I am not an expert on friendship. There is no such thing.
What I am is a person, a stumbling and fumbling human being who is deeply interested in questions of life and love. How do we live a good life, a present life? How do we give and receive love? How do we find friends and become them to others? These are my curiosities. Some of them, at least. And that's why I'm doing this, this oddball HERE Year, where I'm tackling one vast topic a month. And October has been Friendship and I will confess something: I'm no more certain about the fabric of friendship than I was at the outset of this month. I'm still in a place of wondering, of thinking deeply, of wrestling with things I feel and know. Because, yes, there are some things I know. They are not facts or statistics. They are not empirically-ironclad findings. And yet they are true. Does that make sense?
This will be my final post on Friendship this month and I want to take this time to sit down in this buzzing coffee shop on the Upper West Side and scribble a list of some things I have concluded about friendship. Secrets, if you will.
1. friendship can protect us from the elements.
The quote above. Coleridge. Friendship is a sheltering tree. Yes. I've long been a fan of a good natural metaphor and this one doesn't disappoint. Life can be full of blazing sunshine or ruthless storms and friendship, well rooted and exquisitely grown, can protect, can shelter us - literally and figuratively - from the elements. To stretch the metaphor a bit, consider how trees can change and are built to withstand change, how seasons come and go, how leaves evolve in hue and texture and fall. But the tree remains, doesn't it? Friendships shelter us, but their constitutions can change and are perhaps meant to.
2. true friends are all in.
I would argue that sometimes we don't know the depth of a friendship until we are given some evidence of that depth. Recently, I was spending time with one of my best friends and I learned something that surprised me and made me very grateful. When Dad died over six years ago, we held a large memorial service here in New York City and a much smaller one in Chicago, where he was from. This friend of mine, despite her insanely busy job, flew to Chicago to be there. I was floored, blurry with grief, but really amazed. I learned just weeks ago that she not only came, but canceled a bridal shower she was hosting to be there. That's friendship. And the fact that she didn't tell me this, that she just did it and showed up? That's friendship.
3. We must be real to be realized.
Oh my. I could write a novel on this one and maybe I will... Here's what I think: We are all a bit broken. We are broken in different places, for different reasons. Some of us have just a few cracks and some of us are riddled with them. Life is life. There is, or will be, heartbreak in its many iterations. It is when we share our cracks with others that the deepest bonds form. Hey, I'm having a hard time with this. Hey, this happened to me. Hey, I feel betrayed/alone/sad/lost. When we allow ourselves to feel the darkness that inhabits each and every one of our selves and when we thoughtfully share our broken bits with others, we find that we are connecting. If we pretend that we are perfect, all polish, that we are robots, we will find ourselves alone. We must be real to be realized.
Earlier this month, I went on an adventure. The adventure came in the form of Write: Doe Bay. I traveled to the other side of this country, on a big plane and an itty-bitty one, and I met a slew of strangers who quickly became more. The swiftness of the connections I made had one obvious source: story. We all told our stories, often hard ones. It was a safe, sheltered, cozy place. We all realized as we looked around that we were far from alone. That we have all weathered things, lost things and people and parts of ourselves. We also realized that we were, and are, okay. What a wild privilege it was to be with those souls in that brilliant, edifying fog.
4. The search is worth it.
It's not difficult to meet people. There will always be people, eyes to look into and hands to shake. But it is hard, or can be, to find true friends. Some of us are skilled at this for some reason and have vast collections of treasured friends. For some of us, it is much more of a challenge. But the truth of the matter is that just like the search for the right romantic partner is worth every ounce of our existential energy, so is our hunt for dear friends. I do not believe that there is a window in which we must find these people. I think as long as we are alive and breathing and out in the world, there are friendships to be found and cultivated.
5. a friend wants a friend to succeed.
Success is an interesting barometer of friendship. Your friends want you to succeed. They are cheering for you aloud and internally. They will be all over you when things come together and the stars align. If they can't handle your victories, if they shy away when your life starts to glisten and glow, they are not true friends. A true friend might be conflicted. She might say. It's hard for me to watch you soar when I am struggling so. This is fine. This is honest. But a friend who disappears or belittles or fails to support you is not a friend.
6. Friendship is love. Love is friendship.
Family. Friends. Yes, they are distinct, but what we feel for them are variations on a singular theme: love. Good friends are like family. And family can be friends. My mom is my friend. My sisters are my friends. My daughters are my friends. My husband is my very best friend. Night after night, we sit at the white island in our kitchen, and we unload ourselves and exhale. We listen to each other and laugh and dream. We tell stories and express frustrations. We are life partners, but we are friends too.
7. No one friend can be everything.
A hugely important truth that I didn't realize until college when my mother said something like this to me: No one friend can be everything. It was a light-bulb moment. My standards were sky high, cartoonish. I expected the world from each friend. I felt disappointment often, but then it hit me that each friend has something unique to offer. Some friends are good to go shopping with, some friends are good to cry with, some friends are good in a crisis and some are better in a celebration. They can all be very good friends, but we cannot expect them to be everything. And an important footnote: We cannot be everything for a friend either. We are limited in what we can give and who we can be.
8. Good friends support growth.
So wildly important. One thing I believe in, more than ever, is our power to change as people. Good friends will allow us to grow and change and evolve even if this makes them uncomfortable. When I gave up drinking, I paid close attention to how this changed - and didn't change - certain of my friendships. Dear friends stand by us as we continue to become who it is we are.
9. Hey is an important word.
Sometimes, the simple things are the most important. I have a handful of very dear friends who will just text me and say: Hey. How's the day? It's nothing more than this, just a simple checking in, but it's so wonderful to get these little notes. It's something I'm not very good at, sending this little hey notes, but I vow to get better at it.
10. The best friendships will survive time & distance.
My oldest and best friend in the world hasn't lived near me since Third Grade. Our moms were pregnant at the same time and we spent our first decade together on West 78th street. We were bridesmaids in each other's weddings and often we go months without talking, but when I hear her voice, when I receive one of her beautiful, quirky handmade cards, I feel myself settling, something clicking into place. She lives in Colorado now. I will see her in December. I miss her, but our friendship has endured and flourished. This is friendship. This is what it's all about.
What do you know about friendship? Would love to hear your thoughts/comments/secrets/curiosities in the comment box!
I hope you've enjoyed this month as much as I have. On Monday, I will announce next month's topic. It will be another good one. Happy Halloween!