Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The People You Spend Time With

Last week I started musing about adult friendships and how powerful they can be.  I also admitted that I have my share of failures when it comes to be being a good friend.  I'm writing as an exercise, and as a call for help, and to see if all the bits and pieces make sense when I lay them out.  What is a good friend?  Will I ever be one? (Fair warning: I'm reading Lena Dunham's book right now, so I feel particularly compelled to be brutally honest and mildly melodramatic, despite the comfort level others might feel.  Also, if you are a woman, (or a human), read it.)

What makes a good friend?  Good is a cheap, nothing word.  It's so basic that I challenge my first graders to come up with a better descriptor in their little chicken scratch sentences.  Still, it seems like the natural adjective to sit right in front: good.  Solid, salt of the earth, uncomplicated.  A good friend.  Does this mean a fun friend, or a loyal friend?  Is it the friend who brings you coffee the day after you get yelled at by a mean customer, or the friend who tells you calmly that the tongue-lashing was justified and offers to help you sharpen up your skills?  Maybe it's just the safe feeling you get from certain people.

I also know there are a small handful of people with whom it's zero work.  Our souls just naturally match, and we can go months without talking, then click back into sharing information about our break ups and bowel movements with no chit chat.  We just get in there.  Then there are people who stand out because of matched interests or a similar style, and we find each other and can't help being friends and people say "Oh that makes sense."  There are other people where the friendship seems more earned; built up from shared time, exchanged favors, and mutual respect.  The second two groups are the people who effect our day to day.  The soul friends usually just effect our souls.

Think about your every day life and evaluate the people you spend time with. There are lots of platitudes about your personality being a combination of the five people you spend the most time with, and that's because its a real thing.  I remember, in the early days of dating my bold and opinionated husband, saying blunt or even offensive things to friends who had known me longer.  A few particularly stunned reactions later, I began to realize that I wasn't talking like myself.  Ben's language and personality were perfect for him; layered and understood by the people who knew him best.  Those qualities didn't translate the same way for me, and I wasn't emulating him on purpose.  It was happened from a combination of adoration and exposure.  It can be eerily easy to slip into someone else's mannerisms when you're putting in the hours.  The lesson is two-fold: be careful to hang on to "yourself," no matter who you're spending time with.  Conversely, because you'll never be able to completely guard your personality: pick people to spend time with that you won't mind acting like.

Another thing to keep in mind, when you're sorting through the people who meld with your soul and the people who might influence your tone, is that friend does not meet same.  It took me a scary amount of time to realize I could dislike something a friend did and not need to end it all dramatically.  Small differences (an offhand comment criticizing something I liked, for instance) could make me fold my arms and announce that I didn't want to play anymore.  But since I'm not that mature, I would actually just think that and then stop returning calls.  I think a real grown ass woman or man should be able to sort through things and realize which discrepancies can be handled.  Maybe you can't handle a friend who makes racist comments, but you need to be okay with the friend who is backing a different candidate for governor.  Or maybe your friend hates New Girl and you need to be brave enough to a) keep loving the show and b) forgive your friend for bad taste.  Because it's not middle school, your friends are no longer required to like every single thing you like.  You're grown now, so you get it.

In summation: realize the different kinds of friends there are and be cool with the differences, check out the people you spend most of your time with and make sure you're okay with sounding like them, and don't expect middle school friendships from grown ass people.  Everybody can play.

Next week I'm going to look at the actual living of a good friendship, things to do, places to go, ways to connect with the fabulous people who lift you up, even when you're busy and stressed (spoiler alert: everyone, all the time).  As always, tips and stories are welcome.  Thanks for being my friend!

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At October 14, 2014 at 11:25 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

An interesting thought popped into my mind as I read this and thought about your points -- do you think we OVER use the word friend? That maybe we should use "acquaintance" or "co-worker" or "neighbor" or something else, over friend?

If it works into your other blog posts, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts -- or you can just reply and I can read it here too!

At October 14, 2014 at 3:02 PM , Anonymous stephanie, sandpaper and glue said...

I love this post. That is all. :)

At October 17, 2014 at 6:39 AM , Blogger ashlie said...

No, I love this! There are degrees to this business- neighbor, friend of friend, internet friend, teammate, 1000 other things that don't mean the same thing and it's not really clear how to interact. I can't tell if that's over thinking it? I'm not sure. But it complicates things.

At October 17, 2014 at 6:39 AM , Blogger ashlie said...

I love you! That is all. :)

At October 17, 2014 at 9:35 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Meh - aren't we always over thinking things? I guess my thought was that we should focus on the friends. Acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors, etc are all important people in our lives too, and they have their place, but in terms of being a good friend, as you've been exploring, that we focus our time and energy on those people.

This kind of makes me sound like a turd, now that I spell it out. Hmmm...I'm gonna re-think this and get back to you ;)

At October 19, 2014 at 7:40 PM , Blogger ashlie said...

No, I don't think it makes you sound like a turd! I suffer from this syndrome where I spend a lot of time making sure strangers and people on the outer rings of my friendship circle are comfortable and happy and taken care of, and spend less energy on the tried-and-true, not-going-anywhere FRIENDS. Those people deserve more of my "nice" than I dole out.


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