Monday, November 1, 2010

What Friendship Should Be

I've had a lot of practice making and losing friends in my forty-six years on this earth.  I've had times that were both joyful and incredibly painful.  The joyful ones far outweigh the painful, but unfortunately the painful experiences seem to be the ones that I remember the most.  Usually, the painful ones were a result of my not adhering to some basic guidelines as to what exactly constitutes a good friend.  I was thinking yesterday (when I could think coherently through the horrendous sinus headache I can't seem to make go away) that I hope my children will take a cue from the things I did wrong in my relationships and not make as many mistakes - living through modeling.  So I thought another list, this time made up of "friendship rules," might be in order.

1.  Don't do all the work.  If someone really wants to be your friend, they will at least meet you halfway.  If you are doing all the calling, setting up all of the get togethers, and generally trying too hard, then the person you are subconsciously begging to be your friend really isn't and they aren't going to change their mind if you bug them continuously.

2.  Respect your friend's boundaries.  I lost a couple of good friends this way before I figured out that if you push too hard into someone else's space, they don't like that and they're seriously not going to want to be your friend.  In my lifelong neediness fest, one of the things I've "needed" the most was friends.  After losing the last friend because I couldn't take the hint that I had overstepped my bounds, I realized that it's better to respect others' space and limits to the friendship.  If you're overstepping your bounds trying to make someone like you, step back and give them some space.  They'll either come around or they won't, but you'll have the knowledge that you didn't overdo it.

3.  Be your own best friend first.  This is important, because if you don't like yourself, why would anyone else like you?  I think I've always needed other people to like me because I have such serious self-esteem issues.  Justin always acts really surprised when I say bad things about myself, which I have a habit of doing on a regular basis.  What exactly am I hoping to accomplish?  If you wouldn't want someone else saying that stuff about you (or better yet, someone you love), why is that same old tape playing over and over in your head?  If you like yourself, others are bound to like you too.

4.  Don't underestimate the value of your friendship.  You have a lot to give in a relationship; you might just not be aware of what you bring to the table.  If someone is pulling away from you, it might be because you're trying too hard or it might be that they don't see how much you have to offer.  Or they may actually (gasp!) not like you.  That's okay.  Remember to value yourself and what kind of person you are.  If you know you're a good person and someone still doesn't want to be your friend, it's their loss, not yours.

5.  Give whatever you have to give to your friends.  Look to see what their needs are and see if you can help them out somehow.  Maybe all you have to give is your time or a shoulder to cry on, but sometimes that's what other people need more than you can imagine.  If you are able to help a person out by passing on a item you no longer use, why not give it away with a free heart?  If you give of yourself, people will give back.  And if they can't give back, it probably doesn't have anything to do with you, but give anyway, because that's what makes you a good friend.   Leading to number....

6.  You can't buy friendship.  Even if you have all the money in the world and are willing spend it like a rock star on the people with whom you want to surround yourself, you eventually will be judged for what kind of person you are, not on how much money you are willing to throw around.  Everyone can see through a phony, so if you are giving material things in an effort to gain a friend, you might succeed in keeping that person around for awhile, but it's not going to be for the right reasons.  You can give things if you are able and you know that the person on the receiving end has a need, but don't do it just because you hope that person will like you.  Nobody wants to be a charity case and if you make your friend into one, then you aren't doing either one of you any favors.

7.  Don't expect people to act a certain way.  I think I mentioned this in my previous rules list.  I lived almost my entire life before I realized that I can't always get the reaction I want from people or even that I was hoping for.  If you've given freely, that should make you feel good about yourself.  You shouldn't need the person on the receiving end of your friendship to act exactly the way you hoped they would because they are not inside of your head, knowing what it is you need.  A prime example:  For years, I've shopped intensely during the holidays for exactly the right gift for people or thrown my heart into making gifts.  When the ultimate gift opening came, most of the time I was disappointed that the person on the receiving end didn't jump up and down with joy and declare their undying love for me.  This is a prime example of why having expectations is not a good thing.

A little story to demonstrate my point.  I've been doing cross stitch since I was a teenager, which is a long time.  One fall a few years ago, I spent hours working on a beautiful piece for my brother's girlfriend because (say it with me people) I really wanted her to like me.  My brother and his girl were living out in California, which is 3,000 miles away and I didn't get many chances to see them.  I had only met his girlfriend once, but my parents and I had accepted that my brother was not ever going to change his bachelor ways and get married, so we accepted this girl as an informal member of the family.  The cross stitch piece I was making was beautiful.  I had originally intended to make it for myself, but I realized about half way through it that it would make an absolutely fantastic gift for Renee.  And, of course, she was going to totally appreciate what a great "sister-in-law" she had and gush her thanks for the gift.  Oh, and I think I bought a book for my brother.  No great expectations for that.

I sent off my carefully packaged presents around the beginning of December and waited, expecting an ecstatic reaction when she opened the package and, at the very least, a grateful phone call.  I waited a long time.  At first, I wasn't even sure she'd gotten the present, because I never heard a word, from her or my brother about the gifts I had sent.  I spent two months making the present and I never got a thank you.  At all. 

My parents went out to visit them last Thanksgiving and I asked my mother to (kind of sneakily) look around the house and see if the picture was anywhere on the wall.  When she came back, she said she didn't see it.  My work, my hours and hours of work, wasn't even on display!  Okay, this was making me mad at this point.  I put a lot of time into this thing, it turned out beautifully, and I don't even get a thank you?  Seriously?

In February of this year, right before my brother's 41st birthday, his girlfriend moved out.  I have no idea what happened to my gift, but it's either buried in a closet at my brother's house or it is now completely out of the family, probably in a closet at her new home.  She might have even picked out the personalization portion and sold it a yard sale.  Oh the horror!

Expectations....don't have them.  Refer to number five above and just feel good about yourself for being a kind and giving person.

8.  Know when it's time to let go.  If a friendship isn't working and hasn't been for some time, don't latch onto the other person like a leech and try harder.  It's embarrassing for the other person and will cause you no end of anguish as they continue to pull away.  Some friendships are meant to last a lifetime and sometimes people come into our lives for a short time and then move on.  Know when it's time to say goodbye and that you can take joy in the fact that you had that person as your friend for whatever length of time they were there.  I'm a firm believer that there is a reason for everything that happens.  If a friend is rotating out of your life, that's okay.  There's a reason they were there and now there's a reason they aren't.  It might be painful, but maybe the way is being opened up for a new person to arrive in your life.  Life moves in cycles and so does friendship, usually.

I think that I am finally following my own "friendship rules," but I guess you would have to ask my friends that question.  I used to think that you were defined by how many friends you have, but I now think you're more defined by the quality of the people you choose to hang out with.  After all, if you're surrounded by quality people, then it probably means you're a quality person too.


  1. If you're not familiar with the Enneagram, I highly recommend this book—The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types.

    There are other books about it, but this is the main one that explains, in depth, about the nine personality types. You are very clearly #2.

    Sounds like you've already figured out the things about your personality that the book describes, but it might give you more insight.

    Other books about the Enneagram that you might find interesting: The Enneagram Made Easy; The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram; and Are You My Type, Am I Yours?

    The Enneagram is not some freaky, flaky thing. It's been around for centuries and is waaaaaaaay more accurate than anything I've ever read about horoscopes.

  2. Kari, what is personality type 2?

  3. The chapter on each number in the Wisdom book is like 30 pages, so it's not so easy to give you a short answer to that question. Here is a link to an extremely brief description:

    If you do some digging and reading, you'll see how complex each number can be. For instance, no two 2s are exactly alike because they are affected by the numbers on either side, plus there are nine levels of healthy to unhealthy within each number, and there are other things that factor in. It's pretty fascinating.


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