I never actually watched Mr Rogers Neighbourhood, but I love the idea of just opening a door, changing your sweater, and singing to make a new friend. Jeffrey & I were talking about friends the other day, as you do when you get older, because making them isn’t the same as it was when you were younger.
You meet someone at school and they become your friend. You may keep them around for a while, you may drop them (or be dropped!) the next semester, but there’s always someone new coming down the road, always fresh friendships to replace old ones.
But as you get older, the opportunities for making friends seem to diminish. I think that’s truer of men than women, but still, it’s not as easy to make friends in the middle years as it was when we were younger.
Since we moved to our new community, we’ve noticed this challenge particularly. Jeff travels a couple of days a week, which doesn’t help get him into places where friendships can develop. And when I was working, I was working too much/hard to have a lot of free time to get outside of the office & make friends. I mean a couple of people at work I would consider friendships-in-development, but they’re still there and I am not and, like a school setting, that just changes the dynamic entirely and makes it harder to keep up friendships. Especially those that were still finding their feet!
I also believe that as you get older you expect different things, maybe even more things from your friends. For one thing, I expect them to be honest with me. I mean, I have always wanted that from my friends – in a considered and tactful way, mind you, but honest nonetheless. I think when we’re younger we’re either brutally honest – which can forever alter, maybe even destroy a friendship – or we are a kind of coward who doesn’t know what to say or do and as result, do nothing. Now that we’re older, I think we have a better grasp of what honesty is and means, and if you don’t always tell your friend that “really, the pink sweater is not your best choice”, then at least you know how to say “really, you need to start dating in a bigger pool” in a way that’s warm, funny & truthful!
For another, I don’t want shallow all the time. Certainly I love a good gossip session, as do we all, yes? But I also want some heart-to-heart talking and sharing. I want to know what hurts and what feels great, and everything in between, and I want to be able to share my hurts and my joys with my friends without having to wonder if I can share this.
Because another thing I value in my friends, a quality I must have, is loyalty. I understand that sometimes friends can have two or even more allegiances in their friendship with me and other people. But in my book, you stop being my friend when you talk about me behind my back, or put me down in any way, especially if you don’t let me defend or explain myself. Perhaps situations change, and you feel you cannot be my friend any more, that your allegiance must lie somewhere else, and that’s fine, I understand, anyone would understand. But give me the respect of saying good-bye to my face, and don’t damage me behind my back. I give loyalty a hundred percent; I expect it in return.
For another, I want my friends to make me laugh, not cry. Sharing tears when things are sad or hard or just plain unfair is part of being a friend and those tears, as difficult as they may be, are part of being a friend. But making me cry so very much not being a friend. I have shed some tears recently and it’s been those I know are my friends who have helped ease the pain.
Perhaps part of the challenge with friendship in the 21st century is that we use the word so lightly. If you Facebook, you probably have a long list of “friends”… but are they really? Are these all people you would go to for help or consolation, for laughs and a cup of coffee? Some of my Facebook “friends” are actually what I call “good acquaintances”, people I know well in a highly superficial way, but really, they aren’t my friend in the way I want a friend to be.
The woman I think of as my best friend is someone I’ve know since I was 18. We met in a swimming pool. If you’ve seen a woman in a bathing suit and still want to be friends – you’re doing good! And we’ve been there for each other, through bad times & good times, hard times & silly times. We have each other’s back, and we make each other laugh. That’s a real friend.
Jeff & I are very, very lucky. We both have a wide circle of friends who are all those things I think are important. They are honest, loyal, caring, considerate, sharing people who let us into their lives and are welcome in ours. It is sort of sad that there are only a couple of people who fit that description where we live now, but I’m hoping that changes as we live here longer, as we find our way into the community.
In the meantime… treasure your friends. And be a good friend as well. They seem to be as rare as rubies these days!