“As we grow older we think we’re losing friends when in fact we are realising who our true ones are.”
I must start by apologising to whoever came up with this quote. I cannot remember where I read it – possibly on one of my Blackberry apps for Quotes of the Day…no matter. Whoever you are, I thank you.
I am a Gen-X’er who grew up in an era of typewriters (electric, at that!), Pac-Man, colour TVs and encyclopedias. I used to write letters with pen and paper and had to visit the post office for stamps or aerograms to keep in touch with friends interstate and overseas. Some people might say that in the pre-“www” age, it was harder to keep in touch with friends. I don’t necessarily agree. It is true that you had to make a bigger effort to keep in touch, but if the friendship is worthwhile, then shouldn’t the effort also be worth it? And these days, with the ease and availability of email, Facebook, Twitter and mobile texting, what excuses do we have for not keeping in touch?
Last weekend, I attended the wedding of a friend I met in my last two years of high school (which was a very long time ago!). We were friends even back then, but I would not say we were close. I suppose you could say we both had the personalities that would get along with just about anyone. After we finished high school, we had only seen each other once (for a mutual friend’s 21st birthday in the early 90s – just to give you context of the timeframe) and then not again until we re-discovered each other via Facebook in 2009. And, as Fate would have it, she was living in Adelaide in South Australia and I was going there for a holiday just a few days after we realised she was no longer living in Sydney, where we had grown up. Even better still, she lived only about 15 minutes from where I was staying with another friend. So we arranged to meet for lunch. That lunch date lasted nearly 4 hours. After all, we had over a decade of catching up to do. I now feel closer to her than I did in the two years that I went to school with her.
I have many stories like that – of friends I had once been close to but have lost touch with completely or manage to only see once every few years because of some significant life changes, and of those who I may not have been particularly close to in the past but have returned in my life to become my confidantes and my shoulders to cry on in my dark times. Of course, there are also one or two who have always been there throughout all the ups and downs.
As we get older, we open our eyes to more of the world – the good and the bad. Our priorities change as our circumstances in life change. Our views of the world and those around us also change accordingly. We learn to distinguish between those behaviours and attitudes we will accept and tolerate from those that we won’t. And so, as time goes by, and we get older, we learn who among our friends are going to stick around and who will not. Most importantly, friendship, like any relationship, is a two-way street. Anything less is just an acquaintance. We learn that life is too short to waste our energies on those who do not appreciate the value of our friendship.
So here are some points of distinction for me that define true friendship:
- does not judge but will give you their honest opinion
- will be happy for you when you get a new job, a promotion or a raise, but will also be there for you to encourage you when you don’t
- will be there to keep you company when you are feeling lonely but will also understand when you feel the need to be left alone
- will forgive you for not calling but will also call you if you haven’t done so in a while
- will never make you feel bad about yourself
I want to end with a story I have heard in the past (I believe I first heard it on an episode of The West Wing many years ago but has been repeated by others since). I am just paraphrasing but I hope you will get the idea (remember, don’t judge or try to rationalise this!):
A man fell down a well. He called out desperately trying to be heard by passersby to rescue him. After many hours, a friend came upon the well and heard the cries for help. He called down into the well and discovered it was his friend. So he climbed down into the well to join his friend. The first man became angry and said, “Are you stupid? Why did you come down here? How are we going to get out of here now?” to which his friend replied, “I have come down to keep you company so that you know you are not alone. We are in this together.”
If you have a friend who you value, tell them now. Tell them often. Tell them when they least expect it and when they need to hear it most. And then remember that you have been blessed with true friendship and return the favour.