Below is the second part of the bonus chapter on friendship of my upcoming book “I Know Why The Cheshire Cat Grins: When Shift Happens”.
It’s A Two-Way Street Or The Long Goodnight
Reciprocation is also necessary to keep the balance of a friendship going. A few years ago, a good friend of mine and I would talk very frequently, even when I moved out of state. At a point our conversations centered on his new, but turbulent relationship. Occasionally, he’d remember to ask how I was doing and I’d start telling him and he’d often take the conversation back to his situation. I eventually resorted to just giving brief platitudes because I felt he wasn’t listening and he wouldn’t notice, anyway. As his relationship improved, I got fewer and fewer calls; my calls were returned less frequently and our interactions fizzled out to the point where I only call on birthdays and holidays. The lack of reciprocation diluted the strength of the friendship. It is the intuitive understanding of keeping balance in a relationship that makes friendships thrive.
No one likes an opinionated friend. A friend who always thinks your choices are wrong will be a friend you’d love to avoid. A friend of mine who shall remain nameless had very rigid ideas about what I should be doing or had to believe in. Their religious beliefs had to be mine; their way of driving had to be mine; their leisure choices had to be mine. Needless to say, I can only have them in small doses. But, I must say, and in keeping with being a real friend, I have made my feelings known to them in an honest, non-accusing and loving way. To their credit, they are more conscious of it now.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey
Surviving In The Trenches
The building blocks of mutually satisfying, long-lasting close friendships include unquestioning acceptance, unconditional support, staying positive, loyalty, trust and honesty. Thankfully, proximity is not essential for friendship to thrive, but staying in touch is: call, visit, text, email…something, anything…. But the cement that holds all of these together is a combination of a well-developed sense of intimacy and emotional expressiveness. A good friend knows exactly what to say at the right time…or when not to say anything at all. A good friend is one in whose presence you can cry and be vulnerable without being concerned about being composed. A good friend knows instinctively when you just want to vent and understands that you don’t need them to give you advice or try to fix a situation. It isn’t the friend who lends us a couple of bucks – or a couple hundred – when we’re in a bind; or the one who picks us up from the airport that we treasure most. It is the one with the emotional prowess that leaves an indelible mark on our hearts. That is why we can’t pay our way through friendship. Unless we really invest emotionally into our friendships, the ones we have will remain shallow and lack longevity.
The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it's the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him with his friendship.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Moving On Up
But the elite status of ‘best friend’ is another kettle of fish altogether. It’s like friendship on steroids and the responsibilities and expectations are much higher. Our best friend is the one we expect to pick up the phone when we call at 4 in the morning. Our best friend is the one we know will leave everything to be beside us when we suffer a loss. However, the one element that separates a best friend from our other friends is that a best friend supports and reflects our social identity. We may have friends from all walks of life, but our best friend affirms our primary social identity – mother, mechanic, socialite, fashionista, jock… We naturally gravitate towards people who support our view of ourselves. And when our identity changes, our friends may change as well. The relationship I had with Alec changed when he got married – not in a bad way – but the dynamic changed. He was married and I wasn’t. We stay in touch and I am very close with his wife, but life happened. Marriage, divorce, parenthood and change in lifestyle will do that.
That’s What Friends Are For
To be loved, one must first start by being lovable. To have good friends, one must start by being a good friend. I happen to believe that no one crosses the path of my life by accident. Some will leave footsteps on my heart long after they’ve moved on; some came in just to teach me a lesson or to teach me something about myself. Whatever the case may be, I am grateful for the people who have made the tapestry of my life as rich as it is today.
I don’t take friendships lightly and I hold dear all the friends I’ve made around the world. To every single one of you – and you know who you are – this is dedicated to you. I hope I’ve been as good a friend to you as you have been to me.