Tag Archives: friends

Good Friends

I think it’s interesting to ask what makes for good friendship. I expect a wide range of answers are available, as we all have different feelings and needs.  Is friendship a description of a relationship? Or might it be something we do for each other? You can choose to be a good friend to someone when very little is offered in return. You can choose to act as a good friend to someone in the short term to help them in some way – this may be someone with whom you will not have an ongoing relationship. How much give does friendship call for, and how much reciprocity?

While it can be tempting to think of friendship as an arena in which we can heroically practice the art of sacrificing ourselves for love, massively one sided relationships do not do anyone much good for the longer term. It can be really demoralising feeling that people stick around to help you because they feel sorry for you. A relationship based on pity, and on other people being heroic, is not a good relationship to be in. That kind of friendship can help a person feel small and stay put, or it can create weird power flows around who has the biggest crisis, the most problems etc.

For me, the most rewarding friendships are based on mutual enthusiasm – liking what a person does and how they do it, how they think and respond and how they are to be around. We don’t have to be doing anything for each other if we can enjoy doing things together. That in turn is underpinned by care and respect. I think highly of my friends, and over time, what they do justifies my belief in them. I care about them, I care about their successes and setbacks, their aspirations and challenges. I like to be cared about in these kinds of ways, as well.

There have been people along the way who clearly didn’t respect me or much care for me, and wanted me to know what hard work I was. People who have to tolerate me in some way or find me a struggle. I’ve no idea why anyone thinks that kind of self sacrifice is attractive. If you don’t like me, move on, with my blessings. I don’t need to be put up with. I don’t need people having to make a massive effort to cope with me. I’d rather be entirely alone than have that role in anyone’s life. Not that this has ever been necessary.

When we run on a scarcity model, it can be tempting to hang on tight to anyone who stops long enough to let us do that. When we imagine there won’t be many people we have anything in common with. After all, how many queer pagans with an interest in comics can there be in a small town like Stroud? (Plenty enough, in case you were wondering).  How many creative people are there in a small town like Stroud? (more than I can get to know). How many druids are there… and so on and so forth. For any of the things that matter to me, for any of the overlapping areas, I can find people. I don’t think Stroud is that exceptional. Interesting people are everywhere.

How much do we owe it to people to include them? How much do we owe it to each other to provide one sided care? How much should we make ourselves available as resources, and make what we have available? How much crap should we tolerate from each other in the name of friendship? There’s clearly no one right place to draw the lines here, but the act of drawing lines is important.

Humans are social creatures. We all have a need for care and contact. Draw your lines in the wrong place, give too much in exchange for little or nothing, and it will eventually wear you down.  No one is an infinite resource. Ask too much of the people around you and you’ll find they can’t sustain it. Accept too much of the shit and you’ll take damage. Dish out too much crap and people will move away from you. We all have hard times and rough patches, and we all need to be supported through those, but friendship requires balance. It calls for respect, for mutual concern, and for scope to take delight in each other. If we do not find joy in each other’s company, it isn’t going to function as a friendship.

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In the absence of friendship rituals

The only formal dedications we normally make to each other in rituals, are dedications of marriage. We have contracts to shape our working relationships, but we don’t celebrate those, and they can prove fleeting. We do not have rituals of friendship. We may welcome someone into a group by initiating them, but that doesn’t happen in most contexts.

Dedication between people in a non-romantic context is a vital thing, I think. Friendship that is invested in for the long term has a very different impact on your life from transient, superficial acquaintance. We may pick people up at need, put them down when they no longer have what we want. We move on, change jobs, take up a different hobby, and the friendly thing we had going on with a person around that does not endure, because we were never that invested in them anyway.

When is it the right time to say to someone ‘I intend on being your friend for as long as we both shall live’? In the absence of any kind of social framework supporting such a declaration, it can seem pretty weird. It may even feel creepy or threatening to the person on the receiving end, simply because it’s not what normally happens.

If all our dedication goes into our romantic relationships, that can leave us really vulnerable. It is harder to spot toxic relationships when you don’t have any others for comparison. It is harder to function socially and emotionally when you don’t have multiple people who you can count on to be in your life. Friendship is an intensely rewarding thing, and people who are only looking for romance miss out on a lot, and can feel incredibly alone when not in a romantic relationship. At the same time, if we make the romantic relationship the main goal, we can put a lot of pressure on our partners. If we only dedicate to this relationship, we require our partners to be all things in all ways for us, and that’s demanding and difficult to live up to.

There’s so much good that can come out of investing in each other for the long term. We have so much power to support each other and enrich each other’s lives.


Forever People

If you’d asked me twenty years ago who I thought would always be in my life, I’d have got it very wrong. It was the sort of thing I used to think about as a teenager, although from a position of inexperience and not much insight. The three people I might have hoped would be around, and had grounds to think might stay part of my life, didn’t. Others did, and some of that’s been very surprising, in awesome ways.

At any point in your life, all you have for reference is what you’ve experienced. The most in love you have ever been is your measure of what’s possible on that score. Twenty years hence, will the people I thought were forever still be in touch? Some of them may not live that long. We never know. I’ve lost several people to death who I did not at all expect to lose, but their impact on me and my memory of them binds them into the continuing fabric of my life. There have been people I’ve spent little or no time with in person whose legacy will stay. Some of them died long before I was born and are only available to me through their work.

As a teen I would have thought about my forever people in terms of actual people I spent time with. The internet was not a feature of my life then, and even though I was besotted with Beethoven and George Eliot, I would not at that point have considered them part of my emotional tribe. It’s taken me a while to figure out that I am much more shaped and defined by who I continue to love than by who I necessarily continue to interact with. In that context, death and absence are no real barrier at all. It is enough sometimes to love the work, the ideas, the legacy or the memory. It’s about what we choose to let in.

There are people who have affected me so deeply that who I have become is in part consequence of connecting with them. I cannot know if I am always fully conscious of that process, and sometimes an influence is slow to show itself. There are also people who have caused me to grow in order to move away from them, and while I do not want to honour them as people who are part of my heart tribe – as they have been far short of honourable – that refusal to be as they are or to co-operate has also become part of me. In choosing who to honour, and who to forget, I am engaged in a curious process that shapes how I feel about my life and myself.

Very few of them have any idea of how important they are to me, of the ones I know, or suspect are forever people. It is often unsettling enough to a person to say ‘I love you’ when that isn’t an amorous proposition. Perhaps being this intrinsic to another person is too disorientating, too strange a thing to know and carry. Somehow, when I was a teen it was easier to talk about these things. I have become more careful with age, and also more aware that ‘forever’ is something I might be able to say truthfully, and not as a moment of misguided hyperbole.


Knocked down, getting up

I start today tired, and wondering how on earth I’m going to manage the things that need doing – some of which are large and hard to make sense of. Some of which have floored me. Life is full of knock downs and we all get them. The rotten luck, the tragedies, the being crapped on from a great height. So here are the things I’ve learned.

Good friends are precious beyond words, and when you’re on your knees and life threatens to break you, friends are everything. Sometimes there’s insight, experience and perspective that can help turn a problem around. Sometimes it’s the sheer power of having people who believe in you and won’t give up and will sit with you and hold your hand and help you try to get up again, and support you when you wobble a bit. Friends who cheerlead. Friends who refuse to let you quit even when you’re so beaten it seems the only option. Friends who carry hope for you when you have none of your own.

Often what will keep me down once I’m knocked is the belief there is no point getting up again. That’s not always a depression issue. That’s for the days when three toxic things rolled in one after another and I can’t face another panic attack and there doesn’t seem to be any way of fixing things. There is no getting up unless you can work up some faith and hope things might get better. Belief like this can be wholly irrational – I’ve been through enough things I was told could not be done. Sometimes what it takes to get up is the skill to magic up irrational belief that it can get better.

I have to believe that I do not deserve the knock down. I do not belong on the floor. That’s been hard to get to grips with, and is not an easy thought to hold when things are bad.

Then there’s the decision about what sort of person I want to be. I don’t want to lie on the floor in a snotty heap, whimpering. I would rather die fighting. While there is breath, while I can act in any way, it is better to have the metaphorical sword or the actual pen in hand and to wield them. Thus far, every time I’ve thought I could not possibly bear any more, I have eventually managed to drag myself up for another round. I have taken beatings, emotional, psychological. I’ve been pasted physically by illness. I get up and I do it again. I won’t sit down, shut up and consent to being a victim. Never again.