What does it mean to be a good friend?
Does it mean the same things to everyone? Or is it possible that people can place more or less value on certain things than others without making them any less of a good friend?
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I've been thinking about friends and friendships a lot lately, for many reasons.
One of them is just the passage of time and reflecting on the friends I've made over the 35 years of my life.
Some of my friends have been in my life for almost all of those years, despite sometimes lengthy periods of times out of touch for one reason or another. Others have only entered my life relatively recently, even though I feel as though I've known some of them forever. And still others have come and gone at some point and under various circumstances, some of which I could clearly outline and others, well, not so much. It's the latter that sometimes keeps me awake at night, wondering. Was it me? Was it them? Was it both of us? Could anything have been done to keep the friendship intact or was it destined to be limited to a certain period of time and for a specific purpose in our lives? I hate feeling like I've failed at anything, but failing at friendship is one of the worst feelings of all.
There are other reasons this issue has been at the forefront of my mind of late, but really, it's the one above that has been driving my thoughts.
As I think we all do at times, I sometimes question whether or not I'm the best friend I can possibly be to all of my friends at all times.
The realistic answer to that question is "no." Like everyone else, I'm human and, thus, imperfect. I'll be the first one to admit that.
Sometimes I screw up. I might say or do something (or NOT say or do something) and it hurts someone I care deeply about. Despite my best intentions, damage is inevitably done. Sometimes the damage is minimal and can be repaired; sometimes not. In the case of the former, I resolve to try harder, to do better, to NOT screw up again. In the case of the latter, we're left assessing the damage and figuring out where to go from there.
Both situations leave my guts twisted in knots, my heart aching, and the tight threads of our shared history unraveled a bit. Obviously, I try to avoid screwing up as much as possible. I hate having my guts in knots, my heart aching, knowing that something that was there before has gone away, either a little bit or a lot. But again, I'm not perfect and sometimes it happens.
Other times, the things that go on in our own lives get in the way of our reaching out to others as often or to the extent that we otherwise might. I'm incredibly guilty of allowing that to happen. And I do feel incredibly guilty when I realize that I've been neglectful of my friends.
With my long-distance friends, I know that I often rely too much on email or Facebook to stay in touch when I ought to be picking up the phone - or, better yet, making a trip to see them - more often.
When it comes to the phone calls, sometimes time is the issue: We're in different time zones, and I'm a stay-at-home mom while some of my long-distance friends work full- or part-time. So I'm available at times that aren't always convenient for them or vice versa. In those cases, email is just so much easier because time doesn't matter! There's also the matter of email being so darn efficient: In addition to time not being an issue, it makes it possible for us to share all of our "new news" without interrupting each other or getting cut short having to go tend to a child or take another call, etc. We can say as much as we want and the only restriction is how much time the other person has to read or respond.
In that same vein, I'm also very (very) bad about returning phone calls from my long-distance friends. The desire is there, but I seem to be cursed with remembering that I owe a phone call to someone only when I'm out running errands. And I can tell you from personal experience that there is nothing I hate more than having someone call me when they're running errands and they've only got five or ten minutes to talk - interspersed with interruptions to talk to cashiers - and it's really not an opportunity for a good conversation. Unfortunately, by the time I get home from running errands, I've already forgotten that I need to return a phone call, and thus the cycle begins anew.
On the subject of visiting long-distance friends, the biggest issue is financial. Since I left my job to stay at home with Super Boy, our finances have tightened considerably by necessity. My income, while not staggeringly high, was substantial; without it, we really needed to curtail a lot of the "extras" that we used to enjoy. The trade-off is worth it, but it does come at a price, and seeing my long-distance friends less often is one of them. For the friends that are just a state or two away, it's easy enough to drive or take a train now and then without costs breaking the bank, but for those who are halfway across the country on either coast, flying and staying at a hotel if space is tight can be cost-prohibitive. I feel bad about that, but it's a reality that can't be ignored. I try to remember that my long-distance friends are generally in the same boat, so I don't take it personally that they don't make special trips to see me either.
When it comes to my local friends, I also tend to rely too much on email. The net effect on those relationships isn't quite as significant because I'm able to see my local friends pretty regularly, so at least there's that. But still, I know it's not ideal. Fine for making plans and dropping a quick note to check on each other, but not so much for having emotional or delicate conversations. (Yikes!)
The problem with email - or any form of communication that happens in writing - is that you cannot be sure of the tone the writer intended. An ordinarily benign comment can so easily be completely misconstrued and/or misunderstood, and things just snowball from there. What could be a great and efficient way of keeping in touch can now become the thing that rips a relationship to shreds, without any intention at all. I know this from experience, unfortunately. I'm sure many of you reading this do, as well.
Despite all of my faults and short-comings, I think I am a pretty good friend.
When any of my friends needs me, I'm there. In that situation, it doesn't matter if I'm flat broke and my friend is 1,000 miles away; I will find a way to be there if they need me. For my local friends, if it's a matter of picking up their child from school or watching their kids in a pinch, or running to the grocery store for them because they're too sick to leave their house, I'll do it. If they've just gotten bad news and need a shoulder to cry on, or they've received great news and they want someone to celebrate with, I'm there.
I try to remember - and acknowledge - the special events in their lives. Birthdays, anniversaries, a big project at work, a new business venture, whatever - if it's important to my friends, it's important to me.
I try to empathize and sympathize with my friends. If I know they're hurting or struggling with something difficult or painful, I want them to know that I can understand their feelings, whether I've specifically been in their shoes or not. Their pain is my pain.
I try to encourage my friends. Whether they want to pursue a new career path, try a new hobby, lose weight or get in shape, or WHATEVER their desire is, I want them to succeed and pursue their goals with passion. I will offer whatever support I can toward that end because I want them to be happy and fulfilled in their lives.
Bottom line, I always want the best for my friends, and I'm a strong believer in "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Am I perfect in demonstrating those sentiments in all ways and at all times? No; but I try to be.
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To all my friends (and I know that not all of you read this blog, but several of you do - and bless you for that!), I love you. Whether you were a friend a decade or two or three ago or you're a friend to this day, you are in part responsible for the person I am today, and I thank you for that. If I have ever done anything to hurt you, a thousand apologies I extend to you; I hope you can forgive me. For anything you have done to hurt me, I forgive you. Life is too short to hold onto anger and resentment and, in the end, it only hurts us to dwell on those negative feelings.
I have learned something about myself and about the world from each and every friend I've ever had, and I aspire to be more and better because of the people you are. I honor and celebrate you, and I hope you honor and celebrate me, too.
Friends are one of the greatest blessings we can receive in life, and the very greatest of friends become family. From a girl who has no immediate family in the immediate area, I appreciate those of my friends all the more for being family to me.
With that, I will bid you all a wonderful day. :)