Earlier today I heard somebody say something to the effect of, "I'm really figuring out who my friends are in 2014," and it caught my attention because I, too, have been thinking about friendship lately and what it really means to be a good friend. What attracts two friends to each other in the first place, what are the ingredients that either pull the two together forever into a deeply meaningful relationship, or ultimately repels them, and what does it actually take to be a good friend?
I've never had an easy time of making friends with women, and my time in Asheville was really lonely except for a couple ladies who I ended up becoming close with. I've always been more careful with friendships even than with romantic relationships, because it's the friendships you think will stick around. With friendships, there's no heartbreak, no breakup, no cheating, and no falling out of love, right? I've always been more careful about getting close to people in friendship, because when I find a good one, I subconsciously begin working them into my long term plan and I don't want the grief that comes if they begin working themselves, like a splinter, back out. It's so difficult making authentic connections in a world where almost every interaction is punctuated by texts, e-mails, and phone calls, so when I find somebody who feels like a person I can trust completely, and stand being around for more than five minutes, I try to hang on.
Because friendship hasn't always come super easily, I have found myself at times compromising my self respect in the interest of keeping a friend around. I have let myself get taken advantage of, be mistreated, and taken for granted over the years and in 2013 after two really important friendships revealed themselves as fickle and selfish in ways that were really harmful, I decided that I was going to have to find a way to be both more open and more discerning. No matter how protective I am of myself, rotten ones will still get through every once in a while, so building even thicker walls around myself certainly wouldn't have been the answer, but neither was just letting anyone on in to walk all around on top of me. It's been an interesting practice.
So right after these friendships halted, just before and just after I moved to Carrboro in August, I found myself feeling really open to and excited about making friends in this new place where I didn't know anybody, and I suppose I've tried to take a trustworthy-until-proven-otherwise approach.
I've learned a lot about what I will and won't take, and also how much I'm willing to give.
I certainly don't have all the answers about being the perfect friend, and am sure I make a ton of mistakes, but I've come up with a list of non-negotiable expectations, and a few do's and don'ts:
-I expect that all confidences should be kept, because trust is the backbone of any friendship, and the keeping of confidence shouldn't depend on the longevity of the friendship. Friendships might end, but secrets are meant to be kept.
-I expect that my friends should have my happiness and best interest at heart and not get joy from engaging competitively, making caddy remarks, and creating embarrassing situations. Friends should lift each other up, not pull each other down.
-Friends should expect each other to show up when they can, but respecting boundaries is one of the easiest way to show you really care about somebody, and sometimes maintaining boundaries keep us from showing up. For example, you don't get to pull the, "I would do this for a friend without a second thought, so why can't you?" Sometimes you just have to take care of yourself first. Self care makes you a healthier, happier person, and therefor, better at being a good friend. Sometimes you just can't drive 5 hours to and from the airport in an unreliable vehicle with bald tires. Sorry, Charlie.
-You can't expect me to be a different person than I am, and I shouldn't expect that from you. This is one of the things I had to settle with in myself when trying to decide whether to continue certain friendships. Hoping that a friend will act differently than is in his/her character for the sake of supporting you leads to disappointment and suffering. Sometimes this means realizing that a friend is fair-weathered and will never, no matter how many times he/she has promised to try, show up when you need them. I must offer some self-reflection here, because I have been that friend who hasn't shown up. I tend to become very brooding and melancholy when feeling overly anxious, and this results in me pulling inward. Instead of reaching out, I retreat in, and this has been a problem in the past, because people will only take so much rejection. If you say no, I don't feel like going out, enough times, they'll stop asking. I've been working hard at not fully inhabiting introversion when life begins to feel overwhelming, and it's been hard, but I think my efforts, as humble and fumbling as they may be, has made me a more attentive friend and much more self-aware person.
When trying to decide who to put energy into, I have to ask myself questions like:
-Does this person make me feel good about myself?
-Do they inspire good-ness or negativity in me?
-Would this person both listen to me pour my heart out and cry my eyes out with open ears, AND tell me when it's time to get up and get going again? It's good to sympathize, but encouraging wallowing isn't healthy and rarely what anybody needs.
-Am I good for this person? Am I willing to show up? Do I got what they need? Can I give what they want?
This might all seem very obvious, but it's tough to know sometimes, when to let go, and when to hold on, especially if you've made up your mind about somebody being a friend for the long haul, which I tend to do to my detriment. I suppose it's the same with romance, though. You invest all that time, and open up your heart, and maybe it lasts and maybe it doesn't, and maybe the best way to approach these relationships is just to engage for as long as it benefits you, and be happy with what it is for as long as it is and let go of the rest. This sounds a lot like developing a practice of non-attachment but I don't see how it's possible to be simultaneously unattached, AND excited enough about the idea of developing a friendship to invest time and energy.
There must be a middle ground.