Friendship archetypes can harm relationships

Illustration by Eva Szoboszlay

Have you ever been referred to as the mom friend before? Was it after you did something mildly responsible like drinking water after your third mug of Franzia or stacking plates so the server would have an easier time clearing the table? Were you surprised? Urban Dictionary’s example of how to use “mom friend” in a sentence is “Megan hasn’t been drinking at all tonight since she’s our designated driver. She’s a total Mom Friend.” No shade to user giraffe112, but this just sounds like common sense to me.

Do not get me wrong, I have no serious issue with calling your friend the dad of the group, or even the wine aunt. But I find that sometimes there can be tiring assumptions and expectations based off of these archetypes. Now I do not know how every group of friends operates, but my experience with this kind of identification is not a positive one.

I was first referred to as the “mom friend” when I was 16. This role ended up transforming very quickly into being the therapist friend, where I had to spend copious amounts of emotional labor to feel valued in the friendship. A similar situation happened during my first year at Lewis & Clark with someone I was close to. It felt terrifying feeling responsible for someone else’s emotions. Let me be clear, you are never responsible for someone else’s mental health, but the threat of “I do not know what I would do without you” is enough to make you doubt that.

It can be really hard for people to ask for professional help, or for guidance outside of their immediate family or friend group. This is even something I had a lot of trouble with when it came to my own mental health. But when it came to others, it took me a long time to learn that there is a difference between being there for someone who is having a hard time, and going too far beyond your job description as a friend. Each friendship is different and imperfect, but it is always important to know that your feelings are valid too. Sometimes you are not the right person, or in the right position, to give someone the help they need.

Even when the use of friend archetypes are more casual, they can still feel awful. On a Friday night, I do not want to be expected to herd drunk friends or pick up after them or tell them not to climb tall things. This is tricky. I love helping my friends out, and everyone has moments where they need some extra support or guidance. But if you reflect on the friendship and believe that this is your role, I think there may be a problem. I am definitely going to keep holding your hair back, but sometimes I want to be the one who feels comfortable going too hard. The same applies in the reverse. Odds are that no one wants to feel like the wild child all the time; they can offer more than that to the relationship. They probably want you to feel comfortable going to them for support too. 

I do not believe for a second that these concerns apply to everyone. There are also phases of life where some people need more help than usual, and it is great to have a friend around for that. It is tricky navigating this gray area, but for me, it was something I should have considered a long time ago. After so many years of being called the mom friend, it was tempting to limit my value as a person to how much I helped those around me. Thankfully, the friends I have now have helped me get out of that space, and have redefined the term for me.

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