For Anonymous:What A Friend Is Not

>> Tuesday, March 2, 2010

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Anonymous asked: At the completion of your hiatus, can you tell us what a true friend is NOT?

Well, I can tell you what I wouldn't want to be as a friend, what kind of features I don't associate with friendship, but, since I'm not omniscient, I can only give you my opinion. But, I'm usually willing and able to provide an opinion.

To think of what a friend is NOT, in my opinion, one really starts with what a friend is and look for it's opposite. So, here is my take on what a friend is NOT.

Judgmental: A friend should someone who accepts you as you are, rather than as you ought to be. Whether you both are alike as two adjacent peas or polar opposites, a friend should be someone who isn't driven to make you into someone else who knows who you really are and likes who you really are. Otherwise, that person isn't much of a friend.

Dishonest: I'm not talking the occasional fib ("No, no, I was done with that slice of pizza. Really."), but who will tell you the truth when it matters or when asked. Always. Even if it hurts. Whether it's "I would not serve that lemon cake to your mother-in-law. Let's hit the store," "You have a real problem and I'm worried about you," to even, "I wanted to like your novel, and I really tried to. Unfortunately, I couldn't. It sucked." A good friend can give it to you straight without judging, without loving you less. If they have to pussyfoot around you, one of you isn't a good friend.

Impatient: Often a big part of friendship is being there for someone else. Sometimes, even your bestest friend can be wearying or need more than you can readily give. You're entitled to ask for room, or rest or space, but it should be done with compassion before you've reached the end of your rope so it can be done without angst. And, because you are honest with friends and emotionally entangled, that means that you might very well be dealing with angst yourself once in a while. Patience is how you survive it with a friendship intact.

Self-absorbed: A big part of being a friend is listening, sympathizing, understanding how the other person feels. You can't do that if you're focus is all around you. A friend is more than someone who's there for you; it's someone you are there for, too.

Untrustworthy: A good part of friendship is mutual respect. Friends respect each other's boundaries, secrets, personalities and intentions. They give the benefit of the doubt and their worthy of receiving it.

And, just from the way you worded your question, it reminded me of this last one.

Undemanding: One thing people routinely forget. Friends don't owe friends anything. If your friend does something for you, it should have been because they chose to. Ditto for you doing something for your friend. There should be no price tags, no owesies, no obligation. Friendship is a voluntary thing. Anyone who thinks their friend owes them something, well, I think they don't quite get friendship.
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  • Quadmama

    Amen! I wish I had a word for this one: a friend is not someone who cares about time. In other words, no matter how much time has lapsed between contact a friend will embrace you with open arms.

  • Shakespeare

    I like the nonjudging kind...even if you two are completely different...

    Can you tell why? :)

  • Phyl

    I really like this answer, Stephanie. Or this series of answer. :-)

    Two things really stood out for me. One was the comment about being self-absorbed. I remember a friend from years ago, who was very "elvish," and was adored by all and sundry. But I remember one evening when I was really down, and needed to talk. I called her and we talked for an hour. For the first five minutes, she gave me some sympathy. Then for the next 55 minutes, she chattered about herself, as I -- trying to be a good friend -- listened to her news about her life, and commented and encouraged, and stifled my own gloom so it wouldn't bring her down.

    That was when I started realizing that she wasn't really a friend to me.

    Your comment about a friend being undemanding reminded me of my bestest friend in the whole world, who lives at the opposite side of the continent from me. We had our big fights and estrangements all finished by the time we were 20. Since then, we can sometimes go years without seeing or having contact with each other, but the next time we find each other, we pick up EXACTLY where we left off. There's no heavy work, no judgements, no awkwardness.

    We lost touch for the last few years, and I just couldn't find her no matter how I searched. Then somehow she found me on Facebook last autumn, and I was thrilled beyond words. Shortly after, she came to Toronto to visit her daughter, and we saw each other for the first time in years. Again -- no awkwardness, no strangeness after all that time -- we were who we always were together.

    The contrast of those two people is, well, stunning. There was the real friend, and then the one who just gathered people so they could flutter around her. Just no comparison.

  • Stephanie Barr

    When it comes to friends, quality, not quantity. I have a very small number of real friends, but the ones I have are the BEST.

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