Friends Don’t Fit on a Plaque
(Story by Mir, from Woulda Coulda Shoulda)
I'm always a sucker for the various cross-stitched pillows and wall placards that claim to tell you what a REAL friend does. Perhaps this is because I have always found the unwritten rules of female friendships somewhat baffling. There's little I would enjoy more than finally discovering a canonical list of how you can measure your relationship with a fellow female and determine if it is, indeed, worthy of your time and energy.
Does this sound tongue-in-cheek? It's not. I spent most of my childhood and young adulthood desperately trying to forge the kinds of friendships I was sure would make me feel complete; surely sleepovers and hair-braiding and passing notes about who liked whom would make me feel like I belonged, like I fit in, like I was worthy. This isn't to say I never had a real friend during that time, but I did seem to have more than my share of "frenemies" as I invariably found myself wondering why my "friend" was being so mean to me that day. The next day, of course, when she would ask me to jump, I all but asked "how high?" in my eagerness to prove myself so that she would like me again.
I'm female, but the intricacies of how females form these bonds has never been clear to me. I am a straightforward person; my experience with female friendships—particularly in adolescence—is that they are not. Whether or not you truly care for someone is wound up with issues of social strata and puppy love and the almighty What People Think. I was not cool enough for some of the friends I wished I was, which made for situations of "we're friends unless anyone else is around" or "we're only friends when I don't have anything better to do." I wish I'd known to walk away from those people, but I was young and naive and believed that they liked me as much as I liked them.
As an adult, my self-esteem increased, but the complexities of modern life did, too. So I learned to walk away from the obviously selfish and callous and drama-filled, but discovered a whole new world of situations that were harder to read. Was that friend really just overwhelmed with her own issues or avoiding me? Was that one being judgmental or struggling with her own marriage? Walking away or working through issues was still a tough choice, when I got to make it; other times, the choice was made for me, and it still hurt as much as when I'd been a kid.
Now I've hit the infamous "mid-life" point, and I'm still figuring it out. I have wonderful friends. I have wonderful acquaintances, too. I've learned that sister-like bonds can grow in unexpected places, and that sometimes the people you thought would be there for you just… aren't. I've realized that no poster or pillow or paperweight can detail the rules for friendships.
Instead, in my own life I've learned this about my true girlfriends:
They listen when I talk. They also listen when I don't.
They love my kids, nearly as much as their own. Even when those kids are rotten. (Maybe especially when those kids are rotten.)
They don't laugh at me. Except when they do, and when it makes me laugh at myself.
They will always split the last piece of cake or share the last square of chocolate.
They ask hard questions, but in a way that makes a safe place for the answers.
They will always tell me when I have something stuck in my teeth.
They will, in fact, tell the truth about whether that outfit makes my ass look big.
They make me feel beautiful, inside and out.
They make me want to be a better person. Not in the "I hope to cure cancer" sort of way, but in the "I hope I make them feel even half as loved as they make me feel."
Most surprising of all (to me, anyway): their presence in my life makes me totally, utterly, astonishingly grateful to be female.
I guess it's not terribly pithy, my list. But this week I've had an old friend visiting, and another friend far away and dealing with an awful lot, and I just can't help thinking that I may not have completely cracked the code, but when it comes to the mysterious pursuit of "feeling more better," these women are a huge part of how that works for me. And I hope I'm some small part of how it works for them.
Do you feel like you understand female friendships better as you get older? If forced to sew the lessons therein on a pillow, what would yours say?
(find more Mir, here)