I think it was Goodfellas, definitely a mafia film, where I saw the following scene: This guy owed our hero, his friend, $10. Our hero was having a lot of trouble retrieving the money, he kept on trying but his ‘friend’ was creative with excuses.
We’ve all been there right?
So he gets this other guy to give him advice. A ‘wise guy’. “Let it go”, he tells him. “You’ll never see him again, he’ll never ask you for a loan again and you’ve gotten rid of a no-good friend who takes advantage and doesn’t respect you. And you get all this for $10. Bargain.”
Or words to that effect.
I was a young teenager, and I was intrigued. So simple! It’s OK to let go of people who don’t respect you! This was a true revelation. One that took me years to fully put into practice but even then, the seed was planted and it made a difference.
The next big moment for me and friendship was at college, where I had decided to be a lot more fussy about my friendships than I had been previously. A new beginning, and I was very very excited. I found myself in the canteen, ruminating about my thesis, chain-smoking with a classmate (I know, I know..). I liked her so far and was considering giving her the job of My New Friend. I’m watching her closely as I tend to do, when she tips her ash and looks at me, big blue electric intelligent, searchlight eyes:
‘So!’ she says, ‘What do you want from me?’
I was hooked.
It was an invitation to be direct and honest. With her, but also with myself. We became firm friends, as firm as it can be at 18 years of age when you still don’t really know yourself. It was great while it lasted and I remember her clearly and fondly. I hope she is well and happy. She was a supercool teenager, probably a supercool woman!
Next epiphany came a few years later when I was whining about not liking the partner of another friend of mine. I moaned to a (different) friend about how this partner would drive a wedge between us and she countered with “No she won’t. You will though, if you keep this up”.
Yup. She was right. Me carrying on like that was not helpful to my friendship. I was being unkind, judgmental and all those horrible words we all like to think we are above and so… ‘over’!
Except we’re not, we are human.
And so sometimes, being a good friend is keeping our mouth shut. Firmly. Because what we’re dying to say could well be misinformed, possibly untrue and definitely unhelpful. Especially when we don’t even know the person we are tempted to bitch about.
Yes, that happens. You know it.
Over the years I’ve learned how to choose better friends. I’ve done some culls, I’ve held onto quite a few 🙂 (Hello ancient friends – I know some of you will read this, and at least one of you will make good edit suggestions;)) I’ve made great new friends. I treasure and admire them all. I see clients struggle, grow, celebrate and mourn these same choices every week.
Friendship is crucial to our survival as a species. We don’t do well in isolation. I’ve been really fortunate (and hardworking) with the friendships I have. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve been hurt, I could have done some things better, some far worse.
The trick is to learn from it all isn’t it? That’s one of the things I’ve learned. Another thing I’ve learned is that not everyone is going to like me, and I’m not going to like everyone. That first part is a hard pill for most of us to swallow. But most people have something very likeable about them, that’s what I see. That doesn’t mean I have to be their friend, or they mine.
I remember saying to a therapist years ago that I thought that underneath at all, everyone is basically lovely. This reduced her to tears. Which took me aback at the time. She clearly just had stuff going on and I zoomed along and triggered the hell out of it. Anyway, I meant what I said. I still do. So that was another epiphany moment for me – turns out I think people are lovely.
There is much for us to learn from each other and I really enjoy that. It informs my work, and enhances my professional and personal experiences greatly. I am still amazed by and delight in how different we can be from each other with different opinions, styles, preferences, thoughts. My definition of the word ‘friendship’ has changed – it’s become both more flexible and more solid at the same time. I’ve learned that too.
Different isn’t bad.
When I was a lot younger I thought it was. How many people I missed out on for that.. or misjudged.. But I didn’t know then what I know now (which I’m sure I’ll say again in twenty years’ time about the me that’s writing this!!.) So I’m not going to beat myself up over that one 🙂
(Check Cathy’s website for some insightful cartoons on friendship and many other topics).
Here’s my bottom line on friendship, and it’s what inspired a toxic friendship post co-written with my friend and generally wonderful human being Tanya Tinney :
We deserve people in our lives who treat us well.
We alone are responsible for choosing those people.
We alone are responsible for teaching them how to treat us.
And once we choose them, we then have a responsibility to treat them well.
Because real friendship is not one-sided!!
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