Recently I met a happily married, successful businesswoman at a small gathering. After we shared personal stories over two glasses of wine while sitting in a corner she said, “ I have no friends.” She rapidly moved on to the subject of her work and spoke about it in a riveting way.
She asked me if I ever ate lunch in the neighborhood and was I familiar with the restaurants. I told her I am because my office is nearby. I did not know why she was interested. By the end of the evening she said, “Will you be my friend? Can we have lunch?”
"Yes, I would love to!” I said, while thinking to myself, “maybe she means mother rather than friend, “ as I am almost twice her age. Whatever. Friends can mother and mothers can be friends, so who cares what you call it.
We decided to meet for coffee a few days later in a jammed little café downtown with raw wood, lavender glitter and a few 20-somethings in wool caps typing. We talked about work, creativity, and families.
I too hope we will be good friends. There is something about her.
Have you ever considered the qualities you value in a friend? It differs for everyone.
Some need lighthearted friends and others do better with slightly depressed friends. You could want someone that tells you, in truth, that your prom dress is dreadful on the day of the prom but I doubt it. More likely you will want someone supportive. Certain people appear to have a high tolerance for meanness –almost as if they do not register it –but then they get depressed.
Over the years several clients have shared stories about devastating betrayals by friends. Some people have deficits in the ability to truly care for another person (in spite of a charismatic exterior) and it is good to be able to spot this. As writer W. Somerset Maugham once said, “When you choose your friends, don’t be short-changed by choosing personality over character.”
A client told me that she was wondering if she was capable of being a real friend. Others had been invited to her neighbor’s mother’s funeral but she had not. She said, ”Do you think I am not someone who can be a good friend?” We explored her question.
Career ambitions or a demanding home life can interfere with friendships because building a relationship takes time. Since so many people have brutal schedules they may not have much time and thus suffer from friend-loneliness. Half of an hour now and again is good enough for coffee and a conversation.
Freud did say that mental health involves the ability to work and to love. Play is crucial too, so carving out a bit of time to just be with someone in a non-goal oriented way is a good idea.
A couple of adult clients have told me that they do not know how to make friends and it seems like other people do. They feel like they are the only one with this concern but loneliness is common. One can learn to reach out even if it feels awkward. Many people want to have close relationships but fear rejection or judgment so they avoid it. This can be overcome.
A week ago I attended a funeral of a distant relative. Her best friend spoke about how the deceased been the most important person in her life. Stories about nicknames, hikes and letters stuffed with glitter that required vacuuming after opening were told with smiles and tears.
Her best friend was with her when she died.
Last summer, I met a mother of a pre-teen who told me that her work was “being a friend.” She had just nurtured a companion through cancer and she tries to be available to members of her circle who need her. I was intrigued and impressed by her self-definition.
True connections lead to the right conversations lead to the right thing happening inside of you – the Real Self. If you feel safe and stimulated at the same time, good things happen. You can let go. You can be honest. You can create. Together you can pull off an event, project, plan or meal with or without glitter.
Research (Simone Schnall et al., “Social Support and the Perception of the Geographical Slant,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 44(2008) shows that people with good friends are more likely to beat illness or climb steep hills. The hill looks smaller with your friend by your side.