Friday, 14 August 2015

Who Is My Friend?

"My friend is not perfect, nor am I, and so we suit each other admirably." ~ Alexander Pope

My friend certainly is not one of those I once tolerated (when I was young). For many years I knew people who were too petty, too pretty, too conceited, too deceitful, too hoity-toity, and too holier-than-thou. Of course, they were never my real friends. But I was young, naïve, unsophisticated, guileless, and gullible. Wisdom, good judgment, common sense, and perspicacity have come with age; well, I like to think so.

As a child I never had a best friend; actually, I didn't have any friends. I was extremely shy, and always terribly self-conscious about my appearance. See, I was taller than my peers (the boys included), and as thin as a broomstick. I was athletic and enjoyed spending time outdoors. But more than that I loved reading, studying, and just being introspective; always absorbed in something I deemed to be very important. I think I now have to admit that there were times when I was lonely; perhaps not lonely so much as just feeling all alone.

I was born, and for seventeen years lived in the rural south. After leaving the south as a teen-ager I had a very pronounced southern accent. I was teased unmercifully, and became even more introverted. I developed a stutter, and this complicated my difficulty in conversing with people; there was no distinction in my attempts to converse with males or females.

At some point I became more adept at 'one-on-one' conversations, and eventually overcame my stuttering. So I decided that I would like to have a friend, a 'real' friend, someone with whom I could discuss anything and feel comfortable. I wanted a friend I could trust, one who wouldn't talk about me behind my back, one who was loyal. I soon decided that was probably asking too much - a difficult task indeed. But my discerning quest began, and I did find a 'good friend.' I considered those with whom I sometimes associated as mere acquaintances, and I found most of them to be likable, but they didn't fit my idea of a 'friend.'

I was twenty years old when I found my friend, and the friendship lasted for about fifteen years. In retrospect it seems as if the dissolution happened instantaneously: suddenly we were no longer friends. Oh, we continued to talk on the phone occasionally, but not as it had been in the past. The reasons for the parting are many, but I can sum it up by saying we simply grew apart. We no longer shared common interests; conversations were trite, humdrum, boring; there were no books in her house (none that could be seen); she had no interest in exercise and gained a lot of weight. She enjoyed cooking, I did not. She liked watching television, I did not. She became sloppy and disorganized; I was a neat freak.

You might ask why I had not detected those traits soon after we met. Well, I did not detect them, and think that the recent flaws (as I describe them) were not present; at least, not to any significant degree. She had changed, drastically. This might sound unkind, but I felt that there was no reason to spend time together, and I believed that she felt the same way.

I was just as particular in choosing boyfriends; needless to say, some of my relationships didn't last very long. And I take all the blame for the break-ups. As for just being friends, I've found it difficult to have a platonic relationship with men. Invariably, one or the other decides that it should become romantic. Although I do know that such relationships are possible, but rare.

Over the years, after the dissolution of the first, I have cultivated three more extraordinary friendships. And since I admit to being a senior citizen, that doesn't sound quite normal, does it? I reiterate my earlier point that I had, and have, many acquaintances, people with whom I'm friendly. But throughout my lifetime, to date, there have been only four 'special friendships.'

Yes, I have many faults, and those special friends have many; that's to be expected. But there's no denying that I do set the standards very high, the same standards I have for myself. Below are the criteria I find suitable for being a 'true' friend.

1. An immediate sense that there is a connection is a good sign, but not always. Be observant and perceptive. 
2. Always give more to the friendship than you take from it. (I won't elaborate) 
3. Never criticize your friend unless you can include something positive in your comments. 
4. Never say "you look terrific' if he/she doesn't. 
5. Never go shopping with your friend unless you're prepared to stay at the mall all day, without complaining. 
6. Never become too friendly with your friend's spouse or boyfriend. 
7. Do make every effort to maintain harmony between your spouse and your friend. 
8. Never, ever be disloyal. It's not loyalty if you speak negatively to anyone about your friend. 
9. Never stop communicating, even if you're angry. It's not necessary to have a pleasant conversation if you're mad, mad, mad, but do say something. And don't re-hash old offenses. 
10. Praise your friend's children (if it's possible). And maybe baby-sit once in a while. 
11. Never try to split the lunch or dinner check, right down the middle. 
12. Always admit when you're wrong. 
13. Try to be honest, truthful, understanding, and emotionally supportive. 
14. When spending time together, do some fun things, even silly things. 
15. Loan your friend money, if she/he really needs it; and if you have it to loan.

I recognize that everyone is different and I accept that. But my thing is writing, and what I've written about friendship is something I've wanted to say out loud, and put on paper. And I ask that you do not pity me for having so few friends; I get by just fine.

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