I have been musing a lot on the definition and practice of ‘being a friend’; partly because I had to cancel attendance at two 40th birthday parties in the space of five days due to a chronic pain flare-up, and partly because I have at last count four friends (not known to each other, I move in many and varied groupings) who are currently going through extremely painful break-ups from abusive relationships and I have been thinking deeply about how best I can support them and their individual needs, and how to recognise if I should back away or am being overbearing.
Well, Merry Christmas to all, right?!* Life doesn’t stop because the festive season starts, and for many, including some of those I care very deeply for, Christmas is a reminder of how damaged, ‘imperfect’ (especially when compared to the many advertisements inculcating a normality that doesn’t exist below surface image), and unhappy their past and/or current experience may be.
I fear strongly that I am a ‘bad’ friend; I fear that my conditions will prevent me from being what I can be to those I love, and I know that is a part of my conditions to have this fear. I think it is common to have these fears, and that it may be possible, just a little, that I overthink things!
I try to show my care for my friends and maintain my awareness that we all see our lives through a filter; a prism concentrating light into what we ourselves can only perceive, separate and apart from even those stood next to us in life. I hang on to the truth that is I can only be responsible for that which I can control, which as I grow older is revealed to be less and less.
But still, I worry, and I am sure many of you do too. For many reasons including but not limited to personal preference, I am a ‘stay at home’ bod; content to be a couch potato surrounded by books, television and whatever hobby I am playing with at that time (genealogy since you didn’t ask). I also find talking on the phone difficult; the written word is my medium (some may say otherwise! Bah humbug to them!). As I get older, my friends and I are drifting geographically, if not in personality and chronology.
Friendship does change. It can evolve into something deeper or it can drift into separate pathways, occasionally crossing but never as close as when walking the same journey.
It took me a very long time before I could say “I love you” to my family (we weren’t a demonstrative family – it’s taken me a while to teach them but I started when I was around 20 and now they are completely house-trained), much longer to say it to my friends (and it still feels awkward sometimes, but I want them to know), but that doesn’t mean I did not feel it. There are so many different kinds of love, as many as there are people to love and reasons for loving.
I also know what being a friend isn’t. It isn’t mindlessly supporting someone even when you see them behaving in ways which are damaging to them and others. Being a friend means pointing out kindly (at first!) what results their behaviour is having and how it is not the best way to behave. It means an awareness of our responsibilities towards others. It means that your best friend may be a domestic abuser and it is not being a ‘good’ friend to deny that this is occurring. It means supporting them to stop being an abuser. It means recognising no-one is inherently good or bad, and having your own moral compass and principles which allow you to understand the complexities of human beings and to support and love in a way that minimises pain, as pain is not something that can be avoided in life.
Being a friends means stopping someone, or at least trying to stop them, making a huge mistake. One example is contained in this video I made with the help of my Sanford Collective theatre group friends (now sadly defunct), Stop Assault Before It Starts.
Being a friend does not mean all take and no give, but equally it does not mean all give and no take. It’s a balancing act, and one which can be complicated by myriad interchanging factors such as health, geography, changing careers, unemployment, and much more.=
It’s heart-breaking when a friendship ends, more so when it is through discovering that someone you had believed knew you as a person does something to betray that they have not understood you at all. This has happened to me twice in my life, and I still feel the pain now even though it has been many, many years. That’s when I learned how hard forgiveness can be, and what was my responsibility in that ending of a friendship.
But ultimately, I hope and desire my friends to know this:
- I do love them.
- I am very loyal to them.
- I would fight their corner, without question.
- I will support them, whatever.
- I respect them.
- I will not allow them to destroy themselves, if at all in my power to prevent it.
- I will recognise their autonomy and try not to step on their toes.
- I will not condone or ignore cruel, painful, abusive behaviour to me or anyone else.
- I believe in giving many, many chances, but there is a limit. Takes years to get there, mind.
- If there is gossip floating about, I may hear it if I cannot avoid it but as a rule will only believe information if it comes direct from the horse’s mouth. Not that I am comparing them to a horse.
- No-one is all good or all bad, me most definitely included.
- If I have to cancel a plan, it upsets me more than it will ever them.
- They are in my mind, and always in my heart.
- Again, and most importantly, I love them.
So, on that note, Merry ‘whatever winter festival floats your boat/summer festival if that’s the season you are in’ and a happy New Year (whenever that may start for you)!
*Apologies if you aren’t reading this around Christmas time. Pretend it’s like a TV repeat on ‘Dave’…