Thursday, March 19, 2009

What is a friend?

A common theme I see among my clients is that many of them are lonesome. They have friends they enjoy hanging out with, but don't always have friends with whom they feel they can talk about their innermost issues. And this goes for both men and women. I feel for them when they tell me this.

I know people or read stories or see stories about people who have such richness in their lives--so many extended family and friends who surround them with love and support. And then there are those who are lonely and who suffer.

Shortly after getting back from vacation, I found out that a former client of mine took her own life. It's the first time I've ever dealt with that and it wasn't easy at all. She was a lovely person. And very lonely. I wrote a post about it but didn't ever put it up, because I was worried about confidentiality--I didn't use names, but people can figure out timing and put 2 and 2 together. So, I've waited to say anything here. I've quietly been dealing with that on top of the other griefs I've shared. Grief is grueling.

Many people are lonesome. They wish for friendship, for companionship, and they're so lonely. My brain is desperately trying to come up with a creative solution. I often feel like I've got a spark of an idea, but it just hasn't fully developed. I ache for people who are hurting and who are lonely. The song "Eleanor Rigby" has always been a poignant one for me--the lyrics are compelling and the music is beautiful. "Ah, look at all the lonely people." The chorus, yes. But it's the verses that get to me.

And yet, I think there are many who can at times feel lonesome, even surrounded by those who love them. It's a quiet suffering maybe. Which brings me back to the how I started this post. I think many people have friends that are fun to hang out with, but how many have true friends with whom they can share their innermost hurts? When you consider your friends, how many of them can you really, truly share with--your heart, your soul, your fears, your dreams, your worries, your struggles? How many do you feel comfortable enough to call when you hurt and say, "I need a listening ear."

To me, this defines a true friend--they're the ones who are there for you when you're low and who hear you without judgment when you share. They accept you for who you are, don't try to make you into anyone else, and inspire you to be all you can be. Over the years, some friendships wax and wane. Some fade away. Some drop off altogether. And some always remain.

There are many television shows like Friends and Sex and the City and Scrubs where, whatever peripheral story lines there may be (coffee houses and jobs and sex and medicine and love), the main theme is that of true friendship. So is this stuff, these kinds of groups of close friends, just on TV? Do people really have those kinds of intimate friendships en masse?

I've often heard that what's healthy is to have 1 or 2 very close friends and several acquaintances. That people who have LOTS of friends . . . don't really. That you can't have that many truly close friendships.

And in today's day and age, we have "Facebook Friends" and the like. Some fit that "true friend" definition. And some do not. And there are some people who like to feel popular and have a great quantity of friends to show on their list. Is this friendship? What does friendship mean today?

And of course this begs the question, "Am I a true friend?" How do you maintain these kinds of solid, deep, true friendships among the busyness of life? How do you keep friendship strong? How do you be a friend? I think this means different things in different stages of life maybe.

I think there are different varieties of friends, too--the ones you call when you want to laugh, the ones you call when you could use a night out, the ones you call for advice, the ones you call to vent, the ones you call to grab a bite, the ones you call to play, you get the idea. And some overlap.

And some are the ones you can share your innermost thoughts and feelings with. I think that people who have friends like that are very lucky people. I wish everyone could have that.

So, what do you think? What makes someone a true friend?


Anonymous said...

Stacy, I think you make wonderful friend because you have integrity.
"The rain may be falling hard outside,
But your smile makes it all alright.
I'm so glad that you're my friend.
I know our friendship will never end."
-- Robert Alan

kristenhcubed said...

Those are some good observations, Stacy. Friendship is undergoing a re-definition of sorts with the internet. Maybe for some people a big list of friends ("my list is bigger than your list") means something, but for me, there has to be a relationship that isn't just digital. You can never replace the face-to-face, cry on your shoulder, seen me at my worst and love me anyway frienships that take place in person. Everyone should have at least one very good friend.

emily said...

I honestly don't know. I feel like I have lots and lots of surface friends, but very few real friends. I know those feelings of loneliness, even when surrounded by good people who love me. My friend Lynette sent me something for my birthday this week. The fact that she remembered, and that it was something that was so ME, and that she lives in Singapore and it wasn't an easy thing to do...and she calls me when she lived in Chile when she could tell I'd had a bad day, those things to me are things a true friend does. I don't have the ability to send birthday gifts like that even more than the gift, it was the thought behind it. Real, true friends are hard to come by.

One other thing. I read a blog post recently of a girl who posted about her best friend. She said that a lot of times people say their sisters are their best friends but she doesn't think that's fair because to be a true friend, you have to choose each other. But while it was a sweet post, I disagreed. My sisters are truly my best friends, and I feel so lucky. But we DID choose each other. No, we didn't choose to be in the same family, but we did choose to be each other's friend. I'm so grateful for the friendship of my sisters. They know me inside and out, everything about my life, and still love me. So maybe it's acceptance, knowing everything about you and still loving you?

Jillo said...

For me, a definintion of a true friend is loyalty. Not puppy dog loyalty, but rather "with you no matter where you are in your life, even if we don't agree or even like each other at the moment" loyalty. These kind of friends are very rare.
I agree with you that there are several types of friendships and I think they all enrich our lives. They all have a time and a place.
I have a friend who I have known since Kindergarten. She lives far away and we will go for months without talking. But when we do get together, it is like we never were apart. I don't have to force anything with her and I feel comfortable enough to say how I feel without worring of offending her.
She and I have taken different roads. We do not always see eye to eye, but I know she is there for me and loves me no matter what. I think she is a true friend even though we don't often speak. I know in 50 years, I will still be able to look her up and say hello.
I am also so lucky because my husband is my absolute best friend. I know that not everyone can say that. We found each other when we were young and havn't been apart since. He is truly my soul mate and I love him almost deseprately.
I have friends that I go to movies with, or friends that I go to lunch with or friends that spend an afternoon at my house while our children play. I love those friends too. And while I know that we probably won't be friends in 20 years or maybe even 5, we are friends now and that is enough.
I do not like fakey friends, the kind that will talk to you if no one better is around. Those kind of folk are not healthy. I think too many of us get caught up in thinking that those are true friends and there must be something wrong with themselves because they aren't closer to those people. I think that is where so much loneliness and despair come in to play. Self doubt or trying to fit in where you don't really want to be.
Phew.... that is a novel from me. Sorry for the rant, but I thought this was a great question.

kara said...

Someone you ache for after they leave.

Boquinha said...

Kelly, what sweet and thoughtful things to say. Thank you.

Kristen, agreed. Cyberhugs are great, but human touch goes a long way.

Emily, surface friends vs. real friends--good way to put it. And as for the sisters thing, I so so so so so totally envy people with sisters. And whoever the friends, I think acceptance is HUGE.

Jill, feeling comfortable enough to be yourself without worry of offending--that is wonderful. Healthy even. And the husband as best friend thing, I couldn't agree more. We're lucky women indeed. As for "fakey friends," that's just toxic. Forcing oneself to fit in where you really don't belong just chips away at your soul. It's not worth it. Truer friends than that are out there.

Kara, yes, even years later. I miss you.

Chelle said...

Stacy, what a great, thought-provoking post. And it's actually something I think about quite a bit myself,especially lately since the Facebook thing...(I'm trying to not let it get to the point of total suckage).

My whole life I usually have one or two friends who seem to know everything there is to know about me, who I confide in, and who I trust with my feelings.

I've also had friends like Jillo who I can pick up where we left off, even though we may go years without contact. We may have gone years without "sharing", but it doesn't make our friendship less's just different than it used to be.

I agree that friends fill different needs and purposes in our lives, and it's ALL good I think. I certainly wouldn't like the pressure of feeling like I was expected to be all things to another person.

I, too, have thought about what kind of friend I am. Maybe the reason I only have one or two really close friends at a time is because I know friendship is an investment, and perhaps one or two friends is as much as I feel like I can invest in at a time.

You've got the wheels spinning in my head. But regardless of what friendship means, I'm grateful for yours :)

J Fo said...

Oh my goodness, Stacy. This is a very though-provoking post. I totally thought about "Eleanor Rigby" and then you quoted it! Funny thing is that I'm actually using that song tomorrow for a "Lyrics as Poetry" lesson.
"Eleanor Rigby...
Waits at the window,
wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door,
Who is it for?"

I think the answer to the last question is it's for a friend; a friend that's not there. I think that the reason that I/people connect with that song is because we've all felt that way before. We've all felt alone. We've all felt isolated. That's why I LOVE music & poetry. It really connects to something innately human.

Ok, off my literature soapbox. I've thought a lot about friends in the last few years because as my identity changes, (wife, mother, teacher, etc), I feel like what I need from my friends changes, and what I can offer my friends also changes. There were a few years right after we got married that I really missed and craved that girl connection because my closest friends and sister lived away from me and I didn't feel like I could make friends that compared to what I had had before. I guess I recently got to the point where I decided to stop comparing and just take each friendship for what it was and what it could be. I'm not sure if any of this makes sense. Am I rambling? That's just how I feel.

Once again, great post!

Boquinha said...

Thanks, Rachelle. I'm grateful for yours, too. Your soup post got me thinking as well. :) Great point about the pressure of being all things to another person--interesting thought.

Jessica, that's so cool about Eleanor Rigby! Great minds . . . :) Yeah, you make sense. Comparing is generally dangerous territory. And your example is a good one. This topic really is one I think about often, for a variety of reasons. But seeing people every week who are so lonely really pulls at me. I know we're "sisters" by marriage, but, for what it's worth, I often wish you lived closer.