Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How To Be A Friend

Back in August, I told you to ask my anything. As much as this space is "mine", it's also very much "ours". You and I, we're friends, and I love it when we can chat.

One of you asked a great question about what I value and seek in friendships and how I maintain friendships that thrive. Right away, and I knew it was something worth talking about.

Truth is, I don't feel like the worlds greatest friend. I'm historically awful at remembering birthdays, I'm not great at keeping up on social media, I'm an introvert and intermittent hermit who loves time alone. I fail often, but I'm always trying to regroup because I love my friends. I rely on my people. They make me better. They make my life fuller. Anything I know about being a friend, I learned from them.

While I'm by no means an expert, here's my take on how how to be a friend.

Be Safe
This tops my list. To me, the most important quality in a friend is the ability to be trusted. I'm fortunate to have a circle of friends who I can (and have) trusted with the most vulnerable places in my life. I gauge the safeness of my friendships in a couple of ways. First, do they gossip about other people to me? (There's a difference between chatting about other friends and gossiping about them.) A friend who will tell me someone else's dirt will just as easily dispense mine. Second, are they vulnerable with me? When a friend bares her guts, I know she values trust, and I'm more inclined to offer more of myself back to her.

Be Real
I want to see behind the curtain with my friends. I want them as they really are, not as they think I want them. I need to see their life isn't perfect, that they struggle just like I do. I'm honored to be welcomed into their messy homes, all bed-head and heaped-up dishes. I want to be near them when they're spiritually dry, when mothering feels impossible, when marriage makes them weepy, when their kids are tyrants, when chaos reigns, when they're angry, guilty, entirely spent. I have a few friends who are more Type A than I am, and I want to embrace them exactly as God made them. But my radar is keen, and striving women make me edgy. I don't like wondering if someone's taking mental notes on my relative put-togetherness. (That's a test I'll never pass.) So, tell me your doubts. Show me your mess. I'll love you forever.

I have a friend who tells me when she gets a bonus at work. I've seen glowing cheeks across the table as a friend tells me her son is the best reader in his class, or that she ran her best marathon to date. These conversations make me very happy. As much as I want to share in the hard places with my ladies, I love sharing in the parts of life where they're just killing it. This tells me they aren't score keepers. They're people who operate under the assumption of abundance, rather than lack. They know I want to cheer them on, and they want to do the same for me. My success doesn't rob them of their own. There's enough for everyone. I've learned that sharing a life without sharing our victories means we're hoarding half the story. We aren't vulnerable and knowable if we can't reach the place of believing there are people waiting to hear all the dirt. A true friend offers the glimmery parts of their story as living proof that they want to see the glow of mine. Boom. Pass the shades.

Offer the Benefit of the Doubt
I promise, if we're friends it's just a matter of time before I say something ridiculous or even stupid. I will definitely fail you and let you down. I'll arrive late to dinner. I'll forget your birthday or miss your big news because I go weeks without scanning my facebook feed. I want you to love me in a way that views my mistakes as evidence that I'm simply human. I'm on a mission to extend the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. (Note: It's possible 99.9% of the time.) If you stick your foot in your mouth, I'll laugh about it and breathe a bit more easily in anticipation of the day it's my turn to cash in on a little grace. I want to be slow to upset and even slower to get my feelings hurt. If you say you love me, I believe you.

Having said that, an apology goes a long way toward keeping friendships fortified and sturdy. A while back, I had dinner with a friend. We laughed and caught up and I left remembering, all over again, how much I adore her. A full week later, she left a voice mail apologizing about a particular conversation where she felt she'd spoken out of line. She wanted to make it right with me. (I had no recollection of the fumble and still don't, which she chalks up to the goodness of God rather than to me being a poor listener. Benefit of the doubt! *clink*) Her actions were such a testament to her character. That she cared enough to be vulnerable in this way spoke volumes to me. It renewed my resolve to default to apologizing when I fear I've been out of line, or when I worry that something I've said or done *might* have been hurtful, even if that was not my intention. I want my friends to know I value our relationship over my pride.

Tell the Truth
This is a variation on all of the above, but I want to know my friends value truth, even when it's unpretty or scary or dicey or awkward. Don't tell me things are fine, because it's never true. I'm guilty of tossing out that pat answer when I don't want to engage, but "I'm fine" actually translates as, "I'm alive. I still have a pulse." That's not what we're asking, is it? If life is good, I don't want you to tamp it down. If life is hard, don't be scared, I can handle it. If I ask for your opinion, it's because I'm on the fence - I need your wit and wisdom. I want to believe you can tell me hard truths when it's time. 

I'm learning the value of asking for help. It's not realistic to expect our friends to anticipate our needs. In fact, one of the best ways I know of to forge a new friendship is to ask for help. For two years one of my neighbors and I struggled to move past waves and hellos until the day she sent me a desperate text asking me if I could babysit. Voila. We were friends, because in coming to me in need, she showed me I could do the same. It takes a village, and we belong to each other a bit more now.

On the flip-side, my closest friends are quick to offer help when I haven't even asked. They're teaching me to do the same. Ladies, we are smart humans. We're intuitive. We know what life is like. There are so many times I want to help and let it slip away before I act. But there are also times when I know a meal, or an offer to watch the kids is all it would take for the waters to part in the sea of our emotional well-being, providing safe passage to shore. Don't ask "Do you need help?" Ask, "How can I help?" or even better, "What time should I pick up your kids/bring you dinner/do your laundry?"

We need each other, ladies. We aren't experts and we'll continue to botch things up. But it's worth wading through some ditches to find the people who will help hold us together forever. Is there someone you admire? Tell her. Is there a woman you want to get to know better? Ask her out on a date. Friend her on facebook. Be pen pals. Pick up the phone. (GASP!)

Take a risk. Be fully you, and you'll open the door for her to do the same.

Now tell me, what is my list missing?