I know myself well enough to know that as a person and a friend, I can be exhausting. I also know that being exhausting and exacting is a gift of mine, too. And when it comes to friends, I care a lot. I’ll wear you out and love you endlessly in the process.
Adult friendships are tough–you do not have the security of sharing simple things like a love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to sustain things. Adult lives are complicated and staying friends takes work. Life gets in the way. A good friend once told me that friends can come and go but if you’re lucky you walk together on a path for as long as you can.
I have loved that image. The road stretching out in front of you, the solitary journey punctuated with tremendous people who appear and recede from view. If we are lucky, the universe keeps us together but we will never know exactly how or why. This is not to say that people don’t also keep people in their lives. I have written to several friends this year alone about how lucky I feel to share the road with them. I think about this scene nearly every day, wondering the how and why and when of the people in my life, especially in the last twenty years.
I have no answers, though. I do know that the last year has been one of transition for people I know. The world is constantly changing. People have battled illness. Families have grown apart and together. It has been a year for my family and friends and as the year winds down, I am reminded that having friends and being friends is easy and not easy at the same time. I keep thinking thoughts about friendship that 2018 has taught me.
So I wrote them down:
Be friends. Real friends. Do not worry about whether someone needs more friends or wants more friends. Just be friends. Get them a coffee or an ice cream. And when you have ice cream, do not complain about the ice cream going to your hips. Eat cheese and drink wine and do not complain about how you are wrecking any good habits you have. Ice cream and coffee and cheese are necessary parts of friendship.
Fill in the backstory. Wonder about them and pay attention to the details. Sometimes, you become friends in the wake of a life event or a change in circumstances, and you will realize there are things you do not know. Take time to learn those things. The names of people in their lives, their history. Ask them questions. Their stories will enrich your life. Your stories have not overlapped until now but they will start to grow together and you will share things you did not share before.
Show up. Bring flowers or coffee. Or show up with nothing because you did not have time to stop because stopping means you could not simply show up. Just be there with them. If you cannot show up in person, let them know you have them in your heart and in your thoughts. Do not call yourself a bad friend if you do not show up. Just do what you can when you can.
Celebrate them. Be proud of them when they are proud of themselves. Be proud of them when they are feeling like they are worthless. Build them up. Push them. And if necessary, wallow with them.
Listen to them. Be present for them. Do not try and solve their problems. Do not let them denigrate you to make themselves feel better. Do not make their problems into your problems. Do not play chicken with them about their emotions. Do not make their worries about you. Listen. Be there. Be friends. Do not worry if you are overstepping. If they are not interested in your support or advice, they will tell you.
Do not compete. People come in and out of your life. It takes a long time to realize this especially if you have had the same friends for a long time. Do not worry if they spend time with other people. Enjoy the time you have together because that time is a gift.
Most importantly: tell them they matter. Let them know what they mean to you. Do not worry how your sentiment lands. Do not worry whether they feel the same way. Just tell them. Because knowing you mean something to someone else is also important. And people are not mind readers, so they will never know how you feel about their presence in your life. So just tell them.
I have no way of knowing if I lived this philosophy of friendship all year but I honestly tried. It is a long road and we have no way of knowing the why and how and when of people come into our lives. But as the year closes–and it has been a strange and special year for being friends–I needed to capture this moment in life and friendship.
And above all, I needed to say thank you.