I’ve been thinking a lot lately about friendship, but not necessarily the Hallmark version. Paul McCartney says, “The definition of friendship apparently ought to be showing support for the one that you love…” But what does that mean, specifically?
Children might say that a friend is someone with whom you toss a ball around or play Barbies or go to the movies. When we’re a little older, a friend might be the most special person you can tell your big secrets to. For me, those descriptions are true, but there’s something more...
When I was growing up, my best friend was Joanne. Our families lived next door to each other in a Brooklyn apartment building. In fact, our bedrooms were on either side of a common wall. At night, when my father told me a bedtime story on my side of the wall, Joanne listened in on hers.
Eventually, our families moved farther apart but we all remained close. Joanne and I went to different colleges, but always stayed in touch. She moved to California after college, and I visited from New York. Our relationship ended only when she died of lymphoma a few years ago.
What I remember most about our friendship was something that happened when we were 16. My father and I had been warring for many months and not speaking. Suddenly, our friend, Daryle’s father died, and all of us felt terrible. Joanne, recognizing a “teachable moment,” said to me, “Imagine if that had been your father, and you had never made up.” Wow. I admit that I was angry at that harsh-sounding comment, but she did, in fact, teach me an important lesson about friendship.
We all have “friends” in our lives who tell us what we want to hear, get angry at someone just because we are angry at that person, admire a certain band because we do, but how profound are those relationships? What if a friend said, instead, “I love and support you, but you are wrong” or “you could be right, but maybe there’s another way of looking at that situation”? How powerful would it be if your friend was the one who helped you put events and feelings in your life in proper perspective!
I see this issue manifest itself with my daughter. If she gets mad about a way a boy treats her, her friends say, “He’s a bad person. Stay away.” Maybe they are right, or maybe my daughter misunderstood the boy’s motives or actions. If I have a disagreement with my daughter and she is furious, I can picture her getting “support” from friends or older sisters that reinforce her anger. I don’t know that she has anyone who will help her put into perspective her parents’ motives and viewpoint.
Three years ago, at work in Connecticut, I was put into a conference room for a week with a coworker named “Anne.” We had a project to work on, and it took eight hours a day, every day for a week or more. In between conference calls, we talked about our lives. We had taken totally different paths. We were from different ethnic groups in different parts of New York City. She had married and had children very young; my married life had started much later. Our husbands’ professions were worlds apart as well. But we found so many commonalities, too, in our hearts. We laughed and cried at the same things, we had very similar attitudes and values (politics aside). I can tell Anne anything. She will not judge me, she will not falsely agree with me, and she will always make me feel that that I have her support and friendship. In those first few days, she learned more about me than anyone else, ever, and I feel the same about her.
Someone with whom I was developing a friendship recently decided, after all, that we could not be friends because some of our interests were different and our economic situations were different. I didn’t care about those things. Had she forgotten all the common ground we had covered over the previous months?
Maybe the word “friend” is too broadly used. Perhaps there should be a different term for a “special friend” that doesn’t make that term sound like a romance. I don’t know. I like to think that my friends are the ones who will listen, support, but tell me if they think I am making a mistake – whether relationship-related or fashion-related. Is my definition different from the standard Hallmark fare? Maybe that's why I usually make my own greeting cards!