How to Friend

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

Friendship comes in so many flavors. You can be a friend to a friend. A friend to your spouse or lover. A friend to a family member. A work-friend. A neighbor-friend. You get it. And isn’t it wonderful to people to love, support, count on, stretch and build a story with? Isn’t it wonderful to be seen, heard and thoroughly loved?

In the movie, Shall We Dance, the main character, Beverly Clark, played by actress Susan Sarandon, there’s a scene I’ve never forgotten where she says:

“We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does anyone’s life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”

If you sub out “marriage” with “friendship” the principle still holds nicely. Witnessing other’s lives is timeless and transcendent. It’s deep-end of the pool stuff. Often, it’s seamless and easy because you get it other and vibe well, but, like any relationship, you can strive to be better. Here are a few ways:

Be the friend you want to have. Treat no one better than you treat yourself. Just don’t. The kindness, patience, adoration, love and generosity you cultivate with yourself is then transferrable to friendships. But, if you don’t have it, you can’t give it.

Forget about finding a mirror. The best relationships leave a space for diversity and laughing about all the things you don’t have in common. What I’ve learned from having a variety of friendships has helped me grow, learn, expand perspectives, and achieve a more well-rounded spirit. There’s only one you. There’s only one everybody. Vibe where you can.

Get to know-know them. It should not be unusual to wholly explore a friendship for years and years. Ask questions, observe, listen. This is not a test, but when you think of your best friends, do you know what feeds, drives and comforts them? Do you really know who they were, who they are, and who they are still trying to be? Discovering the answers to these questions is so much more fascinating than TV.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

Tend to the friendship. It’s easy to take people we love for granted. Life is busy, we get too comfortable, we have shorter attention spans, and it’s just easier to start something than it is to maintain it. Right? Still, check in, hang out, hang in there, create new memories. Put the time in to maintain your friendships because, at its best, friendship is a verb. Friendship is a love letter to itself.

Learn to let go of stuff. A lot of stuff. What I still want in the friendship lane is a sleeper clown or fool who can instantly shift from serious adulting, overthinking and pointless warring into an almost childlike sense of play and wonder. Life is heavy sometimes – goofiness makes it lighter, especially against fleeting tension and nonsense you’re irritated by that won’t even matter five years from now. Let go.

Seek harmony, practice empathy. You’ll have highs and lows, but maybe the best friendships live mostly in the middle with generous attempts to preserve and strengthen bonds in a loving way. When you hit a low, try one of these friendship-saving questions: “Do you want me to listen, talk or disappear?” “What do you need?” “Can we take a minute and breathe/pray/dance before we finish this conversation?”

Connect regularly in small ways. Grand gestures are exciting. Money, trips, someone giving you a kidney or a piece of their liver are super, but what endures are small, consistent acts that build trust and appreciation, and say “I got you” even a million miles into a friendship.  Checking in, logging time together, laughter, meaningful (and silly) talks. Birthdays and special anniversaries remembered. Someone checking on your dream or self-care routines. It all adds up. I’m an acts-of-service love-language kind of person, so a friend casually taking something is huge.

Right-size and enjoy different friendships. As a kid, my mom said I never traveled in a pack. I picked up a few good friends at a time that weren’t books or my imagination, but I’d socialize with almost anyone if it suited mutual interests. I’m still part loner, part socialite, and I still picture a pyramid when I think about friendships. At the top tier are a few sacred, soul-level friendships – people I talk to and spend time the most time with who know and love me deeply. Tier two, the middle people, is filled with those I like hanging out with situationally, but the friendships aren’t iconic or layered. We don’t know each other’s secrets. They probably wouldn’t give me a kidney. I probably wouldn’t give them one either. Tier three, is the crowd of “associate-like” people I work or share hobbies with. We have fun times, light talk, brunch, and when I spot them in a photo ten years later, I might be hard-pressed to remember their names.

Let your heart be elastic. Health and fitness are priorities for me, so I have a nice shape, and yet, most of the jeans I own have 2% spandex because I like comfy clothes and breathing room. Being comfy in a friendship means that, as humans being human, we might sometimes do or say something that is perceived as mean, messy, disappointing or wrong to the other. I believe in applying space, grace, understanding, humor, and, if necessary, forgiveness to elevate these rare 2% moments.

Have honest exits. Most friendships begin in a magical swirl of chemistry, timing and luck. Doesn’t it seem like a carnival trick to carry that same swirl through time? Friendships aren’t invincible. Sometimes they run too close to the sun. Sometimes they suffer an inciting event and don’t recover. Sometimes they simply fade to other priorities. It’s nobody’s fault and it’s a pain you can survive if you aim for honest exits without flames. End with the energy you began – love, respect, integrity, gratitude and a genuine hope that they have a magnificent life. That’s how you say goodbye in an empowering way.

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