On Friendship

October 20, 2007 at 5:57 am 2 comments

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about friendship, and how much it plays into my idea of success and fulfillment in my life. As a woman in my mid-30’s and a new mother, I am finding myself in major transition with some of the friendships I’ve had for years.

For some of us, our lives are taking us in very different directions. For others, we are seemingly going in the same direction, but that seems to draw out even more differences in how we are approaching certain life choices. And then there’s this phenomenon of making new friends, which we all do throughout our lives, and gauging which are the temporary or situational ones and which may stick around until we’re old ladies in purple hats together (both kinds being OK).

I’m realizing that successful friendships don’t necessarily have anything to do with whether two people (in my case, usually two women) are the same age or marital status or whether or not we both have children. Some of my single friends are closer to me than ever, while others have all but disappeared; and some of my mom friends and I can talk about everything still, while walls are being built with others. And I’m just beginning to make new potential friends in vastly different life stages and situations.

So, I’ve been trying to put my finger on what, then, seems to be the “sticking factor” — that intangible connection that allows a friendship to really survive through years and changes. I still don’t have a real answer, but I’ve come up with a few thoughts:

1. Commitment to the Friendship — What I’m seeing is that when two friends have equal commitment to a friendship, it can usually work no matter what differences arise. This commitment could manifest vastly differently with different friendships, but the key is that it is in balance.

For instance, balance could mean two friends are equally committed to talking once every few months, and have a lovely conversation catching up and reminiscing, then are fine with not hearing from one another until the seasons turn again. Or, it could mean two friends who are there for each other through thick and thin, dealing with the everyday details and the life traumas, talking often and going after one another to see what’s up if there hasn’t been contact in a given week. Either scenario can work, but if there’s one friend who wants a holiday card relationship and the other who wants the BFF relationship, that’s where things fall apart.

2. Basic Values — The most successful friendships I have and have seen are between people who share a set of basic values in common. Now, this certainly doesn’t mean they agree on everything (how boring would that be?), but at core there is a shared understanding of foundational values, such as how we treat people, how we view honesty, loyalty, life purpose, etc. It’s not about whether two friends share the same pastimes or favorite books that matters, but these fundamental values. When they are out of line I think it’s harder to stay connected.

3. Willingness to Face the Unpretty Stuff — Recently, a friend told me that a friend of hers (who I don’t know) said women who argue with their friends are “wierd.” In our culture, it seems that it is more acceptable for women to disagree with, argue with, or break up messily with men than it is for these normal occurrences to happen between women. It’s part of what Oprah calls “the disease to please” among women, the need for us to be so nice that we would rather let a friendship silently fade away than deal with an issue that may be less than pleasant to take it to the next level.

I think the deep, evolving friendships that stand a chance for the long haul (this may not apply for the holiday card friends) must have moments of disagreement, or bad behavior, and then the getting through it. Pretending everything is always pretty, in my book, is a recipe for denial and distance. This isn’t to say I argue often with my friends, or enjoy the ugly stuff, but I think the friends that last tacitly agree that we take the good, bad, and the ugly of one another, and talk about it.

***

Losing friendships can be heartbreaking, and finding new ones challenging. But, the joy I get out of the friendships that stick — and even the ones that fade away mutually after their purpose has been served — is one of the best parts of life for me. I can’t imagine calling myself “successful” without close friends whom I can really be myself with. After all, if we can’t share it, where’s the fun in it?

This somewhat convoluted train of thought will continue; there’s way more to say on this topic. In the meantime, though, I’d love to hear your thoughts about “sticking factors” that make friendships last.

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Entry filed under: Friendship, Women.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Heather Caliri  |  October 20, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    I’ve been thinking about friendships a lot lately, too. Perhaps it’s the Major Life Transition?
    I really struggle with patience when friendships undergo transition. Perhaps my friend is unable to commit to the same level of seeing each other then we had in the past; perhaps we realize that our values or world views are more different then we realized. Or perhaps I’m less able to see a friend whenever, wherever b/c of certain unnamed…um, constraints. I hate change! I hate having to figure out how those differences will change the friendship! Not that the friendship will be discarded–not at all–but being willing to be in the uncomfortable stage of something new.
    It’s painful to realize that you’re going in different directions, and that closeness has to be renegotiated. It’s downright hurtful, even when it shouldn’t be, or isn’t intended to be, or can’t be helped.
    I’m still figuring out that graceful patience with friendships in flux. Perhaps it would be easier if the changes didn’t all come at once, on multiple friends. But that’s always the way life seems to work.

    Reply
  • 2. Heather  |  November 27, 2007 at 9:32 pm

    I echo Heather C.- I think in all loving adult relationships the key is patience. My sticking-est friends and I have been on both sides of the patience equation when we’re not the highly-functioning adults we can be, but the bratty selfish kids we occasionally are.

    Reply

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