The Art Of Friendship

What really is friendship? The dictionary says it is the state of being friends. I met a good friend a couple of Saturdays ago and I left her crying. No. Not what you think. I am not a monster all the time. I had been speaking with this friend (and you know who you are, dear soul, since you read all my blog posts) for the past two months or so, trying to help her heal from an old, old wound inflicted by an ex and nursed in pain by her. This time, when I met her, I was harsher. “You are taking comfort in your pain,” I chided her. She cried, but one of my most un-endearing yet valuable traits, if you have the courage to see it such, is my unwavering honesty. Or brutality, if you may also call it so. I didn’t step back. “Yes. You cry yourself to bed each night because that is what you are comfortable with. The pain soothes you.”

“The pain, Smitha. Of being used like a tissue paper? Just cast aside?” she asked.

“Maybe. But it’s also been five years. So $%&* the guy,” I said. Those were my parting shots. I didn’t hear from her after we left and I worried then, thinking that I have scared yet another person away. Until yesterday, when she sent me an SMS saying that she has stopped crying herself to sleep since that day. I smiled. I felt lighter than I had in ages. Thank you, she said. Simple words, but as I will tell over the course of this post, these are the most powerful words you will ever use in your life. So, what is the art of friendship? These are what I have learnt from many beautiful friendships. We don’t fail at friendships. We just learn from them. In here, I am not talking of friends who meet once in a while for a drink at a pub. I am talking about what the Japanese call kenzoku – a bond of the deepest connection. How many people do you have kenzoku with?

1. Make Precious A Priority

Too often, I have heard people who seem to take pride in saying, “Oh! We hadn’t kept in touch for years, but when we met/spoke, it was like time just flew and we hadn’t been apart at all!”

Friendships are precious. Any relationship is. And if it is precious, we must make time and effort for it. I don’t understand how your friendship is precious if you walk away for years from a person’s life and then just catch up over drinks and exclaim, “She/He was always there for me!” That to me is not friendship. We build truly deep friendships because a friend has been a large part of our lives. It doesn’t matter if we connect on social media or in real life. I prefer real conversations, but then, that’s my choice. What matters is of the 24 hours we have, how much do you value making precious a priority? So, talk to those friends. You can’t obviously talk to all friends. Define the precious first. But once you realize who is part of your innermost circle, keep them close. We are all busy with spouses/families/kids/work. Add another item to it. That’s all. Are you defining that precious?

Work friends may seem like they don't last. But they do.
Work friends may seem like they don’t last. But they do.

2. Make Room For Ego

This might seem odd. How can ego help a friendship survive? No. It won’t. Ego will kill it. But we are all slaves to our egos. We try hard to overcome it, but at heart, we are self-focused at first. To nurture our self is our deepest commitment. Understand that there may be times in our friendship that the ego will creep in. When it does, be aware, and let go of ego, but not the friendship. Make space for that ego to emerge and you will see that space shrinking as we grow wiser.

3. Commit To It

I have seen too often that friendship is easier to give up. By default, it comes with an escape clause. No messy divorces, break-ups, or familial ties to cut. Yet, research has proven that the loss of a close friend can be just as devastating, if not more, than a divorce. Still, we cut ties to friendship easily. Why is that so? Why is that we don’t commit to a friendship? When we make room for precious and allow for the ego, we also must understand that we have a deep-seated commitment to that friendship. Too many fights? Lack of understanding? If this is kenzoku, stick to it. Make that commitment to each other. Not in words, but in action. The pain is worth it. Trust me on this.

Some friends are for life. And when we commit, they become family.
Some friends are for life. And when we commit, they become family. So many years now.

4. Avoid Idealizing

Our instant gratification era has resulted in endless Facebook memes on friendship. Most of them show the rosy side of friendship. The late night chats. The endless conversations. The bonding over exes. The nights we passed out drunk. That’s great. They all happen. But what they don’t show is that friendship has a darker side. Like any other relationship, the road friendship takes us on is not smooth. It will be laden with pebbles, rocks, sharp stones, and even little streams may run through it. Everyone knows my soulmate is Birdy. She is the closest friend I have had. Yet, no one really knows or believes that we rarely spend a week without fighting or in cold wars. We don’t like each other’s likes. We are not the best conversationalists. We have traveled a lot together, but we know that may be rarer in the life to come. We have only this – Skype video calls – and the deep bond we share to keep us through. We have given up on each other once and given into each other again. We hurt each other. All the time. Every day. Every other day. We also deeply respect each other. It’s not perfect. It’s deeply flawed, this friendship. That is what gives it the beauty to make meaning from the mess. When you have a beautiful friend, understand that beauty does not merely come from being on Facebook. Know that the scars you carry from your fights are what will shape your friendship into that deep, inexorable connection that is rare, yet meaningful. Happily Ever After doesn’t exist. Not even in friendships. You have to get up and make the choice to love your friend – the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

I quote this line from an article:

Because a love that’s alive is also constantly evolving. It expands and contracts and mellows and deepens. It’s not going to be the way it used to be, or the way it will be, and it shouldn’t be.

All three friends in this picture - I have moved away and apart from. Only one came back. The one on the left.
All three friends in this picture – I have moved away and apart from. Only one came back. The one on the left.

5. Communicate With Respect

This is true of any relationship. Sometimes, we fail to express ourselves. Sometimes, we over express. But what keeps a relationship going is not just communication, but the respect we have for each other. Communication is, no doubt, important. Talk more. Talk openly about everything that hurts. Be transparent. Yes. Listen. Understand the words. Try to understand the silences as well, hard as that may be. But when you have respect for your friend, your communication has a naked honesty that will strip away that ego we spoke of earlier. Unless you have that respect, you may start to hide things from your friend, fearing their criticism or judgment, perhaps. If you are friends, you are friends because deep within we love who that person is. You respect their values, their principles, and their way of dealing with life. One of the biggest breakdowns of my friendship with Birdy was that we lost that respect – I thought she no longer shared my values –  and it is incredible how even the closest armor we wear in life can turn out to be our biggest weapon against ourselves.

Dare I say it? Respect yourself too. Have self-compassion. It doesn’t mean a failure to acknowledge our mistakes, but the ability to see ourselves as flawed, and love ourselves for it, just the same.

Don't think friendship is all about the light. It's often about the shadows as well.
Don’t think friendship is all about the light. It’s often about the shadows as well.

6. Say Sorry And Thank You. Often.

I can’t stress this enough. I remember my good friend Teena and I singing this song about two little magic words that can open any door while traveling in Mahabalipuram many years ago. Sorry and thank you. These are really the magic words. We use thank you too less. We say sorry too less. In my opinion, gratitude for the joy that a friend can bring you can fill us with happiness. If you have a friend who you are grateful for, whose presence in your life is a blessing, make sure you use these words often. Tell that friend how grateful you are. And when you mess up, tell sorry from your heart. And when that sorry is accepted, say thank you. And stay using those words.

7. Embrace Change

 

friends
From friends who would meet every weekend, we are now friends who might struggle to meet with our geographical separation. Yet, both Birdy and Tee remain two of my closest friends. (L to R)

One of my biggest challenges in life has been to accept change. As a person used to control, change is the one thing I can’t control. So, I have always fought when people change. It has cost me always. Usually, this stems from a lack of trust. We resist change when we fear that our friendship may not survive that change. And faith is something that we ought to have had in the first place. Yet, we often keep that last. If a friendship is to last the distance, it is understood that like a stream that keeps changing its course, the friendship will ebb and flow. The person we are with might become angrier or more cynical, calmer or more trusting. It doesn’t matter. Embrace that change, knowing that the changes in this friendship will only enhance it, not weaken it. That, my friend, is called trust.


 

What do you think are the tenets of friendship? I think what I have written above should hold good for any relationship, not just friendship. I am grateful for all the people who shaped my life into the gloriouscataballistisbeauty it is.

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