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On Friendship

October 5, 2012

I’ve had reasons to do a lot of thinking about friendship lately – people who know me know that I occasionally fall into these contemplative moods (as opposed to my everyday just being analytical). I had a conversation with someone the other day that led me to ask the question – How do you define friendship? What makes a person a friend to you? And I’ve been thinking about that question ever since.

I told the person how I define it. I see a difference in people who are your acquaintances or with whom you are friendly and people you call your friends. When I have a new friendship where we both say “hey, we think we have a connection”, I put time into cultivating it so it can grow. Other times, friendship takes me by surprise, like the time many years ago in Seattle when a person with whom I was friendly and study buddies called upon me and entrusted me with a secret, and we were suddenly very close. Friendship, in my eyes, can develop rapidly or slowly – there is no set timeline on how a friendship “should” develop (just like a romantic relationship) – it all depends on the people involved. To make up rules around such things is really doing yourself and others a disservice. To tell the other person “it has to go my way” is being unfair to the other person.

For those people I call friends – real friends, not just see you in a group setting or have coffee once a month colleagues (and by the way, we all need all sorts of relationships in our lives, so I am not criticizing these types of them) – I would do anything. These are the people who are important enough to me that they can call me in the middle of the night and say “I need to come over”. I will defend them and try to make sure they do not come to harm. I will extend myself personally and professionally for them. I will put myself in harms way for them and be pained by their pain.

In other words, I don’t take friendship lightly. I can’t claim to have hundreds of friends. I hope to cultivate positive relationships with people, but I try to go beyond the surface with people with whom I feel a spark, a connection of some sort. Sometimes it works out well for a short time, sometimes it does not work at all, and sometimes it develops into a life-long relationship. It’s hard for me to do so because there is always the risk of pain, but then there is always the risk for a deeper connection. We all need connections of all kinds, after all. Going through life completely alone is, well, lonely for most of us. It helps, when a person is having a bad day, to be able to reach out to a friend and say “I need to hear something positive about myself”, or “I need help.”

Friendship requires communication. It requires opening yourself up, letting someone get to know you and trusting that the person will not hurt you. Friendship requires both give and take. It’s complicated – otherwise why else would there be so many quotes and books on the subject of friendship and/or relationships?

I am so very grateful for my friends, because sometimes I need a friend, too, and reach out to those who define themselves as such. This does not always work, as I have learned. I have what a friend of mine calls “muchness”, and when someone says “we are friends” but is threatened by my muchness and pushes me away or name calls me, well…is that friendship? Is it friendship when you have had an intense beginning and then a conflict, and the other person says “I want to be your friend” but the person’s actions state otherwise? If a person says “you’re too much”, won’t be honest with you or is unkind, is that person a friend? If not, then why do I continue to try when my logical brain says “walk away” but my emotions say “this may be worth something, hang on”? At what point does my giving stop, and putting my wall back up begin? Is it made worse because the other person says one thing and does another?

Then I start wondering whether or not I am trying hard enough to look at the situation from the other person’s perspective (I feel like I have, but…well, when a person is down, it is easy to doubt oneself).

Is all of this magnified by this overseas Peace Corps experience? Something that was interesting today was that all of the Peace Corps Volunteers and Peace Corps Response Volunteers got together and we had to list our top six stressors. Guess what was at the top, or nearly at the top, for everyone? Two things – loneliness and isolation, and relationships.

It made me realize that so many of us here are experiencing similar things but we don’t necessarily say so.

In any case, once again, I can’t claim to have an answer. But I can claim that I keep pursuing one.

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