Thursday, February 25, 2010

On Friendship

I've been thinking about friendship a lot lately. It's natural, when I'm in a phase of my life when I have no social life to speak of. I won't say I have no friends, because I have many of them in theory, but I see most of my friends very rarely. It has been at least a month since I've had so much as a phone call from a friend. I see people at work and at church, but it's always a "Hi, how're you doing, bye" sort of conversation, in between things. It's just a side-effect of living somewhere where we don't know many people, and of being so busy I'm lucky if I make dinner and clean the house.

However, I've heard it's good for newly married couples to have a little time on their own, far from friends and family, to forge their own bond. And I do believe we have done that. When I married John, I never could have believed the amount I would love him now. I can only imagine how much I will love him in 20 years! And since he is my best friend, I don't feel lonely very often.

But, as I think about how rarely I connect with anyone else, I get to wondering. Considering I see none of my friends very often, who are my best friends? If I really needed to talk to a friend, who would I call? Why haven't I made more of an effort to keep in touch with my friends? What "counts," for me, as true interaction with a friend?

I find that I am very picky. I enjoy emails, but they often feel so distant and vague, and so I sometimes neglect my email correspondence, even when I am lonely. And I don't much like talking on the phone, except maybe with my mom. With others, I feel lost because I can't see their faces. I enjoy large social groups all right, but I prefer small ones. My favorite is to sit down with one friend for awhile -- preferably a long time -- or to spend the day hanging out with one or two friends.

Then I'm picky about how the friendship has to go. I think the single most important thing to me in a friendship is honesty. Not just "not lying," but being completely candid -- not avoiding or glossing over certain topics. When I gripe to a friend about my problems, I want her to listen, of course -- but I also want to hear exactly what she thinks about what I said. I don't want to be agreed with all the time. I want to be told if my friend thinks I'm wrong.

A lot of that probably has to do with my time at boarding school. There were so many things you couldn't talk about, and no one would give their real opinion about a lot of the things that mattered. I guess it's sort of a rebellion on my part to demand absolute openness instead. As a very sensitive person, it's a challenge to open myself to criticism, but I am much less afraid of criticism than I am afraid of the other person holding back, secretly thinking I'm wrong, but not considering it "okay" to say so. Even worse is for the other person to expect me to hold back. I tend to be pretty positive about my friends -- after all, I like them -- and I don't load them with criticism, yet when I think they're wrong, I want to be allowed to say so. I insist that I am not really loving them if I don't tell them when they're out of line, making a mistake, or have spinach on their teeth. They're welcome to disagree -- because I am often wrong -- but I do have to be allowed my two cents.

The average rule of friendship among women, as far as I can see, is to be affirming: to tell your friend she doesn't look fat in that dress and that her relationships are all going fine. But I simply can't and won't do that. I feel like I'm lying. And in a friendship where that's expected of me, or I fear it might be expected of me (as with people I don't know that well), I feel nervous and ill at ease ... like I might accidentally stumble on some sore topic and find it's a landmine.

That happens all the time at work -- people in this city seem a lot less open than what I'm used to, and they don't talk much about their lives. So when I share a lot (as I generally do), I always wonder afterward, "Do they think I'm too forward? Was I accidentally rude? Or do they think I'm some kind of eccentric?" So my conversations at work end up being more of a burden than anything else, as I try to avoid topics that others might not like, and obsess (way more than I should) about what I said.

Still, my social anxiety is hardly the point. I know how to navigate casual relationships tolerably well -- at least enough that people still put up with me. And I'm okay with spending a percentage of my day on superficialities. But that's not friendship. I do not find "friendships of convenience" (as Aristotle called them) fulfilling in any way. I am not satisfied with this level of interaction, and I would like to have deeper levels of contact with true friends.

But, as you can see from what I've said above, I'm terribly picky. I demand a lot before I will consider myself someone's true friend. Though I'm friendly and share a lot even with recent acquaintances (as you can see by the fact that I am blogging all this!), I need to know someone for awhile before I feel like I can list them as a true friend. It takes a long investment.

Aristotle said that true friendship only exists between people who share the same idea of goodness. This is because true friends will help one another achieve the good, and they can only do this if they agree on what it is. I would agree with this assessment. That's requirement number two for friends of mine. I can be friends with someone who isn't Catholic, but I don't think I could be friends with someone who thought it doesn't matter how you treat others, or who lies on a regular basis, or who doesn't value responsibility and decency.

So, with my two huge requirements for friends -- that they be completely open with me and allow me to be open with them, and that they share my views on the most important things -- it's no wonder my friends are few. And I lose some along the road. I used to think you could never truly lose a friend, but as I've become older and more cynical, I've found that you can. Friends who I used to share my faith with, who now have abandoned it. Friends I thought shared my views on relationships and then cheated on their boyfriends. That sort of thing. I might still like them, talk to them, wish them well, but something is gone that used to be there. I find myself asking what we have in common anymore.

Then, what if I add in another dimension and say I want friends who are similar to me in more superficial ways? For instance, I have several close guy friends, borrowed from John, who is an excellent maker of good friends. Is it selfish of me to want to have some girl friends too? Well, I do have a few close girl friends. I haven't seen many of them since my wedding, though. Still, never think for a minute that I am not tremendously grateful for my girl friends.

What about state in life? Wouldn't it be nice to have at least one friend who was married and going to have a baby -- or maybe already had one? I would love to have at least one peer I could talk baby stuff with. But almost all the married women I know are much older than me. I have two friends who are married -- both of whom are states away, and we never really talk. It's sad.

Well, I don't have a solution to this problem. I'm not going to whine and say "I have no friends." That would be insulting to the truly amazing people who are my friends. But ... I guess right now I am craving an afternoon in the company of a really good girlfriend, and I don't know what I can do about that. I didn't write this post to complain, but to explore my expectations. I'm wondering if they are fair.

Is it that I expect too much? Or is it just a matter of where I happen to be in my life right now -- in a different city and a different point in my life than the select group of people I count as friends?

2 comments:

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Hi, Sheila! We're not really friends, either, which is why I hesitated to comment on such a personal post about friendship, but I do want to tell you that you're not alone--in the sense that I have the same picky standards for friendship and have often found myself without friends for long stretches of time.

Even today, with some very good friends whom I've known since high school and meet up with every week, I can feel very lonely. They do hold back with me, and expect me to hold back with them. The last time I had a friend I could really, really say anything to was 2005!

One reason I blog is that there are so many things I feel very passionately about and want to share with others, but can't share with my nearest and dearest. After all these years, there are topics we still avoid because we can't discuss them, without one friend getting offended or me getting indignant . . . and I just think that, in an ideal world, we would have found some good "grooves" by now, for discussions of these topics to slide into. Then we could revel in each other's "weirdness" instead of seeming to be friends in spite of it.

I'm fairly sure that my two closest friends and I don't share the same idea of goodness. And I just alienated some blog buddies whom I've had for years because, a few months ago, my idea of goodness developed in a radically different direction from theirs. (We no longer read each other's blogs--and though that sounds superficial, it's also very sad. All these years of reading and commenting, and we have nothing more to say to each other?) Now I find myself trying to make some new blog friends . . . and it's not easy! It takes a lot of luck. =(

I suppose my dream BFF is someone with whom I'd have both the essentials and the non-essentials in common. I'd like her to be Catholic, of course, and a woman. We'd share the same love for 80s pop culture and the same frame of reference when it comes to great writers. We'd both be Filipina, raised in the same social class (and preferably in the same neighbourhood!), and burdened with the same sort of accent . . . It's kind of sad to know she doesn't exist.

On the other hand, the best friends I had in uni could not have been more different from me on all counts--and I could tell them everything. I guess I'm just extra lonely because we've completely lost touch.

Well, I've rambled on enough, Sheila! Thanks for your post. =)

Sheila said...

Glad to hear you understand! I guess part of it is the fact that we all change over time. Our outlook and ideas change, and sometimes our friends are changing in another direction. It's hard!

And you are right that blogging helps. Knowing that there are people -- even people you've never met -- who you CAN tell anything to, is a huge comfort. Thanks for being one of those people! :)

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