a really bad week or is sick, I am the last one to NOT understand. But this should only be an exception.

    I have that agreement with my best friend that we always are completely honest with each other – so if she calls and tells me that she really doesn’t feel like going out for dinner, even though we had set a specific date, that is fine. As long as it doesn’t happen all the time.

    I’d never cancel a birthday invitation for “just not feeling like it”. If I cancel, I have to have a very legitimate reason for not going.

  9. Allison

    I understand that things come up, stuff happens, and sometimes you need to bail on a friend. The way I try (not always successfully) to approach it is sort of, “let me off the hook for these plans and I’ll make it up to you when things have calmed down.” Especially for the birthday example you mentioned — if that were me, I’d call my friend and apologize for not being able to make it, but offer to treat her to brunch or happy hour or whatever in the next few days to celebrate her birthday.

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