“Understand that friends come and go, but to a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps between geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.”
A brilliant quote from Mary Schmich (later used by Baz Luhrmann in a song)
A pink poster of this famous speech hung in my bedroom and later in my dorm room for years. Through my first apartment and first house, with all my hard and fast rules on not collecting junk, I held on to this poster. When my taste for wall art changed, I moved it inside my closet and kept it still. When it comes to brilliant living advice, I have yet to stumble upon truer and simpler words than those uttered in this speech. How is it that I memorized the speech word for word but failed to follow it in practice? Alas, no such foresight with the pride and impatience of youth as the speech clearly reminds us but we live and learn. Today, I remember his wisdom about friendships as I reflect on mine.
So many twists and turns, so much ebb and flow, is it just me or is this the norm? Do your friendships go through ups and downs? Do your friends come and go? Or do you tread calm steady waters of sweet lasting amity? Can you be certain that investing in a friendship will help you to bloom rather than lead you to gloom? Can these promises of love and affection stand the test of time? Who knows! The future is but unknown; yet you can plan and prepare and act in the best interest of your heart and that of those you behold. You are empowered to decide what friendships to keep and of which to let go and how to choose in between. You yourself can set the course of your life’s friendships and build a few lasting ones along the way.
From a hundred failed attempts to a precious few gems, I articulate my 36 top lessons on choosing, building and holding on to lasting friendships:
1. Always listen to yourself first. Remember that peer pressure is not the same as friendship and popularity is a fad.
2. Trust your intuition toward friends. If your inner voice warns you about a friend, take heed and be cautious. The heart knows best when it comes to character judgment but cannot always articulate clearly in words that the mind can understand.
3. Always respect yourself first and foremost. If your friends cannot do the same, find new friends rather than changing who you are.
4. Be on time. Every time. Punctuality is a sign of respect and trust and aside from a casual slip-up once or twice, a trend of tardiness is a sure sign of trouble and must be handled with care.
5. Guard your feelings while you share your love and affection. Do not put up with friends who play with your feelings. Even in fun and games, you may be sensitive and they ignorant but this is no reason to pay the price with pain.
6. Keep your promises or do not bother making them at all. Know yourself well enough to realize whether you can hold a promise or struggle with it. Then act accordingly. Expect your friends to do the same for you.
7. Honor your commitments to plans or else respect your friends enough to let them know well in advance about any changes. Do not change your commitments often; it is better to make less commitments than to constantly appear indecisive and flippant.
8. Be selfish but be kind and gentle about it. Being selfish and honest makes you a better friend. It means stating your preference, being open and candid in communications, and not pretending to be another in order to fit in. If you do, sooner or later, you’ll miss being yourself and your friendship will be doomed.
9. Being selfish does not mean that a phone conversation revolves only around you or that you are the center of everything. Care about your friends to ask them the simple sincere question of how they are doing when you call.
10. Be generous. Give generously and give often, especially if you are in a position to do so. Enjoy the act of giving in friendships in whatever way, shape, or form you are able to do so.
11. Never, ever mention a favor you did for a friend after the fact. Never expect a favor in return for one. This is not a business transaction and we should not keep tabs here.
12. Do not let your friends abuse your goodness. Be kind but be vigilant when you first form friendships. Your heart will know the difference between a friend indulging in your sweet company and one abusing your generosity and kindness time and again.
13. When you are in the company of your friends and an additional circle of mutual friends, use your best judgment and demeanor. Do not share everything that you would with your friend in the company of others in the circle. Exercise tact and discretion in your words.
14. Learn to read your close friends without speaking. Learn what bothers them, what frustrates them, what saddens and delights them, and anticipate how you can brighten their day with the smallest acts of kindness.
15. Do not betray the trust of your friends. Confidentiality between friends is the highest degree of motivation for continued friendships. Treat it with the utmost care.
16. Learn when to be silent when in each other’s company. Let silence build your bond without words. Not every feeling needs to be expressed at the instant that you are feeling it. Not every emotion needs words to come to life.
17. Do not allow others into the private moments of your friendship. Keep it for yourself and state your boundaries kindly but firmly.
18. Support your friends. Sometimes you are ahead in life, sometimes they are. This is the core of what friendship is for and you can express it in the best way your heart desires, so long as you express your sincere support.
19. Guard your friendship and yourself against jealousy. The powers of jealousy are strong and bitter and still very subtle. As Luhrmann says, bridge the gaps of lifestyle and focus on the meaning of your friendship instead. Ban jealousy at the door.
20. Always return phone calls. In our technology age, it is easy to downgrade the response to a text message or an email. Choose to return phone calls with a return call.
21. Do not be “too busy” too often for your friends. “Too busy” is the most lame excuse invented in the English language and I am sometimes guilty of it too. Prioritize your life and either mean your friendship or step aside and mind your state of “busyness”.
22. Leave pretense to others. Follow your heart and be honest with yourself and your friends. Can you think of a friendship that has lasted a significant amount of time with pretense between friends?
23. Understand that some wonderful friendships run their course, that some people change and some amazing relationships come to a closure long before you are ready to say goodbye. Be brave and say goodbye graciously and move on.
24. Learn how to end friendships gracefully. Ignoring them and leaving them by the wayside is one way to end them but not a graceful one. An honest explanation, a heart-to-heart chat and a soft goodbye will have many returns for your peace of mind and that of your friend.
25. Remember that high expectations – or expectations in general – lead to disappointment. Have them but know how to react when they are not met. It is not a reflection on your friend but on you for having that expectation. Perhaps too much is assumed or perhaps you need other friends but whatever you do, do not try to mold your friends into your expectations.
26. Beware of loaning to or borrowing from your friends. Kindness gets the best of us and necessity is sometimes a companion to the situation. If you do loan and borrow, be the kind of person who cannot sleep til the debt to a friend is paid and one who can look past the unpaid loan without so much as a poor sentiment. Otherwise, do not take the risk on either affair.
27. Be very cautious when you do business with your friends. It is difficult to look past a wry business transaction and return unchanged to the friendship. Some amazing business agreements and deals can very well spring from friendships but be aware of your own position before doing business and stay true to yourself.
28. Remember the kindness of your past friends. Things may not always end well but when they do and you move on, remember the good times. Really focus on what you cherished together. That is what friendship is about.
29. Learn to observe and listen to your own feelings. If a friend brings down your mood, your energy and your well-being constantly, perhaps they need a therapist and not a friend. These are difficult choices to make but I suggest you put your own well-being first with kindness but firmness.
30. Be happy, be deliriously happy for the success of your friends, whatever it may be. Success is not a zero sum game and there is more than enough of it to go around.
31. Do not be delusional about your friendships. Do not make assumptions about who your friends are, know it and validate it. There are those who are acquaintances to you and those who consider you as a mere acquaintance. Learn to distinguish between those two and the color of true friendship.
32. Do not compare yourself to your friends. Instead draw inspiration from the goodness. You never know the full circumstance of any one’s life (except perhaps the spouse who lives with you!). Envy and competition serve you poorly in friendships (and in life!).
33. Be full of compassion when your friends are in sorrow. Always visit a friend in the hospital, always! Friends can forget that you missed a wedding or a party but they shall never forget that you came to see them in the ICU or at a funeral.
34. Expect your friends to be there in your sorrow in return. Difficult times are best shared with friends for the pain lessens when it’s divided between two hearts. Expect compassion in return; this is free and good friends should offer it in abundance.
35. Forgive your friends. There are times when they simply err or say something stupid or forget. Be kind, be sweet, look past the simple nonsense and focus on what really matters. Give them the benefit of a doubt and fill the rest of your time with love.
36. Love your friends. Love them deeply, sweetly, softly and beautifully. Show them. Remember them. Cherish them. Grow up and grow old with them if you can. Keep them. Do not lose them.
~ Share your thoughts ~
Initially, inspired by the 100 list, I set out to write my 100 lessons on friendship but 36 seemed to be the magical number for me and I will look for the 37th and beyond lessons from you, my dear sweet readers!