Should we start asking our friends if they're in the right 'headspace' to chat?

When someone on Twitter shared an exchange where a friend asked if she was in the ‘right headspace’ before sharing something that might hurt them, the conversation quickly went viral.

Yana Birt showed the message and posted; ‘I just want to say, a lot of y’all dump information on your friends at the wrong time without their consent. If you know it’s something that could hurt them, ask permission before you decide to be messy. Please.’

Many thought receiving a message like that would likely be more anxiety-inducing than the actual content.

And naturally, it was memed, with many reimagining the statement in pretty hilarious contexts.

She wasn’t the first to bring up the idea of asking your friends before offloading something heavy.

A few weeks earlier, Twitter user Melissa A. Fabello posted a similar exchange she had with a friend.

She said she was ‘at capacity’ and could no longer engage with her pal, sparking a whole variety of memes.

The statement polarised opinion, with some agreeing that this kind of sensitivity is needed before potentially triggering conversations.

Meanwhile, others agreed that we should be mindful of those who could be emotionally challenged by an abrupt vent, but took issue with the framing of the language.

Words like ‘at capacity’ and ‘appropriate space’ felt distant and formal to some people, considering the relationship is between two friends.

Many said it felt ‘transactional’, working on a give-and-take premise, like a chat an employer might have with an employee, or a therapist with their client.

So is asking for consent before a deep chat just the nice thing to do – or, is requesting this kind of permission signalling the demise of friendship into something more capitalistic?

It might be signalling a worrying trend of having even the things we hold most sacred become commodifiable.

Behavioural scientist Dr Pragya Agarwal explains to that we should be wary of this.

‘I don’t believe that this is an acceptable response,’ she says.

‘However, we have to consider the context and the mental health of both individuals involved, and their relationship so far.

‘Nevertheless, for me, human relationships cannot be transactional, they are not a capitalist agreement built on the principle of give and take.

‘A true friendship is where someone feels comfortable to show up unannounced, whether digitally or physically.

‘The way we talk about “friends’ on digital social media now creates a notion of false friendships, that are so far from the way humans were evolutionarily seeking kinship and friendships. They create this idea of reciprocity.

And, while friendship hiatuses and distance may be healthy and allow individuals to replenish themselves, self-care has become muddled with a certain level of narcissism.

In the name of prioritising one’s own mental health, friendships can fall by the wayside but if handled indelicately, it may result in the friend developing their own sense of isolation and mental health troubles.

There needs to be a demonstrable show of love and concern for the friend, argues Dr Agarwal.

She says: ‘According to philosopher Bennet Helm, friendship is a kind of love, and so it must “involve a concern for your friend for their sake and not for your own.”

‘The emphasis on the transactional nature of friendships is very toxic.’

However, some people think that people who mock such statements are akin to those who make light of trigger warnings.

24-year-old Tori has an emotional disorder and tells that it’s common courtesy to ask if she can handle the content of a conversation.

She says: ‘As a person who is both disabled and has emotional disorders I usually have my own share of stuff going on that I don’t unload on just anyone because most people don’t know how to handle it or help me.’

She recalls a time where she was in hospital following surgery and was severely depressed. At the time some of her friends were unloading their troubles but Tori was dealing with a lot of her own issues.

A simple ask may have saved her that emotional toll.

She adds: ‘When people abruptly dump heavy stuff on you, there’s no “polite” or “friendly” way to tell them to stop once they’ve started.

‘It’s demeaning and isolating because it shows we’re only friends so I can help you.’

As for consent, it’s completely acceptable to ask if your friends are in a place where they have space and time to listen to your concerns, especially if you’re aware that they might be suffering from anxiety themselves.

But we ought to be mindful of the way we approach it. A simple ‘can we chat?’ achieves the same result without the coldness of; ‘I’m at capacity’.

And if we’re being honest, if any of our friends texted us those words, would we really reach out next time we genuinely wanted to talk?

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