This is not a post about relationships and lovers. It is about something fundamentally more important; friendship. Friends are the most amazing invention. You see, you get to choose them! Life presents us with so many choices, but also many restrictions and inevitabilities over which we have little to no control. Freshman 15; old age; nosy neighbours; rude relatives; death. So we accept and embrace those instances where we are given extreme and utter freedom of choice.
The problem with family is that you might not necessarily like, approve of, or get along with it. Yes ‘it.’ But you have no choice but to smile and get through tedious family dinners and gatherings, pretending that the vicious barbed comments have no impact on you, when in fact, they make you want to gouge out the eyes of that hideously bitchy aunt with the faded zambia-print frock from the sixties and a gigantic chip on her shoulder from too many failed romantic engagements in her youth. Family can be brutal. It comes through sometimes, but that is a story for another day.
Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. Mercifully true. Everyone has the right to freedom of association. Something about constitutional rights and all that. It therefore stands to reason that the friends we end up with must be who we want to be around, spend our time with, share our deepest fears and desires with. In a word, vulnerability. Paradoxically I never feel more vulnerable and safe than when I am with my friends, and when I am sharing my tears with them, pouring out my insecurities and listening to gently reassuring encouragement and sometimes truths which break my heart but reverberate in my mind as the voice of reason.
I have a great set of friends whom I can always count on. Some friendships are pushing a decade and still going strong. Some have simply faded, like the proverbial grass which is here one day and gone the next, without you even necessarily noticing it. Each friendship has made me the person whom I am. There are necessarily, times when you need to stop and re-evaluate your life and “friendships.” Some so-called friendships inflict more harm and pain than they are worth. You need to be able to strip away the bad, to make room for the beauties to blossom. Imagine diligently watering your peonies and lilies as much as you water the weeds and cactuses. Imagine how much more your garden would blossom if all that extra care, energy and love were directed at the good! So it is with people. You need to learn to cut away the dead-weight and carry on with less baggage. The bare necessities.
We all have those ‘friendships’ into which we stumble. The friend of a friend who hangs around so much we have no choice but to make nice and play at being friends. We never really know whether or not we are friends, but we never address the matter. We might or might not be. We have friends we grow up with and then outgrow. The Barbie dolls, video games and marshmallows fall away and we find that we no longer have anything in common. We have simply grown up and apart. We have friends we meet at a certain point and need desperately; perhaps we are utterly joyous, or grieving and devastated. And then the moment passes and what united us so thoroughly no longer applies and the silences grow longer and lonelier. And it is simply easier to walk away and not look back than to try and hold together what is tattered and non-salvageable.
As sad as these things are, they happen. And have happened many a time, and I do not for a second doubt that they will continue to happen. C’est ca la vie. For everything there is a time. I am fine with that. What I hope is that they will be fewer and fewer instances of losing special friendships, that I will become a better judge of character and gather unto my circle, only those people who will come through with and for me.
This point brings me to my final, and most important point. Loyalty and commitment. I have written before on toxic friendships. What I have since discerned is that not all toxic relationships will manifest themselves as such. Some friendships are great and work so well. But they leave a bitter after-taste in your mouth and you might do a great job of convincing yourself that it comes from something and somewhere else. It does not. It comes from the bitter realisation that your apparently perfect relationship is actually a fraud.
There are friends who are fair-weather friends. You can count on them for a good time and warm fuzzy feelings. When and if they turn up. Sometimes they do not. Because there is someone better, funnier, prettier, sexier. I thought that this applied only to relationships, but I have now, sadly, learnt that it can apply to certain friendships. A person is so busy being seen and popular and loved and known, seen with the right people in the right places that your friendship, as important as it is claimed to be, is discarded. Well, maybe not discarded. Relegated. Like a crappy football team you support in private but will not defend in public.
And, well, that stinks. If our friendship cannot be in the open and valued as much as that of someone who is seen as more blatantly”cool,” it cannot be a friendship, let alone a sustainable one at that. I think it highlights a deep and fundamental deficiency within a person and I rebuke that. Friendship needs to be shrouded in genuine love and realness. It needs to feel like it is not too much of a job. As easy as lying by the pool on Sunday after church, in the post-contentment glow of the Spirit, brunch and ice cream and waffles, reading an amazing book, sipping on some ice-cold grape juice. Yes, that is my idea of a perfect Sunday. It comes together sometimes, but is often ruined by life and visitors. Friendship should be easy like Sunday afternoons. Effortless perfection.
Friendship should not be about who looks good on your arm or in your profile picture, or who has a Porsche and wears label clothing. It cannot survive that. My friends are stunningly beautiful. Inside and out. I can say this because I see inside their souls! And what beauty shines forth! They have weaknesses and do wrong and fail at life sometimes. They have quirks and are sometimes just downright odd. As do I and as am I. Our humanity unites us. But our love is what keeps our friendship going. If you cannot see the blatant beauty of your friends, you need to re-evaluate and change them.
I cannot be friends with someone who does not give me a chance to love them and believe in and promote their dreams and hold their hands when the sun has dimmed a little and they are afraid. And I need friends who I know will do the same for me, regardless of how unsexy and unpopular or downright awkward I might be. We cannot be there all the time for our friends. We might not have any answers for them when they are crying in our arms late at night before a final exam. We might be so emotionally spent that we cannot pick up the phone to reassure them all the time. But we must be able to do that, at least some of the time. We need to show up for our friends. Sometimes that is all that is required of us.
I refuse to be relegated as someone’s friend. Kick me out of the league rather. That I know exactly where I stand. I have no need for purely fair-weather friends. Why not? Because most of life will not be smooth sailing. It will be turbulent and wild and have ferociously trying winds and menacing clouds. And I simply need to know that someone will be there for me, and not off cavorting with the in-set. That is all I need. A friend who will turn up. I need to be a priority to my friend. Because if we cannot count on those whom we have chosen for ourselves to form our support system, on whom can we count?
Some bridges simply need to be burnt. They are beautiful and shiny on the outside. But when you need to cross past that treacherous river in full swell, when you desperately need those bridges to support you and they will not, because your feet are too dirty for them to allow you to walk on them , then it is time for new bridges; those which will hold you down and allow you to cross safely and will not tip you over because you are not pretty or clean or smart or sexy enough. They do not ask why you need to cross to the other side. They simply allow you to do so, and will listen and support you with gentle murmurs of encouragement, as you take step after step and start to pour your heart out, as you become surer and stronger with each step. You will start to believe in yourself and your worth and believe that you will indeed make it to the other side.What is this all about? Friends who will turn up. Those are the only bridges worth keeping.