Wise Words With Aroog Khaliq: A Close Look at Friendship and Empathy

Aroog Khaliq is a Pre-Med English student and columnist at the University Daily Kansan, where she has her own column entitled Ask Aroog. Aroog is someone who is incredibly insightful about the intricacies of relationships and human emotion; she always has the right words to describe or convey her thoughts. It makes complete sense, then, that she is a wonderful poet as well. You can find her two chapbooks here and here

Two weeks before the interview, I had spoken with Aroog about how important friendships are and in what ways we should devote love and attention to them. As we are getting so busy trying to achieve and succeed, sometimes our friends drop to the wayside. But friends are the ones that build you up; we must not forget them in our race to make something out of our lives. I wanted to explore and share Aroog’s unique perspective on how she values friendship, so I decided to interview her on these ideals.

Your understanding of friendship and the way you view it has an intentional level of empathy that I think people have forgotten, or [that] you have to really look for in others.

 I’m gonna make sure I center them and care about them. Also the flip side is making sure that people care about you and that they’re checking in and taking care of you.

[There’s] something to be said about telling yourself: I’m not gonna take friendships for granted. I’m not gonna take the people who love me for granted.

A big thing I hear about [in] our generation is that you don’t owe anything to anybody. You don’t have to give explanations to people […] It starts out with people saying that, when you are in the depths of mental illness, don’t feel like you have to check in on your friends all the time. And that’s of course correct—I’ve been there. At the same time, that should not be generalized to everybody. We do owe things to each other […] When you forget that you owe another friend who cares about you time and effort and devotion then it’s not gonna be a good friendship, and if you’re only reserving that kind of thinking and that kind of approach to relationships for romantic relationships, then you don’t get that benefit of experiencing it with friends first. The stakes are a little bit lower, you know. You get to understand what it feels like to truly and deeply care about another person before you have to do it all for real in a long-term relationship.

What do you think you gain from having friendships where you care about someone as much as you would in a romantic relationship? Or similar to that?

For me what I specifically get is a place to pour out the love that I contain in myself.

Any relationship is like growing a plant. The more you nurture it, the more attention you give to it, the better it will grow. I know that because I am devoted to these people and they are devoted to me back there is a degree to which I can rely on them and I can trust them. And It’s good to know that somebody really truly cares about you […] It’s warm. It’s like a blanket.

On Friendship Struggles and Friendship Break-Ups

A lot of [friendship] is related to communication and the degree to which the other person is willing to open up back to you.

If one person is open and there and present all the time and the other person is halfway there, a quarter of the way there, it’s not going to be the same. It’s not going to be fully functional. That’s when people end up leaving your life.

Friend break-ups do hit as hard as relationship break-ups. The way that you want to breakup a friendship, consider the way you would break up with a [romantic partner]. You owe people the same level of thinking before you go into it.

With friend break-ups and stuff, because it’s not a “relationship” people are like “oh, I can just never talk to this person again. Your friend is not somebody who swiped right on you on tinder and who you talked to for three days

Understand the tiers of your relationships in your lives. Understand that friendship is higher up on the totem pole than you think. If you think it ranks lower it is because you’re confusing true friendship with acquaintances, work friends, mutual friends. True friendship means more than that. 

Your love is not bottomless.Your empathy is not bottomless. Your kindness is not bottomless. Valuing your resources of love and distributing them appropriately is important.

On An Immigrant’s Perspective of Friendship:

I am Punjabi-Pakistani. I think [this is] a common immigrant story: the idea that your parents are used to being an island. An island in a sea of whiteness. An island among their families back home because they move over here. An island among groups of people who look like them but don’t have their best interests at heart when they’re here. Because they’ve been burnt repeatedly by friendships and people close to them, and they know that the one place they can always go back to is family, that’s why they value it more.

My parents think that your family can also be your friend. And I think that’s true but I think that when you fully overlap both circles on that venn diagram, you have a problem. No one can be everything for you. No one unit can be everything for you.

Some of this conversation reminded me of a podcast by NPR called Life Kit. There was one about Friendship and how it changes, and they had this idea of time, money, and energy as the edges of a triangle of friendship. You know you have invested in a good relationship if you have a little bit of all three — would you agree with that?

I agree. I get the time and energy. I think maybe what we’re looking for in our third corner is genuineness. I think somebody can give you time and energy and still not be truly genuine in their intentions. Some people want connection. They don’t want connection with you.

Is there anything else you want to share about friendship?

Don’t be afraid to show other people in your life how much they mean to you. It’s not something to be embarrassed about. It’s not lame. It’s not annoying. Every time somebody in my life has shown how much I mean to them, I carry that inside of me for a very long time. It’s a gift. Don’t be afraid to give it.

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