friendship

"I was told I was a 'bad friend' this year. I refuse to apologise for it."

In 2022, I was told that perhaps I'm not the greatest friend. 

In fact, it was my sister who told me that I was a pretty bad friend to those I love. And while my initial reaction was to disagree, to argue and to challenge her words — it became clear she was right.

But then I had a second thought. One that came to me so clearly.

And that is that I don't feel bad about it, and I certainly I won't be apologising for it either.

Watch: Best friends, translated. Post continues after video. 


Video via Mamamia.

For the entirety of my life, the importance of friendship has been drummed into my being. Someone to lean on in difficult times, to find solace in, to laugh and dream with, to push and motivate.

After 23 years, I'm letting this go and unsubscribing from the notion that it is my role to be all of this and more for everyone when I cannot — by any stretch of the imagination — be this person for myself. 

It happened during a middle of an hours-long conversation with my sister, where I casually mentioned that I had blown off a long-time friend for a mental health day. Work had been long and tiring, and I needed the evening to myself, I said. I let her know the day of, two hours before our dinner plans.

My sister's face contorted with disappointment. 

"Since when do we bail on our friends, Shannen?" she'd asked me, all the while shaking her head. "When did we cancel on the important people in our life with literally zero notice?"

I had stopped to think before answering - but not before she said the words: "That's a pretty s**t friend." 

And then it got me thinking. 

Before the pandemic, I had been dutiful. I cared for my friends — truly and deeply cared. In my mind, I'd held up my end of the bargain of what a good friend should be. 

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I moved in with my best friends at the age of 20 and held them close. I found a different kind of friendship in them that I didn't have the words to describe at that moment.

All the while, I kept in contact with friends who lived near and far. Sought out to see them, rang them constantly. 

But as the story goes, the pandemic happened. 

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud's episode on being a 'bad friend'. Post continues after audio.


It changed the way I behaved and communicated in almost every respect. I drew inwards and barely managed to be close with the friends I lived with. 

In that time, I broke. 

Not being able to see family, being cut off from all my friends and facing not only job insecurity, but home insecurity as well, plagued what I had once believed to be a happy, fulfilling life. One major event had thrown almost everything I had thought of as 'secure' and guaranteed, to a looming question mark that haunted every aspect of my life.

During that time, a total of six people reached out to me. This may seem like an okay number, but in comparison to my pre-pandemic days, this was a dramatic drop off of support.

Before the pandemic, I saw friends weekly. I'd made the effort. I'd travelled hours if need be and spent endless dollars at the drop of a hat to be surrounded by 'my people'. Group chats were alive and well, I FaceTimed daily with my friends. I was secure in the idea that I'd had literally dozens of lifelong pals to go the distance with.

Arrogantly, this new reality of minimal support horrified me. I felt dejected and replaceable. 

Over time though, I realised my friends were going through the same things I was. We were all dealing with the onslaught of the pandemic. And some were in a much worse position — dealing with unemployment, with housing problems and freshly broken relationships. 

They'd all lost so much — money, work, social interactions, their homes, and in the worst case, their family.

So, when everything began to open again, I kept those I cared about the closest to me. I stayed friends with the ones who needed me, and thought of those I was not in contact with, and hoped they were okay. 

I became content with the idea that there were people I would not speak to again. In hindsight, it was an overwhelming relief.

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My new circle now is much smaller, and incredibly intimate. Of course, I have those I see now and again, on nights out or at random events — but 'my people' are essentially 10-12 less than what I had pre-pandemic. And the pressure to be someone different, someone who is always 'switched on', lively and fun — or someone with an infinite amount of time to be an ear and a guided hand, no longer exists.

I am not someone who can extend myself out the way I used to, and those who are close to me now know my boundaries, and I, theirs. 

The guilt was there at first. A slight pang in my stomach. A guilt that told me I was cutting people off for no good reason. 

But, the reality is, the person I was before, is not a person who could have existed much longer, anyway. 

My contextual friends — the ones I had to go clubbing with or the ones I kept from school — didn't have much meaning to my life anymore. My role in their lives too was not necessarily valued or needed anymore either.

To some, particularly my sister, I'd be considered the worst friend alive. Cancelling on one friend for the betterment of my mental health may have been selfish — horrible, even. 

But I did it, and I can take responsibility for that.

And I think, in 2022, we need to make an effort to care more for ourselves. Realistically, no one walked away from the pandemic the same person. Jobs changed, friendships altered and the course of our lives veered off into something completely new. 

It's normal. It's expected, and the pandemic just fast-tracked a reality I would have had to come to terms with sooner or later, anyway.

The friends I have now, I wouldn't change for the world. And they understand that sometimes we simply can't be there for each other.

A text may come back delayed, a phone call could be shelved for another time, or a dinner plan might be rescheduled to the next week. The reasons as to why may be for my mental wellbeing, or because I need time alone, or simply because I do not have the energy.

If that makes me a bad friend, I understand - but I won't apologise for it.

For more from Shannen, you can follow her on Instagram here.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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