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.