Everyone has friends.
Except sociopaths and those annoying Toronto Maple Leaf fans. You know, “those” ones.
Friendship isn’t simple like it was when we were little kids. Back then, all that mattered was if there was enough room in the sandbox. The innocence of those times slowly vanishes as we all get older. Complications like peer pressure, self- image, ego, and a bunch of other grown-up crap can really screw up friendships. Some is self-inflicted. We have this stupid, misguided notion that we have to be the center of everyone else’s universe, or that everyone else is our friend only on good days. On bad days, they should stay away, not talk them, or that person “ghosts” their friends without a reason.
I wish I could sit here and tell you I was a model example of everything a good friend should be. But I’d be lying like a rug if I did. That’s not to say I was always an asshole. But thanks to my own insecurities, there were times when, subconsciously, I’d shut people out, become self-involved, negative towards people, and /or brutally honest to the point of not realizing the damage I was doing.
Thankfully, I’ve changed. I’m by no means perfect. But these days, I’ll notice my dickish behaviour and do everything I can to fix it, or ensure that dickishness doesn’t return.
With my recent re-enrollment in college, and officially returning to social circles tat don’t involve family and friends I’ve known forever, I thought I’d write a bit of a guide to being friends.
“What experience do I have?” says you? Pfff, none. I nearly lost two of my best friends because I wasn’t clued-in enough to not do some of the things I mentioned above. It may have not solely been my fault, but not stepping back and trying to set things right makes those two events potentially, and colossally stupid. Thankfully, both of those friends, two people I cherish greatly, are back in my life.
Friendship Guide 1: Open Up
That doesn’t mean telling people you just met your whole life story. No one really wants to hear that honestly. I’m talking about being open to others. A willingness to talk to others, share parts of yourself, form bonds. Whether it be about a favorite, obscure TV series, or sharing a point of view in life. Find common ground. That is how some of the best friends are found. Waaay back in grade 7, a then-friend of mine introduced me to some guy who also liked to play Role-Playing Games (with dice and imagination, not dressing-up kinky). I was hesitant to let some stranger play, but he also liked comic books. 24 years later, we are still best friends. That other guy, no clue what happened to him. But if I hadn’t been open to someone new, I’d have never met him.
Friendship Guide 2: Honesty
This isn’t about telling how drunk you were last New Year’s Eve, it’s about honesty and respect. You don’t have to tell everyone your business, but if they are friends, and they show concern, ignoring them and wallowing in your misery doesn’t help. I sadly have a good amount of experience with being miserable. I’ve been shitty to people who only wanted to help, and I’m thankful they didn’t Keyser Soze and just disappear. If they did, I might not be here.
Having said that, you don’t have t tell them everything (see “Friendship Guide 1”). But talking about something that is bothering you does help. The more you talk about something, the less imposing or stressful the things becomes. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. But to ignore people around who are concerned, shows that they are dispensable, that you have no respect for them or their friendship. If you don’t want those people around, have the courage to tell them. Otherwise, you’re just a weak coward. Or, you’re really self-centered. Either way, uncool.
Fortunately, if there are people who like you, then there’s hope.
Friendship Guide 3: Flaws
We all got them. Being self-centered. Being negative toward others as a way to improve your own self-image. Manipulating friends to favor one person, or yourself, over another. Lying. Spreading rumors. Being nice to someone’s face, then being mean behind their backs. I could go on, but those are the basics that I can recall off the top of my head.
No one is perfect. We all get angry, jealous, stupid, moody, whatever. We say things to get revenge on someone. We mock people for their choices in food, clothes, movies, music, etc. It’s a lot of negativity to spread when it is truly unnecessary. That old adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all” has been forgotten, especially these days with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, were we can post our pithy, so-called wit, and call it brilliance. Ooo! Especially passive aggressiveness! Man, since social media has become popular, so has passive aggressiveness. I know, I was a master at it. I was a huge tool. Sadly, there may be days yet to come where I will be a huge tool again! Hopefully, they will be fewer and fewer.
Everyone is flawed. No one s perfect. Making a point of someone else’s flaws, especially a friend, in a public place, shows you have zero respect for them. They are just there to make you look good, or for you to come across as awesomesauce. While others my laugh, maybe even your friend, there will be some who will just wonder if you ever say anything nice about anyone except yourself? Or they wonder how you would feel if someone pointed out your flaws as brutally as you may have just done to someone else.
Friendship Guide 4: Communication
You being brutally honest with someone may be your attempt to be a good friend. Thing is, when the word “brutal” is used, that isn’t a good thing. Brutal honest can be brutal, hurtful, and embarrassing. It may drive a wedge between you and your friends, especially if the subject your blathering about was supposed to be private.
There’s nothing wrong with honesty. Honesty is vitally important in a friendship. But if you must talk about something, try to be civil. If you can’t be civil with your honesty, then just keep your mouth shut. If the subject comes up, or the friend actually asks for your thoughts on the subject, be honest, sincere, and civil.
Friendship Guide 5: Space
Friends are awesome to have. They are fun to hang with. But they aren’t your life. If they were, you’d be dating them. We all have our lives to live. Sharing that life with your friends is great. But if a friend likes to have some alone time, don’t be offended. I LOVE having “me” time! Whether it’s to spend that time writing, napping, taking a drive, watching a movie, or whatever, I value my alone time. By no means is that a snub to my friends. That’s just how I am. And I’m sure there are others out there who agree that friends who feel the need to constantly be in contact, or hanging around you, become the kind of friends you want to see less and less. Then they get all pissy and you wonder why (see “Friendship Guide 4: Communication).
Friendship Guide 6: Love and Trust
Yes, you can love your friends, but you can’t LOVE your friends. That gets into a whole “friends with benefits” thing I don’t want to get into. The friends closest to me, the ones that have known me for decades, the ones who know my private fears and past, there’s a reason they know such things. I trust them, because I love them, like brothers and sisters.
A subcategory of love is “Like”! Any new friends you meet, they either fall into two groups. There are those who will come into your life, make an impression, teach you something about life or yourself, and go from your life. I’ve been blessed to have a few of those. Mind you, some were utterly insane and taught me some of the crappier things about people and how they behave. In both cases, they helped me grow and learn.
Then there are those you hope to remain friends with for many years to come. Those are the friends that fit into the “Like” subcategory of love. If they stay in your life, stand by you, share some great memories, grow together, then someday, they may become friends that you can’t imagine your life without them. They become the friends you love.
Friendship isn’t always easy. Some take effort, patience, understanding, and compassion, especially for those who may have had it hard than others. There may come a time when, despite your best efforts, it all falls apart. That’s a part of life, and you have to move on. But if that friend comes out the other side, being the person you knew was within them, then everything has been worth it.
But the best friends are the ones where it takes no effort at all. You click (in-person, not online). You chat. You laugh. You enjoy hanging with them, and look forward to seeing them. Even when months or years pass, when you catch up, it feels like no time has passed at all. Those are the friends you cherish. Those are the friends that last. Those are the friends you are always thankful to know.