A few months ago, a friend of mine moved apartments and asked her friends for help — a standard, “I’ll give you beer and pizza,” kind of thing. I agreed to come over, but soon after starting, I hurt my back lifting a box. I didn’t want to worry her or abandon her, so I stuck around for moral support, along with our other friends, but I didn’t do any more lifting the rest of the day. Now another friend is moving soon and wants friends to help. The first friend made a comment to her about not bothering to include me because I wasn’t much help. She said it in front of me, and she was probably trying to be funny, but I’m wondering if it’s too late to tell her I got hurt helping her.
If it’s any consolation, please know that the stage of life where you’re expected to move your friends in exchange for beer is temporary. Within the next decade, you’ll probably reach a point where people either acquire too much stuff to ask their friends to move them, and/or they’ll acquire enough money where they can pay other people to do the work. As you get older, people also tend to move less often, so these issues don’t come up as much. In the meantime, though, being there for your friends is admirable, as long as they’re not jerks.
It’s not clear from your letter whether your friends pass the non-jerk test, but since you’ve stuck by them, I’d love to believe they deserve your time and friendship. What none of you deserve, though, is a system built on dishonesty. Your friends seem to be on a slightly different page from you, so it’s time for you to take back some control in these relationships.
At a neutral time and location, pull aside the first friend. Tell her you know she didn’t mean anything by it (even if she did), but since she brought up her move to your other friend, you wanted to tell her something that you should have told her at the time. Tell her you hurt your back early on in the move but stuck around for moral support. Tell her you should have been honest about why you weren’t helping more, but you knew her day was stressful enough, and you didn’t want to add to her stress. If you want to press this further, tell her you’re not a slacker and that it hurt your feelings that she categorized you that way to your mutual friend.
When it’s time for the second friend’s move, if you want to help, show up at the appropriate time for your pizza and beer and do as much lifting as feels comfortable. Don’t apologize for what she heard about you or overcompensate to prove a point. If heavy lifting actually isn’t a good idea for you, tell the friend you have back issues, and ask if there are any other ways you could support her during her move. Be smart about how you lift things, and if your back starts to hurt, be honest about what’s going on, and then stop.
However, if you feel as though you’re done with this stage of life even if your friends aren’t, feel free to decline. You are not actually obligated to help even if they ask you to. Being a good friend can be expressed in many, many ways, from helping someone move, to thanking someone for being there for you, to not publicly shaming your friend for not being as efficient as a professional mover. Being genuine is going to be a good place for you to start, and let’s hope your friends follow your lead.