(When the rain starts to pour)
I’ll be there for you
(Like I’ve been there before)
I’ll be there for you
(’Cause you’re there for me too) . . .
I’ve been pondering this topic of friends and friendship quite a lot lately. Not sure why – and I don’t even think it’s important to figure out why. It just is. Maybe it’s just another manifestation of my lifelong attraction to puzzles.
I know a lot of people. You probably do too. Most of them aren’t our friends. Oh, we get along with most of them just fine, and perhaps many of them are what you might call “lower case f” friends. I’m more interested in the “upper case F” Friends. In fact, I’m really interested in the Inner Sanctum at the core of that group, the people who are true confidants and intimates. There are maybe 5 or 6 people at this moment who fall into that category for me (It’s not like I keep a list, so that’s just a rough estimate).
I consider that group, as well as the other people through the years who have been that close to me, and I begin to wonder how they got there, or how I got there. Are there recurring traits among my friends that are part of a pattern, or is every equation unique and unrelated to all other equations? I believe I have begun to discern some common denominators, and I want to see if I can put this into words that will make sense.
The most important word I would apply here is honesty, but I am talking about a very particular sort of honesty. Mostly, I mean that they are honest with me about what they are feeling. I might see them treat other people in a far less honest or honorable manner, but when they speak to me, they are honest with me. They might even lie to themselves about certain things, but when they speak to me, they communicate what they believe to be the truth. In this way, our communication consists of an exchange of genuine thoughts and emotions.
This has led me to friendships with people that I would not have associated with in my shallow, snobbish youth. Back then, I fancied myself as someone who would/could only associate meaningfully with people of high intellectual achievement. This attitude came back to bop me on the nose when I found that a woman who had become a dear friend had carried a C and D average through all her years of schooling. She has no ability at mathematics beyond the most rudimentary addition and subtraction. Her knowledge of politics, physics, fine art, and a host of other subjects is similarly limited or virtually nonexistent. So what do we talk about? Upon what is our friendship based? Here comes that word again: honesty. She is disarmingly and even fearlessly honest about her opinions. Understand, she is not strident or obnoxious about it, but she is direct and unambiguous. No one who knows her would ever dream of calling her stupid. It is quite commonplace for her to have knowledge and insight far beyond my own. She is witty, charming, generous, and articulate. So much for my ill-conceived notions about what constitutes intellectual achievement, and so much for my misguided and limited notions about what sort of people might be fit for my company!
Moving on, there is another clear common denominator among my Friends: a sense of humor. I suppose it is fairly obvious that I have spent much of my life in pursuit of the next punch line, so humor is a big part of my life. This doesn’t mean that my friends all laugh at my every joke (though there are a few who think I’m pretty freakin’ hysterical). In fact, there are a couple of them who are notoriously tough audiences and when I can make them laugh out loud, I feel a keen sense of accomplishment. There are also a few of them who specifically disdain puns (or so they claim), but who have nevertheless reached across the Valley of Puns to embrace me.
In a way, this entire dissection of my friendships is a bit of a fool’s errand. It provides no blueprint for acquiring friends and it changes nothing about my present relationships. The thing is, I have never once in my life decided to like someone. My friendships, at their outset, seem to spontaneously unfold like flowers suddenly bursting into bloom on a barren plain. So rather than deciding to like them, it is more a matter of realizing that I like them – or sometimes of accepting that I like them. And if they happen to like me too, then we’ve got ourselves a friendship. Of course, like any garden of flowers, friendships need weeding & feeding in order to keep thriving, and I have seen a few fine blooms wither due to neglect by one or both of us. I’ve tried to hang on to those painful little lessons as a guard against repeating those mistakes.
I may take up this topic again in a future posting, but I think that’s plenty for now. I do want to toss this question out for you who are reading this: What are the common denominators you can identify among your friends? Or is that not how it works for you? I’m sincerely interested in hearing from others about this.