I spent a lovely evening with a couple of friends who I see, maybe, once every 5 or 6 months. The last time the three of us got together was the beginning of August. Our lives are very different, our day-to-day support system is separate, and we don’t stay in touch unless one of us sends out an email suggesting we gather for dinner and a chat.
Because we hadn’t seen each other for so long we spent the first two hours just catching up on what’s been happening. There has been illness, surgery’s, births, deaths, sold homes, new homes, and some other big life events to catch up on. Even though we are all probably FB friends, none of us really use social media for anything except to post occasional pictures of our families.
As we were catching up, there was a lot of exclamations of:
Wow, I had No idea!
I have written about friendship in the past. It’s a very interesting topic to me. The past few days, as I’ve been reflecting on the tumultuous year I’ve had, and the year of transition and change for many people I know, I found myself again re-visiting the topic.
When I think of friendships, I ponder 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?
The last ten years as I have been healing, growing, and changing, 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. I can be attracted to people who feed my tendency to be taken advantage of, or who belittle me. I know how to deal with that because of the way I grew up, so I’ve had to learn to catch myself when falling into that kind of relationship. 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.
When those relationships ended I felt a sense of loss, but I also knew the decision was a healthy one. I don’t do a lot of blaming on either side, because I understand that these things sometimes happen.
When I really love someone as a friend and we become part of each other’s inner-circle, I do not protect my heart. I believe if I feel I have to protect my heart, that means I’m not giving freely of myself. When I commit to a friendship, I share my thoughts, hopes, desires, and (most) 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 saying 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 or distance passes between us.
My circle of friends is small, which I love. I thrive on more intimate relationships with a deep emotional connection. I may not see one friend for years, some I see once a month, some weekly, some I communicate via text several times a week. It doesn’t matter how often we see each other, as we have unbreakable loyalty and complete trust in each other.
There are some 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, and I typically never bring up the fact that I struggle with PTSD.
Even though I know these people are going to be in and out of my life, they are still just as precious to me. Besides just hanging out and having fun, they have taught me quite a few lessons along the way. My acquaintances tend to look and react to the world through a different lens. I like that, it’s interesting.
As I pondered the way I interacted with people in the past, I would say, I behaved more like 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. I have learned to show my vulnerability, and have learned to set healthy boundaries most of the time.
I’m going to gather with another group of acquaintances this evening. Some of these people I haven’t seen or talked to in over a year. That’s okay, it will be a pleasant evening with engaging conversation, and most probably a lot of exclaiming, “Wow, I had no idea!”
Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph