Friday, February 27, 2015

     I read an article about friendship tonight. I spend a lot of time thinking about my friendships and the kind of friend I want to be. I was struck by a couple of things that were revealed in the article’s recent study. First, the average American said he or she has only two close friends---down from three 10 years ago. Secondly, according to this study, only 25% of people interviewed said that they had a close friend, and those who had only one said that it was their spouse. Thirdly, as we age, we become more selective in our friendships not wanting to spend energy on people with whom we don’t engage on a deep enough level to pursue the relationship. Finally, it said that friendships change as our circumstances and interests change. That seems so logical, but it doesn’t diminish the sometimes sad feeling that we no longer connect with people we once did.

     I was very validated by this article, even though it’s only one study. I have had some interesting friendship experiences through the years. Some of them have scarred me, and others have inspired me. Years ago, I had a good friend (or so I thought) tell me she couldn’t be my friend anymore because I was too talented, too accomplished. She said I intimidated her. I was so dumbfounded, I couldn’t believe my ears. She was pretty, talented and ambitious herself. I was hurt and confused. Another friend a few years later told me she couldn’t be my friend because I didn’t value myself enough. What? That friend was not a close one, but I was also stunned and confused. A few years ago, a friend said to me, “You know you are too pretty to have all those wrinkles on your face.” I didn’t know what to do with that comment. Was she criticizing me or trying to help? That brings up the “total honesty” question which is for another discussion. Another friend made fun of a friendship card I sent to her after she helped me through a crisis with my baby. I was very hurt and to this day, I cannot bring myself to send a friendship card even though I know her insensitive comments were about her, not me.  Who says words can’t damage? When people hurt us, we sometimes unconsciously build up walls that prevent us from making deeper level connections. It is difficult to let go of the old scars and look at new friendships with an open mind.

     I do know that as I am getting older, I don’t want to waste my time on people who don’t listen. I am not a sounding board, a therapist or someone’s personal audience.If I have a conversation with someone, and I walk away knowing their life history, and they don’t know I have children, I cannot be a friend to that person.  I am a genuine human being who chooses to share feelings and experiences with someone of like mind. If I don’t have that connection, I cannot be a friend to that person. That’s just me. We are all different, and some friends fill needs that others don’t. 

     I treasure the beautiful friendships I have. Each one is unique, but there are very few for whom I would fly across the country if they were in trouble. I used to worry about not having a BFF. Hard to believe that people even think about such things late in life, but we do. I listen to the throwaway comments of some of my peers, and I hear such things as, “She probably thinks I’m boring,” or “I really don’t have that many friends anymore.” Comments like these tell me that most of us think about our friends and cherish those who mean most to us. Sometimes we hold onto friendships that are destructive because we don’t know how to let go. Sometimes letting go is the only way to keep from letting someone pull us into their quicksand. 

     The article spoke of the issue of loneliness. I am very blessed because some of my closest friends are those who will never hurt me or betray me: a blank page, a piano keyboard, a path in the woods, a blanket on a beach, a melody in my ear, a good read. They don’t replace human friends, but they keep me company so I am rarely lonely. When I was divorced many years ago, I had to learn to be my own best friend. My friends changed a lot the first few years I was alone. Initially, I seemed to gravitate toward people who were as sad as I was. I soon realized they just made me sadder. I had to be around people who were focused on positive things so I could get out of myself. I learned that by helping others who were hurting in some way, I could gain perspective and give the good inside of me. Nature became my constant companion, and my students became my extended family. My daughters were my life raft, and my job was my anchor. I had few close friends at work, as I was older than many of my peers, but I seemed to fall into the role of big sister and for some, role model. I became a local actress so my friends stood next to me on stage. We could all be someone else  for a while. The end of the play’s run was always sad for us, as we had to go back to being ourselves.

     I try to be the friend I need. I am interested in how my friends think, feel, process things, look at their world. I am there for them to listen when they need me. I don’t judge, and I don’t give advice unless asked. I never one-up or brag, and I always remember what they tell me and ask about whatever it is the next time we are together. I know the names of their kids, and I know how they feel about social issues. I avoid politics and religion, and I always praise them for their unique talents. I know their signals that say “Don’t ask,” “Please understand,” “I’m not always like this.” I let them teach me by being open to different ideas and opinions, and I teach only by example. I have several whom I call “friends,” but there are only a few who are true soul mates. For them, I am grateful. They know who they are. Some of them will never see this, and that’s ok.

Right:  My soul mate and best friend, Mr. Wonderful:)