Like all relationships, friendships are complicated. Knowing what is expected can be difficult; knowing how to deal with being deemed disappointing even more so. If we are lucky then we will have friends who accept us exactly as we are; who do not feel neglected when we fail to call and who will pick up exactly where we left off after weeks, months or even years apart. Other friends expect a quid pro quo and will feel let down if we do not live up to their expectations.
How easily we tend to describe people as friends! People we know only a little, perhaps through our children or mutual friends, who we may meet up with regularly but do not truly get to know. Perhaps they would be better described as acquaintances or casual friends to differentiate them from those wonderful people who have chosen to stay with us through most of our lives while perhaps living half a world away. Good friends do not need to have known us for so long, but we can trust those who have to stick with us however we may behave, grow and change.
I do not consider myself to be a particularly good casual friend. I enjoy solitary pursuits and the freedom to do what I want when I want. I would not wish to cut myself off from society entirely but neither do I feel the need to socialise often or regularly. When I do meet up with casual friends I enjoy the company and the craic but can still feel an outsider. Fitting in with a group requires confidence that one belongs.
I wonder if we have too high expectations of friendships from a young age because of the happy, inclusive groups that are portrayed in teenage books and on television. I have made good friends at school, university, work and home but do not consider that I have ever experienced the intensely close relationship portrayed in many of the American TV shows. Does anyone truly feel so intrinsic a part of a non family member’s life? Perhaps this is the nub of my insecurity; I do not know if it is just me who feels this lack.
One of the things that I like so much about on line social networks is the ability to share when it suits without obligation. I feel more comfortable with my relationship with some of my on line friends than I do with many who live close by. Much of this is down to how much each person is willing to share, but there is also the attraction of mutual interests and aspirations which I find harder to gauge face to face. I often feel that I do not express myself as I would wish in casual, occasional conversation. On line there is the space and time to consider what is being said.
I like it that I have a diverse group of friends as I do not wish to mix with only one type of person. I want to try to understand how others think and feel about current affairs as well as more personal issues. It is too easy to mix only with those who share the same views; who will validate rather than question opinions. If we are to learn and develop then we need to understand if not agree with other points of view.
The friendships that have stood the test of time are those which have allowed me to grow and change (as we all do) but remained accepting of the person that I have become. These friends will have seen me behave foolishly but will be able to look on this with humour; they will have seen me say one thing and do another without condemning. I value these friends highly, not least because they do not expect me to be anything other than myself.
I have no interest in pursuing a friendship with someone who wishes to put me down; who will make barbed comments or attempt to catch me out. I do not expect agreement on all things, but friends will accept differing views with generosity and grace. They will not attempt to score points or look good at my expense. Friends may debate, discuss and disagree but will not be disingenuous. I would feel happier if those who do not like what I am could avoid me.
We cannot go through life having contact only with those we choose. Good manners and small talk exist to allow us to navigate the social minefield of unavoidable interaction with people we do not know or may not get on with. Friendships, however, can generally be chosen. They can flourish through any type of contact; on line, face to face or both. However much I may appear to neglect them, I value my friends highly. They enrich my life with their support and humour and care. I sincerely hope that I can do the same for them.