Tuesday, 28 April 2009

On being a ....

good friend.
I met up for coffee with my old friend Paul today. Well, he's not old, our friendship is. We were both trying to work out exactly what we think makes a good friend but we found it quite difficult to sum up. We ended up questioning things which we had previously taken for granted.
Over the past 37 years I have had a lot of people come into my life. Some of these encounters have resulted in intense, fun and short lived experiences whilst others have turned into more slow burning and solid friendships that have stood the test of time and survived the trials of life. There is no single definition of what a good friend is because we are all looking for different things. My idea of a good friend is somebody who is there for me no matter what, who doesn't turn their back on me even when the going gets tough. I must be able to trust them and hope that they would be loyal i.e. if someone was bad-mouthing me I would expect (at the very least) that they would walk away. They don't have to always be cheerful but it's nice to have a laugh and for someone to encourage you to lift up the folded down corners of yourself and explore them from a different angle. I think I am fortunate enough to have friends that do that.
There's Beth who has stood by me through thick and thin, who has never judged my mistakes (and there have been plenty) who is generous and thoughtful and who believes in me and everything I do ("Friendship without self interest is one of the rare and beautiful things in life"- James Francis Byrnes)
There's Caroline who makes me laugh like nobody else I know and who is impossible to be miserable around. She's just what the doctor ordered and everyone should have someone like her in their life ("My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me"- Henry Ford)
There's Paul who is the only person I can be on the phone to for three hours talking about everything and nothing and still meet for a coffee the next day and not struggle for topics of conversation. We clicked on some kind of level over 20 years ago and I haven't looked back since ("What is a friend? A single soul in two bodies."- Aristotle)
These are the friends I can be myself around and not worry about being rejected or criticised. I consider my best friends to be those who have been around forever, who seem to know what I'm thinking without having to ask, who I cannot imagine not seeing or speaking to on a regular basis.
But - I also have friends who have let me down in some way. One friend (who only a few years ago I could not have imagined ever living without such was our bond) left to live abroad and completely cut herself off from her old life. Not so much as a 'cheerio'. I now know she visits Edinburgh often and yet she doesn't think to pick up the phone to say 'hello'. That hurts but I have accepted that she clearly wanted to cut ties and my pride has prevented me from pursuing the friendship in any serious way. Despite this treatment my door (and heart) will always be open to her and if she rang my doorbell right now I would have nothing but smiles and hugs for her. So, perhaps a friend can be someone we no longer see, who has no interest in us and yet still occupies a place in our hearts. Keeping a friendship alive takes hard work. It's a two way thing.
Rather selfishly I do expect to get something out of a friendship. There have been occasions where I have had to ask myself "What does this person bring to my life? What am I getting out of this relationship?" There have been times when I have had to question whether pursuing a toxic friendship is detrimental to my well being. Some friendships were never meant to last.
I refer again to my favourite self help guru, Geneen Roth and her book "When You Eat at the Refrigerator Pull Up a Chair (50 Ways to Feel thin, Gorgeous and Happy When You Feel Anything But) -
"A friend is not a friend when you find yourself keeping secrets from her because you fear that if you told the truth she would be hurt or lonely or unhappy with her own life. When you begin snipping off your happiness to match the size of your friend's unhappiness it is time to take a serious look at the friendship. Not every friendship is meant to last forever. Make it a priority to develop friendships that applaud your strengths and celebrate your successes. It takes courage, maturity, honesty and a reservoir of self-love to assess the vitality of a friendship"

It's a difficult dilemma but when it is consistently painful to have a friend in your life it is probably time to let go of that relationship. However, you may decide that the joy of that friendship far outweighs the limitations and decide that it is worth the effort of holding onto it after all. Ending a friendship does not necessarily mean that you are closing your heart to your friend.
I think I am a good friend. But then we all like to think that! Just to be on the safe side I Googled "What makes a good friend" and came across some sites which I plucked these from -

Are you a good listener?
- yes
Are you approachable? - I like to think so
Are you trustworthy? - very
Do you avoid gossiping about others? - Oh come on, I'm not a bloomin' saint!
Would you defend a friend? - to the death
Do you know the dates of your friend's birthdays? - they are scorched on my brain (Paul, you lose points here)
Can you help your friends see the dangerous or risky aspects of their actions? - I try but Caroline just won't listen to me about those flippin' great big rocks!

There was one entry that said 'a good friend is someone who lends you their jeans'. Mmm. Not much point in that girls, I wouldn't even get my big toe into them!
Here's to friends everywhere!


  1. Good times and bad times, happiness and pain, birth to death. Always. xx
    (You too Beth xx)

  2. Couldn't say it any better. Here is to many more years of friendship and exciting times ahead. xx