Thursday, October 11, 2007


We were discussing friends and friendship in group yesterday. Some folks have trouble trusting that they are likeable enough to have real friendships, others have trust issues, others are so isolated and unfamiliar with social settings that they are horribly self-conscious and feel awkward and too weird to make friends. I feel lucky.

I was not a person who inspired friendships until I hit my midteens and moved in with my Dad and Stepmom. Prior to that, I had your typical cynical, acidic, alienating and alienated attitude that most kids have who are abused. “Don’t get close to me, you’ll just cause me pain” is how that shakes out lots of times. Dad and Ellen made the difference.

They liked me, even when I was obnoxious and peculiar, they found my sense of humor hilarious, they pointed out my good features physically and mentally, and they accepted me. That made such a huge difference. After having been treated with hatred, violence, distain, and dismissal for so many years, having someone else not only see me, but also see the good in me was a revelation.

Looking at it from here, my spot years later in life, I think it works that way for most people, regardless of their upbringing. I think that when others accept us and like us, we are more able to accept and like ourselves. I think we begin to take ourselves and our right to friendship and decent treatment more seriously and learn to discern the difference between someone who enjoys our company and someone who is working a hidden agenda.

I think back over the friends I’ve had over the years. Some people, like me, just needed companionship for the short term, or their lives took different paths, but during the time we were friends, we laughed, we threw popcorn at each other, we were able to let down our back hair and share emotions, worries, gossip, adventures, and deepest secrets.

Others started off like friends, but, and I don’t think I’m the only one who’s faced this, at some point, their eyes shuttered, they drew back and didn’t share. There were places they were not willing to go, be it in shared silliness or seriousness, or there were things they were afraid of – rejection, judgment, criticism, I don’t know. I do know I’ve sometimes been on the other side of the shuttered eyes and mind, too.

Sometimes we just needed a break from one another – things had been intense or taken too much time, and we were enjoying relating so much that we let important things fall by the wayside, so we had to step back from the time-eating friendship for a spell. If we granted each other that space without resentment, then things went well. If that was too threatening for one person or the other, sometimes the friendship altered or died.

I don’t enter into friendships expecting one person to solve or resolve all my needs – that would be overwhelming and imprudent. I share different aspects of myself with different friends, as they do with me, and that’s enough. There’s usually plenty of crossover, too, in areas and issues. It’s manageable, it’s safe, it’s sane, and it’s normal. I’m not looking for a “bff”; I’m happy with a “gffalail” (good friend for as long as it lasts); I don’t require perpetuity of my friends; I think that would be a little frightening because so many things lie between here and forever.

I suppose the best thing I have going for me in my approach to friendships is that I truly believe I am likeable, but I don’t expect everyone to like me, and I’m not devastated by rejection. Plenty of fish in the sea, and plenty of evidence to the contrary. I don’t have to be everyone’s cup of tea.

So, as I often do, I bring the things talked about, or alluded to, in group home and roll them around in my mind, chewing on them, pulling them apart, examining bits in greater detail and so on. I was thinking about friendship skills and my kids and wondering how I’ve done, if I could have done better, if circumstances conspire against them, etc. I suppose only time will tell.

They are selective in their friends, which I think is a pretty good thing. I figure the adage, or variation thereof, that a man who is everyone’s friend is known by none of them is true – it smells of people-pleasing and burying the bits of oneself that can create a deeper friendship. They each are working on learning about friends and friendships; Bunny has had friendships that slowly evaporated over time and distance, and we’ve talked about how that just happens and how to keep in touch if they both want to. Doodle has learned to let friendships build over time and let trust enter in manageable increments. Spawn is having introspective moments over what a friend really is and what’s appropriate to expect from friends (and what they can expect from him) as he and his cohort age and move into different phases of their lives.

If they ask me questions, I answer them with personal experiences, and I really do try to avoid holding forth too much. Sometimes I’m not completely successful at that, but their questions are always welcome, and I hope I let them know they’re not alone, they’re likeable and loved and accepted, and that finding people who like them and appreciate them is often a matter of luck and circumstance, as well as liking themselves well enough to be honest and real in encountering others. I’ll never really know by what yardstick they are measuring themselves, though, I suppose.

But, they are always welcome and loved here, and I guess that’s pretty much all a parent can do.

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