How to be a good friend
We’re nearing the end of 2019 and the end of a decade. When I was a child it was such a big deal to end a decade. Now it seems less so. Maybe the world is just so big and open now that the fascination of it is gone?
I’ve been marking the end of this decade by reflecting on and then writing short pieces about topics that have really moved me in 2019.
It’s been a huge year of healing for me as my body continues to recover from a broken leg, surgery and last week another surgery to remove the hardware from the first surgery in September 2018. While I thought the broken leg was the primary focus of my year I realized that it was much much more than that.
While I had to really sit still in my body and learn what that meant for me at this stage of life, I learned how to rest my central nervous system like never before. What came out of that were real questions and deep insight into who I am, what I do and what I believe in.
Parsing it out even further were a few events that triggered me to explore the topic of friendship. My life has expanded in so many ways in the past year and friendship is a central topic.
I’ve been moved by thinking about what sort of friend I am, how have my friendship experiences influenced me, what does culture teach us about friendship, and where would I like to evolve in my friendships. In primary school we learn about kindness and how to be a good citizen. Then somewhere along the way, probably puberty and high school it gets a bit fuzzy.
Frankly I’ve always seen friendship as a place where I have to work through some of my fears. Some friends aren’t that awesome and I haven’t always been a very consistent friend. As a Libra with most of her planets in the 7th house communicating, partnering and friendship is elemental to my nature. I yearn for friendship and connection and it gives me great joy to commune with friends. But all of us humans have experienced how we can’t always trust our friends and sometimes we go all in and get crickets. Friendships can be hurtful or make us feel like we aren’t enough. Like we don’t belong or where do we belong.
I became a Mother at the age of 20 which took tons of my energy. I was working, trying to manage a marriage to an alcoholic and keep it all together. My close friends and family knew I was struggling but I didn’t really want to admit it. I would work it out, things would change, I am strong and I can handle it alone was my mantra.
I developed this sort of super ego that didn’t allow me to let many people in. Prior to that and in my teens I felt like an outsider much of the time with two feuding divorced parents. We moved from one state to another in the middle of my junior year in high school sending me into a whole new category of survival. I learned that if I was “nice” to everyone and didn’t speak up much I would be accepted. I also learned that being alone was sometimes easier and my confidence grew.
My family shattered when I was 12. I had deep insights into people and couldn’t relate to some of the more age appropriate or typical issues other kids around me were exploring. I tended to view friendships as highs or lows-either too mundane or risky and unreliable. I had problems finding a middle ground.
Those patterns I developed as a young woman have been with me all along, even though I’ve evolved. I’ve never had problems meeting new friends, or attracting new friends. I have had a problem focusing on how to manage them from a time and place perspective. Especially as one who was almost always in a love relationship. I always put my love interests on a pedestal. I do regret that now. I admire young women who keep their friends at the front line.
Over the years there have been friendship dramas I’ve experienced that have turned me off to female friendships. Friends I thought were true friends betrayed me or turned against me. Friendships that I thought were going well shifted or grew apart. In my 30’s and 40’s I learned that sometimes friend groups start gossiping which can cause hurt and damage. Lack of trust sets in. I would cope by just fading out. I didn’t want to talk about it or work it out. I didn’t know how.
Our culture perpetuates this type of behavior as a way of competing and being on top. We’ve got movies, tv shows, music, comedians, books, politics and social media to make light of and enforce these negative ways.
Friendship resiliency is something to consider. I’ve watched my husband over the years and how he approaches friendship. What I mainly see about his behavior is that he’s very open and humble. His ego is in check when it comes to friendships. He has tons of friends from way back. He makes new friends easily. He gives his friends a lot of space and doesn’t love them conditionally. They can make a mistake and it’s ok. He’s still there for them. They can have messy lives and he’s still there for them. And mostly he seems at peace with that style. He has a lighthearted quality about friendship that is so endearing. I think he’s learned not to take himself too seriously. I would like more of that to rub off on me.
As I enter my 60’s I’m still learning big lessons on friendships. Recently I had an opportunity to see an acquaintance in the small town I live near. We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year. I made a joke about it saying how is that we live 3 minutes away and only see each other once a year? So we made a plan to meet up. Her schedule only allowed us to meet for an hour or two, and we had to book our meeting a couple months away. So on the afternoon before our 7 pm meet-up I get a FB message, “Sorry I can’t make it.” I kind of knew this was going to happen. But it really caused me to wonder about women and friendship. Why do we backburner it so often? Canceled. Not enough brain share for friendship today thank you anyway.
Ram Dass says “we’re all just walking each other home.” We’ve all encountered varying degrees of friendship hurts, people who simply disappear, unanswered calls, texts or connections. Sometimes we thought we were friends with someone only to learn later we actually weren’t. All of this takes emotional resilience to process and be with. Especially if we’re awake and aware and not shutting down.
All of my experiences make me more grateful than ever for my eternally present and loving friendships. Like the one I have with my husband, my son, daughter, my business director, my furry friends and a close circle of friends who always show up, no matter what. Maybe we only have so many hours in the day, week, month and years to show up for friendship. That’s an acceptance of sorts about life, living and aging. We only have so much energy. It’s hard to be honest, or to say no and sometimes we just hit cancel instead. It’s the lazy way out.
I’ve been cultivating new friendships and collaborations within my business in the past few years which has felt really good. I’m stretching in new directions, taking risks and learning to be ok with rejection.
Boundaries. I’m still learning how to be in friendship with just enough boundaries but not so many that I can’t stay open or allow vulnerability. For those of us who grew up with poor boundaries we’re always wanting to make sure we aren’t over stepping or under stepping. It’s an act of loving kindness for self and others to be there for someone, but not to be a doormat. Compassion is one thing, care taking is another. Compassion means I can be present with you, see you, feel deep empathy for you but I can’t carry you.
There is also an element of mystery to friendship. I think it’s ok to leave it there. To have friends who you don’t know every single thing about you and your past is just fine. In adult friendships we can reinvent ourselves. We don’t have the burden of past mistakes to rehash over and over. I’ve seen how my Mother has developed many new friends in her 80’s. After the loss of her husband and 38 year marriage she had to move on. And she did. She’s got new friends, activities and thought processes I never would have imagined. It’s quite inspiring. We can change. Even in our 80’s.
I now believe friendship is a spiritual practice. I want to embrace it with all of my heart. I don’t want to cancel friendship. I want to show up wholeheartedly. I believe it’s important to my wellbeing. As important as my health, my marriage, my role as a mother and grandmother, my work in the world and all of my livelihoods.
I’m not going to cancel. I’ll show up for planned friend time, return the call, the text, the email and heed the call when one reaches out to me. I’m not going to hide away from it.
I’m dedicated and I want to be a good friend. Not just in theory but in action. I want to show up and just be. I can show up tired or sad or joyful and elated. And so can my friends.