One of the insights gained as one ages is that most of your friends aren’t all-purpose. There’s the one who will always be up for going to a new movie. There’s the shopping friend you bring with you when you have to find a dress for a wedding during which you will most likely run into your ex and must appear, exactly, HOT and also UNAVAILABLE. There are hiking, biking, fishing, and scrapbooking friends. And there’s the friend you pour your heart out to when your dad has cancer, your pet died, and you lost your job.
There is nothing wrong with being a single-purpose friend. Or with having single-purpose friends. I think the trick is to know who you go to for what and what kind of friend you want to be when you answer the phone or reply to an email. Also, I think it’s about being in tune with what your friend needs when she emails you or blurts something out at lunch that you weren’t expecting, like, “My dog died,” or whatever.
I believe this has come on my radar lately because I’ve got this peculiar soup of weird crap going on in my life. Not only do I not have a job, people from the three sets of adults closest to me have varied forms and stages of cancer: my father, my mother-in-law, and a very close friend. Husband started nursing school this semester. Combine that with some of the weird crap my friends are dealing with – major life changes as they move or get divorced, baby-making issues, and children who need medical care – and we’re all bumping into each other trying to get by.
I am often stunned by the kindness shown me by the people I know – or sometimes by people I barely know. It’s the friend who bought me lunch because I just lost my job. The one who listened to me fret about feeling surrounded by cancer then asked, point-blank, “But how are YOU?” The friend who listened to me rant about losing my job for the SECOND time in a year. These are kindnesses that I can only hope to repay or pay forward. There are some people just don’t want to hear about your hard times. I think they don’t know what to say, they don’t know how to say it, so they’d rather not mess it up by trying. Of course, some people are the suns of their own solar systems, too.
I have very often been the silent captive one-woman audience to the Me Show. At those times, my job is to listen, nod, validate, affirm, as waves of personal monologue wash over me. It used to really bother me that I couldn’t get a word in edgewise until I realized that this is what this person needs at the moment. (Or maybe always. At some point I think I’m going to have to ask myself what I’m getting out of my lifelong ticket to the Me Show, but that’s another blog post altogether.)
You have control over what friend you are and what friend you interact with, of course. But what if you want to change your status? What if I want to go from Manicures Friend to Trusted Advisor? I don’t know. Probably it takes a while to build up the trust and begin to build that foundation.
The question I keep asking myself is, “What kind of friend do I want to be?” and “What kind of friend am I?” As a kid, your value as a friend came down to if you can keep a secret about a crush, who you invited to your party, and maybe if you had good toys at your house. I want to be an all-purpose friend to everybody, sure. But I’m ok with being the Shopping Friend or the Drinks with the Girls friend. In the end, I hope I’ve listened to you. I hope I’ve given you what you need. I hope you’ve gotten something out of being friends with me, or, in some cases, reading my blog. And please, God, do not write me and tell me how I have failed you as a friend. That wouldn’t be very friendly.
Author addendum: This study posted this week talks about how kids perceive friendships.