Monday, February 09, 2009

Learning Curve

All friendships are different.

There are casual acquaintances, casual friends, good friends, close friends.

And everyone deals with friendship differently.

Probably there are no right or wrong ways.

There are the ways that fit, and the ways that don't.

Personally, I've always been fond of a no-bullshit approach.

I try to be honest with my friends, and I expect the same from them.

The friends that I consider good or close friends, in particular, because, it seems to me, that it is a level of friendship where there's a certain level of trust.

If I trust you, I'm going to be honest with you.

Which is not to say that I'm going to lay everything out on the table, all the time, about every little thing.

There's a fine line that must be walked involving honesty, tact, and letting your friends be the grown ups they are.

For example, when you tell me your wife doesn't understand your "hobby" (you know, that thing you do 78% of your waking hours, that also happens to pay the bills), I may cock an eyebrow, but I'll assume you're grown and can decide for yourself your reasons for being with her.

If, however, the stories you're telling me involve what can only be described as borderline abuse, I'm going to mention my reservations about your relationship.

It's one thing when you don't enjoy the same pastimes. It's quite another when someone is abusing a person I love.

There are lessons I've had to learn about friendship the hard way. I've lost good friends, and came damn close to losing others over these things. Some of the lessons are still sinking in, being digested, assimilated.

One of the most important things I've had to learn is opening up about things that bother me.

Because all humans are individuals, there will always be things that don't quite fit perfectly when we come together in groups.

Sometimes, those things are just part of the charm of our diversity.

Sometimes, however, those things are deal breakers.

Those things that eat at us and make us question if we really want to be around that person.

Here is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.

If I value you as a friend, if I value our friendship, I know that I have to nut up and have the hard conversation. Even if I don't want to.

Because I value our friendship, I have to tell you the things that are bothering me. I have to tell you why.

I have to give you the chance to respond.

I have to hear you when you give me your side of the story.

I have to be willing to engage in an open dialogue about whether or not we can bridge this difference and meet on the other side.

I can't just grab all my toys and go home in a huff.

If I value our friendship, if I value you as a friend, then working through our differences will gain me, you, us so much more than the fleeting validation of storming off.

The other thing I've had to learn is that people are who they are.

You cannot change them.

While you can discuss with them the ways by which your friendship can be stronger, tighter, more mutually beneficial, you cannot fundamentally change a person.

In the end, you have to decide, for yourself, if you can accept your friend as they are.

Warts and all.

Understanding and acknowledging differences, accepting them and altering your own reactions to them.

I can't change that I'll always be the one making the phone call. It's not that she doesn't want to talk to me. It's because she doesn't think to do it.

I can accept that as part of her personality and move on.

I can't change that sometimes she says she'll be there and isn't. It's not personal. It's just part of her charm.

I can accept that as part of her personality and move on.

My point is that friends and friendships come in all sizes and styles.

I'm still learning things about friendship that I feel like should be old hat by now.

I'm still learning how to be a good friend, even when it hurts, instead of shutting down and backing away.

I'm still learning how to be open and honest, not just with you, but about me. I'm still learning how to trust those whose trust I expect.

I probably have a lot left to learn.

But I'm not the only one that does.


Syrlinus said...

Excellent post with lots of good advice (particularly about voicing concerns about abusive relationships -- I lost my mom that way when others turned a blind "ear" to what was going on).

Anyways, like you, I'm still learning about this "friendship" thing. I didn't have friends until later in life and have really only had a handful that have lasted beyond a year or two.

Dawn on MDI said...

nice post. good, honest stuff. Friendships and interpersonal relationships are tricky things. I didn't learn a lot of those skills at home, so I still struggle with them now, in my 40s. It is painful and sometimes embarrassing, but the effort is always honest, and I trust that THAT is what will be important to the people I am learning to be friends with.

Wine Dog said...

I was expecting projectile vomiting. Not so much. That was really good. Certainly top ten, no, top five--possibly best of all time.