That’s a whole lot of definitions for a word that really doesn’t need a technical definition.
There’s songs, movies, and plenty of stories about friends and friendship. Songs that discuss friendship becoming more, about appreciation for friendship, and about the end of friendship. Movies about friends killing friends over jealousy, friends battling the odds, and friends enduring life as…friends. Friends with benefits. Bromances. Sisterhoods. Finding friendship in the least likely places. Friendship because of a mutual interest, and finding so much more.
However friendship is defined and however it forms, unforms, and is kept together, friendship is special. Friends are the family you choose, and work much like any relationship. That’s right – it requires work. It requires growth. And it requires people willing to invest in a bond that can be tested by anything. Illness, others trying to interfere, conflict, disagreements. Whether it’s across the miles or right in the same backyard, friends and friendship is a commitment. There is no taking things lightly – friendships require the commitment any relationship takes to remain strong.
Friendships end for a variety of reasons – disagreements, infighting, incompatibility, the strain of time, bad behaviors, and tragic circumstances. I won’t go into those, but you get the idea. The end of friendships can be because of something small and petty, or something much bigger and wrought with consequences. Friendships don’t end with the end of life -the survivor will always hold a friend’s life dearly, even when one of them is no longer there. People look back on friendships they had in childhood – we lose friends as we grow and lives change, but we never forget. We may think of childhood friendships from time to time as we reach adulthood. We may smile, and in today’s society, attempt to find them. I’m not apt to look back on friendships I’ve lost over the years (some have ended under circumstances that saddened me at the time), but I’ve reconnected with friends I lost because of moves or other circumstances (time, fights, personal reasons). I’ve been lucky enough to reconnect with childhood friends that meant a great deal to me, ones that never ended but time and distance took us apart. Some choose not to look back, and to them, I wish well. My past is behind me, my present is with me now, and the future looks great.
The most meaningful friendships I’ve made have been the result of adulthood happening, and finding myself and my interests. I’ve always had someone to call “friend,” but in adulthood, it’s taken on a bigger meaning. The presence of friendship has been my rock in times where I’ve needed it most, I’ve celebrated it, and I’ve helped those who have needed me most. My friends are a part of my heart, and I always hope that the ones I’ve chosen feel that way about me in return.
We can’t always help our friends through certain struggles of life – friendship sometimes isn’t enough when there are bigger issues for someone in the equation. When a friendship becomes strained because the decisions of one are beyond the help of others, you know you have to move on. I had faced this decision, and the hardest decision I had ever made was to cut my ties. There was nothing I could do anymore. I couldn’t save her from her struggles. I couldn’t take her into my home because her issues were beyond my help and care. I could have shown concern, but when someone is perceived to be beyond talk and any advice you could possibly impart (and the person isn’t willing to listen, and you’re not a professional with any kind of advice that could possibly help), how much can concern help? Had I known of resources that would have helped (something I’m a little more versed in now, mainly because I know where to find them), I would have tried to help. But I did what I felt was ultimately the right decision – I backed away and went on with life. As hard as that was, I resolved to myself that what I couldn’t do, someone who could professionally handle it would.
But some struggles in life can be helped by simply being a friend. Hard decisions that are not beyond mere advice or conversation and health is always where true friendship can be determined. Phone conversations, or in my case, messaging and nighttime webcam chats can help a friend struggling with an illness or difficulties. These are situations where merely being there and listening are the true definition of friendship. As someone who has two friends struggling with health issues (both are on the mend, thank goodness), merely listening and being there have helped. I’m not required to be a rock, just someone with a sympathetic ear and wanting to be there. Having a good movie on hand for a laugh doesn’t hurt either. 😉
I’ve had relationships with boyfriends that have ended because of differences and obstacles that ultimately were beyond that of what I could give. When you invest in a relationship of any kind and it isn’t reciprocated in the way you want it to be, then it’s time to disconnect and prioritize. A good friend will listen, not burden with advice or just tell you what you should do. They’ll support you no matter what, and be there to pick you up when the decision you make leaves you sad. As my last relationship ended, two of my closest friends became my biggest cheerleaders and listeners. In addition to my ever-supportive family, they wanted to listen. They reassured me that my decisions would be mine alone, and what I chose to do wouldn’t effect the friendship. I ultimately made my decision based on my own beliefs and the need to find the happiness I needed in my life. There was no struggle – I soul-searched and knew the key to my own happiness was what I made for myself. It helped to have good friends who cared.
Friends can be long distance, or right in your own backyard. I have both.
Amie lives close by, we work for the same agency (it’s how we met), and I can talk to her about anything. We laugh, eat dinner together, talk on the phone, and help each other through struggles merely by talking and being friends. She recently (as of this writing) had extensive knee surgery. Her husband, out of fear and concern (and as she says, paranoia) wants her to be with someone when he isn’t there at night. I’m one of those people he trusts outside of family – I spent several hours with her, sitting on the couch and talking, laughing, eating dinner, and doing what we do when she’s well. When I had my (much more minor) gallbladder surgery last year, she texted daily – I was sick for eight months, and she always expressed concern and care. Getting a successful surgical consultation was a momentous occasion. We’re also sisters of the Equalizer Walking Boot – we both wore them on our right legs for several months because of extensive ankle injuries – hers broken and sprained, mine severely sprained and slow healing). That’s a sucky sisterhood, but one we found funny at the time.
And then there are two of my long-distance friends, Melanie and James, who feel close through daily (ok, sometimes hourly) messaging, nightly conversations, and the occasional three city “movie night.” We met because of mutual friends in our much larger group, but it’s these two friends that I feel I’ve connected with the best. I met my one friend because he was part of group chats I was invited to join, and then got to know him because of the three days at the convention. My other friend and I started talking after my first convention in 2012, and got to know each other through other common interests we found. We finally met in 2013, and have been friends since. A small strain late last year proved short-lived – we both helped each other through a few difficulties, even from long distance. And since a health diagnosis recently came upon her, I’ve been a friend, providing reassurance and listening to her, being a long distance supporter as she had surgery (no less, on the same day my closest local friend had knee surgery). I look forward to being able to see these two in person and being able to give them the biggest hug.
And that much larger group? They’re some of the best and funniest friends I could ask for. I love seeing what’s happening in their lives, and I always look forward to hearing from them. They give the best hugs, and make our convention weekend the best experience it could possibly be. Life doesn’t keep this large group apart, no matter what – I hear from them often. Seeing each other in person? That’s the real treat.
So are photos in front of amazing backgrounds.
The Power of Symbols
I’m a big believer in small tokens and symbols. The best gifts in life are the smallest gestures of gratitude.
Obviously, these are friendship bracelets. For some, they’re arm wear, but for me, they are the gesture of caring by the person who made them, a bond made by string and bound together with a knot.
On the last day of the last Stargate Convention, the pink, purple, and blue bracelet was given to me by my friend Melanie. The pink represents me, the purple her, and the blue between each color represents what brought us together as friends – Stargate. For a week, I gushed over the gift, showing it to co-workers and family, but never without getting teary at the gesture. It made me feel good that someone cared enough about me as a friend to create a gift of the bond between friends. Despite being in our 30s, it was a gift that told me that I’ve found a great friend. That little blue stripe might symbolize how we became friends, but we’ve found so much more in common. I wear it everyday. She’s had health struggles recently, and the bracelet has become more important than ever.
The pink, black, and white bracelet is a gift from my friend Amie, as a token of the friendship we’ve had as a result of the five years we’ve worked together – we met when she worked for the department I provide clerical support for – and began to hang out several years later, as our work schedules permitted. When she moved into a position that had her at our office more often, I made it a point to visit to say hello. We’ve gone out to dinner, eaten dinner at her house, and have talked on the phone and supported each other through anything that has come up in life. I was at her house in the afternoon a few days after her knee surgery, keeping her company, and she gave me this bracelet before I left. I need to knot it nice and tightly, and it will be on my wrist everyday too.
I love bracelets best of any jewelry, but a friendship bracelet beats all of the cool glass bead bracelets I’ve acquired. Those look pretty, but these are special, made from the heart and talented hands. I’m not exactly adept at making anything nearly as cool (though I would love to try!), but what I am adept at doing is writing about friendship and symbols of such.
When you have a friendship, you’ve got an extension of your family that you chose. You’ve found the people who share common interests and are willing to walk through this life with you, through any struggles you may have. Friends come and go, they stay, and they find their way into a permanent place in your heart. If you’ve ever had a great friend who has impacted you, and whether or not they stayed in your life, then you know about all this.
Whatever the reason you made the friends you’ve had in your life, or continue to have today, may they hold you in their hearts and appreciate you for who you are and what you mean to them. Thank them for being there, laugh at the jokes (and come up with a few inside ones – those are the best!), and appreciate the time you have with them. We don’t all last forever, but friendship can. If you have had friendships that have ended, don’t hold grudges against why. Be nostalgic about the ones that ended because of time and changes in life. Find them. Say hello. If they feel the same about you, they’ll say hello back. If not, wish them well. Some choose not to look back. That’s ok. I have thought about friends I’ve had in the past that for one reason or another, left my life. That’s ok – I wish them well. Other friends and obligations in life happen. That’s life. It’s complicated and messy. But despite all that, you’ll find other friends who will move through life with you. Your heart will always have a place for those friends who aren’t your friends anymore, but it will always be for what was. Don’t mourn for that. Know that the experiences and friends you’ve had made you into who you are, and helped you to find friends that have made your life whole.
And always know that when you’ve found the friends who mean the world to you, they were looking for you too.
Author’s Note: I was inspired to write this piece based on two friends facing health struggles. The knowing that they both needed surgery and ongoing care reminded me that being a friend is about being there for them and listening. I’ve had great friends come and go in my life. This piece is dedicated to the friends I’ve had, and the ones I’ve become closest to in more recent years. It’s also dedicated to everyone who has ever known the power of great friends – no matter the time or distance.
I’m creating a new category for these types of posts on Allison’s Written Words, called “Written From the Heart.” These are pieces that require no research, and allow me to write about my feelings and to tell a story that goes beyond what I usually write. It’s not merely an attempt to expand my writing repertoire, but also tell stories of life experience and how the things of normal life can shape us.