So much has been written about friendship; from the trite to profound, but the truth is we (the human race) are a gregarious species. Our survival is dependent upon living in cooperation with others. Part of that living in cooperation is making and having friends, and that is sometimes easier said than done.
As I have been traveling down this healing path, I have had to ponder the question of friendship more than once. Sometimes, I was trying to discern who was no longer healthy for me, because they fed the fuel of my tendency to be taken advantage of by narcissists. Other times, I was un-friended by those couldn’t deal with the fact that I was suffering from PTSD, they just couldn’t handle it.
I pondered four questions: What is friendship? How do friendships endure? What’s the difference between an acquaintance and a friend? And how much do we need to protect our hearts from the risks of true friendship?
When I really love someone as a friend I do not protect my heart, because I think to protect my heart means I’m not giving freely of myself. When I commit to a friendship, I share my thoughts, hopes, desires, and secrets without reservation. My friendships are based on honesty. My friends and I know the difference between telling each other what we need to hear rather than what we want to hear.
I also believe that a healthy friendship is symmetrical. In other words, both parties are equally committed to the relationship. I’m committed to supporting and encouraging my friends and being there as they grow and change. I’m committed to seeing them through the minutiae of life. And hopefully, I can do that without judgment. The symmetry is, I know my friends will do the same for me. That doesn’t mean that there are times when people need time, and space because of life circumstances, ill health, or whatever life happens to bring, but the underlying commitment is never wavering, no matter how much time passes. A non-spoken loyalty.
I also have people in my lives who are more like acquaintances rather than friends. These are people that I sometimes meet for a meal or activities. They may be a constant person in my life, but I keep them at arm’s length. My conversation may be little more than scratching the surface, the idea of sharing something intensely personal causes me some anxiety. These are the people I know who are going to be in and out of my life, but they are still just as precious to me. Besides just hanging out and having fun, they may have quite a lesson to teach me along the way. In fact, I have learned numerous lessons from my acquaintances. They tend to look and react to the world through a different lens. And, I kind of like that, it can be interesting.
There have been times when a friend has become more of an acquaintance because over time we grew apart. When that happened, I felt a sense of loss, but I also knew the decision was a healthy one. The opposite has been true too. I have had distant acquaintances that have become a steady and lovely friend; the kind of friend that I can’t imagine not connecting with on a regular basis.
As I found myself dealing with the mental anguish of PTSD, I was consumed with shame. I was ashamed of what I was remembering, my changing financial situation and the roller coaster emotional ride I was a constantly experiencing. I thought my friends would think that I was damaged and ugly and if they discovered the “real me,” they wouldn’t like me anymore. In fact, some people did back out of my life. Perhaps they were really more acquaintances than friends all along. But I can say with unequivocal certainty that my true friends have not run away. In fact, they took many steps closer to me. And because I am more open, and authentic I have also made some wonderful new connections in my life.
As I pondered the way I interacted with people in the past, I would say, I behaved more as an acquaintance than a friend. I shut myself off from showing any feeling and wouldn’t let anyone get close to me. I was always the smiling, tell me anything, kind of friend who had no needs, just let me be there for You. Now I have learned to show my vulnerability.
Now, I believe I present myself to the world from a place of honesty. I’m not ashamed that I have PTSD, but I don’t wear a banner across my chest that announces it either. When I have a bad day, I have a bad day, it doesn’t mean I’m a terrible horrible person that no one will want to be around anymore. I know the difference between a friend and an acquaintance and although I love to hang out and have a good time, I am recharged and at my best when I spend time with a true friend.
I have chosen to have very few acquaintances. I value a deeper emotional connection to the true friends I have in my life. My circle of friends has also grown smaller, which I love. The key word here is “chosen.” I thrive on more intimate relationships with those wonderful and beautiful people who have joined me on my journey. Acquaintances can be fun companions and there for you in times of need. There is nothing wrong with having acquaintances in our lives. However, for me, the time spent engaging in a deep connection is how I keep my cup filled and how I hope I’m able to fill other people’s cup.