There are some people for whom the term friend means pretty much what it does on Facebook: someone with whom they have interacted in some (presumably) pleasant way. I am not one of those people.
Years ago, as I was contemplating a move from New York to Florida, I started to think about the nature of my relationships. It used to be that a friend was a person who was solidly part of my life. Those I didn’t know well were acquaintances. As I got older, and circumstances changed, the way I looked at these things got murkier.
I coined a term for people who are not quite friends but are more than acquaintances. I call them afraintances. Maybe at one time we were friends, maybe we never got to that stage. Recently, someone I know said she thought that she and I have different ideas of friendship. After the conversation, I wondered what she thought my idea of friendship is. More importantly, I wondered what I thought it is. You know those instances where you walk away and say I should have said… In this case, I thought I should have asked.
So I asked myself instead – what do I want in a friend?
I know that time spent together is less important than the quality, not of the time, but of the relationship.
Acceptance and comfort are big for me. I want to be able to be who I am without feeling that I will be judged for it. Caring and interest – I want to feel that the person has concern for me and is interested in at least some of the elements of my life. I’ve had afraintances who would talk about their lives but would rarely ask about mine.
Maya Angelou famously said that people will forget what you have said or done but will never forget the way you made them feel.
Once my husband Rick made dinner for some friends. He prepared colorful bowls of spices. He chopped everything precisely and shared the steps he took to insure maximum flavor. The day after the dinner, one guest sent back a message: she said that besides enjoying the food, she had felt really well cared for. Even though that was decades ago I remember that remark not only because it was so apropos, but also because it applies to more than a meal. It’s about feeling valued.
Some people think about friendship in terms of legacy – what will people think of them when they are gone? That’s not me. It doesn’t matter if the person will miss me when I die, I want her to appreciate me while I’m here. I no longer have those “when I die, they’ll see what I was worth” fantasies – probably because I’m not the subject of Thirteen Reasons Why. OK, I do have those fantasies. Part of me is still a high school kid.
But unlike those young days when I thought that true friendships were lifelong, I’ve grown to accept that not every friendship will work out or last – not even the thirty year ones. They will not have expiration dates that are conveniently stamped on them. In some cases, like when you sniff that carton of sour milk, you’ll know it when it’s gone bad. In other cases, you might not be sure, you’ll be looking around for someone to tell you – is it just me or has this gone off? It will be hard to approach the person who is most expert in this with that question because it’s hard to ask and hard to answer.
So it’s also about ease.
My husband has a friend. They see each other occasionally, they text pretty often. Sometimes it’s just hey brother what’s up? Or how was golf? It’s not that they don’t care about each other – they do, very much so. It’s just not a brain bleed. I can guarantee neither of them thinks: Is he my friend? Does he still like me? Find me interesting? That’s what I want. I want a bro friendship. I treasure my relationships in which we bare our souls – these friends can be lifelines. But it’s fun to have the people I can send pictures of weird birds and odd vehicles to, someone who is not my Facebook timeline. I’m not the only one who’s noticed that people have replaced real relationships with Facebook. Things we once shared with friends we now share on social media.
And I’m not interested in gossip. In fact, I’m averse to it. Sorry but I don’t dish. Not my cup of tea. I don’t kid myself and believe that I am not on the menu when I am not there.
I try to stick to the policy: tell me if you feel something is wrong and I’ll do the same for you. Hopefully, we’ll work it out and have a good meal and a laugh.
I know there are all kinds of friendship. I once told a friend that relationships are like spices – you use different ones for different dishes. The friend you would go out dancing with might not be the one you would share your secrets with.
Years ago, a friend of mine was exclaiming to my husband about how quickly they had become really close friends. We’d spent time a couple of good evenings together with him and his partner. “When you’re my friend,” Rick said, “you’ll know it. Friendship, to me, is a kind of love.” So the common denominator might be love. Then again, I love tacos and I wouldn’t necessarily want to hang out with them for long periods of time. But given the amount of food metaphors I’ve used to describe all this, maybe hanging out with tacos wouldn’t be that bad.