I’ve recently been thinking about what it means to be a friend and I’m beginning to question how good a friend I’ve been to those closest to me. After all, we’re told that true friendship means:
The truth is I don’t always live up to these quotes.
There have been times when a close friend has shared something that was important to them but I’ve been so engrossed in my own life that I’ve not been truly empathetic or understanding. At other times, I haven’t been honest with my friends. I’ve kept quiet when I disagreed because I didn’t want to upset her. Sometimes I’ve been frustrated with close friends because they didn’t seem to understand my problem and showed little sympathy.
Then there are the times I’ve shared half-truths because I’ve been ashamed of my behavior in a situation and haven’t wanted anyone to see the real me – not even my best friend. Instead I’ve presented a sanitized version of myself to everyone, including my closest friends.
And then there is the problem of distance. I’ve lived in a number of countries over the years and during those times, the geographical and cultural distances between my everyday life and that of my friends back home has made it difficult to connect honestly with them. Sharing at a deep level has been impossible when we’ve literally been living in different worlds. And then there are some friends with whom I share honestly and deeply with on some topics, while other topics are totally off-limits.
Do all these experiences make me a false friend? What does it mean to be a good friend?
I think the problem starts with many of the quotes we read about friendship because while they contain truth, they are not the whole truth. Quotes are an ideal we all aspire to, but life is messy and we as humans can never live up to ideals. There are times when we are grumpy and selfish, when we put ourselves and our own needs or wants ahead of everyone else, including our best friends. There are other times when we disagree with what our friends do or say, no matter how much we care for them. We are not always honest and we don’t always listen in the way we should, We’ve all had times when we are so stressed and barely coping with the circumstances of our own lives that we lack the resources to be there for others.
Close friends form the bedrock of my life, but there have been times when I’ve had to work things out for myself and go through a situation or experience on my own, and the truth is that I’ve grown because of that. At other times when I’ve needed a friend and none of my close friends have been there for whatever reason, someone else has miraculously popped into my life and been the friend I needed. It seems to me that friends come and go in our lives at many levels.
So if these has been my experiences, perhaps I can trust that when I’ve failed to be the friend others needed, their needs have also been met through others who have been there. And that when they’ve had to work through hard times on their own, that they’ve also grown as a result.
Friendship is about two people willing to share their lives honestly with each other. Sometimes this sharing spreads over a lifetime and we do indeed know the other almost as well as we know ourselves. Sometimes that sharing is for a short period of time only. No matter whether the friendship is longstanding or not, the our ability to share honestly and support each other will ebb and flow to some degree depending on where each person is at.
Each of us is ultimately traveling on our own journey, doing the best we can with our lives and that includes being the best friend we can to others, even if we don’t always get it right.
Image by Aina Vidal