Monday, May 20, 2013

Because this isn't a game of freeze tag anymore.

I read this quote on Mabel's House: "My mom always told us that we could measure a good friend not by people who were sorry for us when bad things happened, but by people who were truly happy for us when good things happened."

I've mulled it over for a good long while.

It's something to chew on, really. What makes us a good friend? I think, much like we all believe we're good drivers, we all think we're great friends. Truth is, there's always room for improvement in both areas. Maybe, deep down, we know we shouldn't drive so fast and should pick up the phone more often. Whatever it is, we know where we could use a little elbow grease to shine things up, even if we won't admit it out loud.

It's really easy to fall into one-dimensional friendship. Who doesn't like to be invited to the weddings and the cookouts? It isn't as much fun to sit beside someone when they're down or scared or trying to work through some enormous thoughts. That requires effort on our part. We have to actively listen. We have to spend a little time focusing outside ourselves. We have to give it some actual thought and attention.

For a really long time, it used to bother me when I was the one showing up. I showed up for shopping. I showed up for birthday cake. I stood by when new boyfriends or girlfriends were a higher priority and then I showed up for the broken heart. It would be terribly simple to read that quote I mentioned and look back to see that I also showed up for the weddings, even when I was convinced I was destined for spinsterhood, and for squealing over new babies, even when aforementioned impending spinsterhood appeared to doom my chances of even considering a future family of my own. And I could smugly point out that know I did it with a smile firmly in place, because in all the days that I did the showing up for the good and for the bad, it felt no one was ever really interested, it seems, in how I was doing, unless I was smiling. I was The One Who Took Care of Everyone and apparently it's easy to forget that the well can run a bit on the dry side, if we keep drawing, drawing, drawing all the time without raining back in. But upon a little further introspection, I've never been much of a squeaky wheel. I'm far more of a grin-and-bear-it girl and, more and more, I am starting to wonder if it's a case of "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Is it a case of me just not leaning on people so they don't see the need to offer? Or do they not offer, so I've learned not to expect any place to lean? I really can't remember anymore, and frankly, I'm not sure it even matters how it started. But the wisdom I've gained over time is that looking at it from the angle of "it's never my turn" is a short path to the intersection of Angry and Bitter.

Man, that's heavy and it makes my brain hurt. I am also not a fan of angry or bitter. (Angry and bitter are like orange prison jumpsuits: they aren't attractive on anyone.)

Don't misunderstand. I am pretty low maintenance. I don't need people to fawn all over me for every hangnail or trying day at work. But I know this: It really stinks to be forgotten until the other person needs something. And it equally stinks to learn that they only need you for the shallow stuff but never anything of any substance, when you learn about the big stuff third hand. Or on Facebook. (No one you truly care about should ever have to learn a major life announcement on social media. I can't think of a bigger slap in the face or a harsher reality check of where you stand in someone's circle. I digress.) Turns out the thing that smarts worse than only being noticed when needed is not being noticed much at all. A girl can only take being forgotten or ignored for so long.

When we're kids, we're all in such a hurry to grow up, but being an adult, with adult responsibilities and adult concerns and adult thoughts, is overrated in ways our little child minds never foresee, and friendship is not immune from this. Being instant friends with whomever is available to play at recess or two houses up the street is a gift we don't appreciate at the time, because we have no clue that adult friendship, like any adult relationship worth having, requires real work, and sometimes it forces us to realize that some people aren't ever going to be willing to put in that kind of time.

The thing is, though, stop waiting on your friends to make the effort first. Pick up the phone and call them. And when you do, be genuine about it. Talk about the silly stuff, the catching-up stuff, but don't forget about the real stuff. That's the meat of a true friendship. It's what separates the friends from the acquaintances and the close friends from the casual. It's the good and the bad and the "how are you *really?*" that shows a friend their value. A true friend is rare and they are worth making the time, but also? You have to actually give them the opportunity to talk you out of your tree too. You can't expect anyone to expose their own vulnerabilities if you keep yours locked away under a smiley mask or radio silence. You can't just want them to ask "how are you *really*?" if you never want to answer the question in stripped-bare honesty.

You want to know how to measure if I really consider you a friend? Ask me how I am. Do you ever get anything more in response than "good, how are you?" I hold my cards closer to my chest, the older I get. I'm more careful who gets to see "behind the scenes." I will not bare my soul via Facebook status or Twitter update. My true friends are the ones who know how to narrow their eyes, look intently, and ask "uh huh, how are you *really*?" It is for those people that I will do battle, that I will step up without batting an eye, that I will allow to convince me to dance like a fool and still love them tomorrow. That list is small but oh, it is precious.

Admit it: you *could* be a better friend, so stop sulking, stop being a hypocrite, and just do it, from the quick "thinking of yous" to the three-hour heart-to-hearts. And if someone won't rise to the occasion, won't match what you put out with effort of their own, they're not really a friend anyway, difficult as that may be to face. (They're probably a lousy driver too! So at least there's that.) But the good ones? They're worth cherishing. They're not as easily procured as they were when your next "best friend" could be the kid who climbed onto the next swing over.

3 with their own thoughts:

Janet Monday, May 20, 2013 12:04:00 PM  

I hope you know you're an amazing writer! And creative as all get out. I could definitely relate to this post...I appreciate you writing it!

~**Dawn**~ Monday, May 20, 2013 12:08:00 PM  

Thank you for saying that, Janet. It's good not to be the only one. =)

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