Friends, and Other Things

This lovely man wrote a blog post about friends, and that really started the conversation going as to what is a friend (versus acquaintance), what makes a friend, the needs of friends, and when do you know it’s over. The post and the ensuing comment thread got me thinking about friendship all weekend.

I started thinking back to the people of my past. I’m ashamed to say that I have treated some people very badly. Perhaps being a bad friend is part of being in your teens and twenties. And then we get to the neglectful thirties and forties, when our own personal bubble means so much more than our friends. Finally, you get to an age of “maturity” – if you want to call it that – where you rehash the major and minor points in your life and start making all of those wrong things right.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but this is what happened in my case. I make no apologies for my previous bad behavior. “Sorry” often doesn’t cut it anyway. Somewhere around my 50th birthday (a day that will live in infamy, a day I’d rather forget), I decided to revisit parts of my past. I told people how much they meant to me at the time I knew them best. I reconnected with high school friends I’d long lost touch with.

Another thing happened around the same time: I decided I would start making some new friends and treating them like the precious jewels they are. One reason was watching my own family. My father, who is 75, bemoans the fact that all of his “friends” are dying. This sounds suspiciously like his own mother when she was the same age. While technically correct in the fact that my father’s peers are slowly dying off, it’s also true that he could actually make some new friends if he chose to do so. My younger sister, who has stayed in the same general area where we grew up, on the other hand has so many friends I am not sure she can keep them straight. They are of all ages, all colors, and all types. I know from experience that my sister is an amazingly giving woman, sensible and spiritual. I saw through her interactions that she draws the same kind of people to herself. I’m a firm believer that you reap what you sow.

And so began my quest for becoming a good friend. In the past couple of years, partially due to the Internet, I’ve made more good friends than I did the previous twenty years.

I liken myself to a seed that’s been asleep. During the years that I was busy raising children (and believe me, if you knew my son back in the day, none of us were sure he’d make it out of high school, much less get into college, so I was busy), many things stood still. Creativity. Inner exploration. Friends. There are only so many hours in a day, and my immediate family came first. Perhaps that’s not the ideal way to live one’s life, but it was something I had to do. As soon as I was reasonably certain that they were “fine”, I threw some fertilizer and water on the seed.

The best thing about expending energy and time on other human beings is that it lessens the grief in your own world. All of a sudden, the world opens up. It becomes larger, prettier, more colorful. Instead of you and your own four walls, there are others with their stories and their experience. The bonus is finding people who have lived a parallel life to yours. You share your stories, realize they are astounding in their similarity to your own life, you laugh, compare notes. You feel like you’re not a weirdo, not an oddball, not dysfunctional or deranged, but rather part of the human race.

I have friends with whom I disagree on a regular basis. My own Dear Mr. Demonic is among those. I love him, but we don’t have matching psyches. Opposites attract. I need people like this around me to keep me grounded. I need them to present the other side and to insist on showing me even if I don’t want to see. Everyone is entitled to have an opinion, even if it isn’t mine.

As for those who will never be my friend, you know who you are. You’re shallow; you’re narrow-minded; you’re petty; you’re mean spirited; you’re dishonest. While my entire focus is to be “a good friend” to all who are my friends, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be a door mat. I don’t relish being stabbed in the back, and I don’t think anyone does.

I know what it’s like to be a bad friend, and I vow not to walk that path again.

If you are my friend, I’ll be here for you. As long as I can help you, I will.

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10 Responses

  1. {{{{{{{{{{{{Pan}}}}}}}}}}} *rubs around ankles purring affectionately* I love you, Pan! 🙂

  2. I know what you mean. I have a history of being the friend to everyone and when I need one, there aren’t any around. Just my luck. Also, I’ve moved four times in the past six years. That doesn’t really allow one to build local friends.

    I’m like you when it comes to the Internet and making friends. The only problem is distance.

  3. When I really needed my friends a few years ago, I was astonished at who came through for me and who didn’t.

    Its not always easy to predict – even though I had long prided myself (erroneously as it turns out) on being a good judge of character.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your focus being on the kind of friend you are yourself – that, at least, you can control and it has an enormous effect on the kind of people you attract as friends.

  4. Friendship is a funny thing, isn’t it?

    I’m glad we’re friedns though.

  5. I’m glad I’m friends with kitties too… 🙂

    Long distance friends are sometimes the best.

    Me too, W…

  6. Ms. Pande,

    The only Perfect One died on the cross, the rest of us just gotta do the best we can.

    WordPress is a connected online community of human beings who always give me much to think about. I’m sorry for the mistakes I’ve made too, but I don’t dwell on ’em. I’m only human. Lord knows I didn’t make ’em on purpose.

    Dr. B

    Dr. B

  7. You are my friend, I’ll be here for you. As long as I can help you, I will.

    Yup. I can attest to the truth in that statement.
    I also agree with it. What comes around, goes around.

  8. Interesting post, Pan. I think it’s absolutely true that making and keeping friends requires mindful effort, and sometimes other things are more important. I also think that one possible way to define or recognize a friend is that a real friend won’t feel neglected or pushed aside when other parts of life intervene or distract. Probably a pretty deep level of essential closeness has to be established before that can happen, but still … there are people I can think of who are more distant than they used to be due to marriage and children, but I don’t feel that they are any less my friends than they ever were … it’s just that their immediate focus has changed in a way that I acknowledge to be appropriate.

    I guess one hard part about friendship is trusting that the bond is still there even when circumstances don’t make the bond obvious.

  9. A true friend will understand it if your life is temporarily reorganized, David. Even if the temporary reorganization lasts for 20 years!

    Most people want the focus to be on them, so if there is less of a focus, they immediately think the friendship is over. You have to forgive a little neglect, especially if it’s benign. Unless the person is overtly evil, I would take a breath and do something else.

    I guess you can apply the same principle to mates as well.

  10. Love this post!

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