“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
~ Jane Austen
Each person that comes into our lives brings with them the blueprint that God has made for building our relationships. We build these according to His plan, even when we don’t have the right tools. Some of these people will be in our lives from the first moment our eyes meet until we take our last breath. Others will come and go, and with relief or regret the impact these relationships has left an internal imprint on our psyche. One of the most important in shaping and molding our perceptions is true friendship.
People who have bonds of mutual affection are called friends. There are times when the bonds are built with affection that is not reciprocated from one person to another. Such friendships are one-sided; one person benefits while the other suffers. I’ve had my fair share of those type of friendships. At the same time, I haven’t always served my role to the best of my abilities as a friend, and the blame is mine when the friendship sours. All the times that this has happened, the regret still lives in my heart today.
With thriving and failed friendships under my belt, like everyone else, I’ve had a multitude of experience. We’ve all heard the adage, “To have a friend you have to be a friend.” I decided to examine my experiences a little closer. I did not like what I saw in the looking-glass that was staring condescendingly back at me. I had not been a good friend more times than I cared to count.
We learn the most about relationships from our families. My mother had many relationships that I have been privy to throughout the course of my life. Most of those were failed and one-sided. The relationships that stuck were either out of obligation, like those of family members, or those where the other person was just as sick as she was. All in all, I saw how my mother used her friends to her benefit, toying with their emotions, pitting one friend against another, and putting herself in the middle of it all as someone who could clean up the whole mess and make everyone better with all her right answers. It took many years to see how she twisted everything around to her benefit, and as a master manipulator, played the people in her life as pawns in her own game of chance.
So, with the benefit of a true picture of betrayal and knowing that I want a true and loyal friend instead, I long ago decided what an ultimate friendship would be like for me. With that image in mind, I worked towards (and am still ever perfecting) becoming the type of friend that I sought in hopes of attracting the kinds of friends who would be loyal, caring, and have the best interests of our mutual affection at heart. The way I see it is that a very close friend is someone with whom you are able to express your feelings of unhappiness, bewilderment, confusion, and inquiry when you are struggling with any aspect of your life. There are plenty of times that some of my “besties” have heard me verbalize my thoughts and feelings when I was troubled. This is a quality I look for in a friend: a strong idea of what it really means to listen.
Something I read about in recovery (and I don’t want to promote the source unless requested) is that there are parts of our minds that are dangerous neighborhoods where we shouldn’t go alone. This is why we need trusted friends: to help us reason things out. The advantage of offering experiences to others is so they can glimpse into another view of life: the path of how they endured the pain and also how they survived by conquering their problems. I want to hear their experiences, strength, and hope. Not because I am going to follow exactly the same measures as they are, but because something they share may be the answer, if not, I get a good picture of their survival. That offers me encouragement to think that I will make the decision that is best for me in the end. I don’t want advice from anyone unless I pay for it. Instead, I want to hear their stories and determine if I can benefit from using the same tactics that they tried. I don’t want them to dictate exactly what it is that I should do to solve my problem.
I try really hard not to give advice (which is guidance or recommendations) to any of my friends. They are not looking for that. They are looking for a sympathetic ear: someone they can count on to be discreet and non-judgmental. I do offer my opinion. But opinions are just views not necessarily based on knowledge or fact. They are statements of what someone may do in a similar situation given limited information. An opinion is not the same as advice even though some people may state their opinion with advice sprinkled in. Far too often, I became upset in the past when a friend’s opinion about a situation in my life was vastly different from mine. I wanted my friends to share my own opinion, and didn’t understand that my friend could still be “in my corner” even if his/her opinion is not mine. Understanding that because we have different problems, we will have different experiences, and therefore, different opinions was a huge new understanding for me.
Being able to offer an opinion without it sounding like a judgment against someone’s character is also an art. Friends need us to understand that no matter what is going on in our lives, we need friends to support us, but ultimately, what we do with the problems we encounter should be left solely to our own discretion. Friends should not become angry when we do not follow their own line of thought, no matter how much more logical we consider it to be.
I have only a few really good friends. When contemplating what it is that makes our friendship work, these are the guidelines that I discovered we follow, even though we have never discussed them. This common courtesy and mutual respect have gotten us through a multitude of hardships thus far, and that is the key to our long lasting friendship.