I once ruined a friendship because I thought it was my job to be didactic; my friend was thinking about buying a house, and she was struggling with what kind of loan to take out, so I thought it was my job to educate her on what I knew about mortgages. But, it turned out she had already done some research and wasn’t looking for unsolicited advice, and was just using our conversation to process through ideas (and, actually, I’ve never purchased a house myself, so what would I know?…)
I ruined another friendship because I thought it was my job to be the mediator; my friend was in a disagreement with another friend, the two of them shared their sides with me, and I thought it was my job to mend the fences between the two. But, it turned out that the disagreement ran deeper than I originally anticipated, and by putting myself in the middle, it actually caused more feelings to unsurface (once those feelings are created, can never be un-created), which eventually caused everyone’s friendship with each other to end.
And, now that I think of it, I ruined a third friendship because I thought it was my job to be the savior; my friend frequently commented on her “ugly nose” and her “fat stomach”, and I would respond with compliments: “No, your nose isn’t ugly! No, your stomach isn’t fat!”, and when I tried to bring up what I thought might be a destructive behavior pattern developing, that she was off putting to other people by seeking compliments, that maybe she should read this book, watch this TedTalk, go see a therapist–she retracted, and that friendship ended as well.
I used to think that being a friend meant “venting to each other” and “helping each other” and “texting each other about every minute detail of our day”, but as I get older (and I reflect back on these and other failed friendships), I’m now understanding that, actually, as an adult, friendship simply means nothing other than that we walk alongside one another–to do life together, to support each other throughout life’s stages, and to protect the supple, sacredness of friendship–I’m neither an educator nor a mediator, I neither save nor rescue, I neither judge nor cure; but I simply be.
As a 20-Something, simply walking alongside together can often be difficult, because everyone resides in a diverse array of life stages. Some people are single, some people are married, some people are divorced. Some people want kids, some have kids, some haven’t been able to have kids yet. Some are working, some are finishing up degrees, some are having professional-life-crises. And, maybe the life stage my friend is currently in is the one I want to be in, or is the one I just came out of, or the one I’d like to never be in again, and I might envy her, or I might want to educate her, or I might want to actually not hear about her at all. But, walking alongside my friend means that, irrespective if we are in the same exact life stage, or in completely different life stages, I support her. I hear her out, I make contact with her, I accept her, I love her.
Walking alongside means I’m not judgmental of my friend. Our time together isn’t me telling her what she should or should not do. When she tells me that she is planning on using this company for her mortgage, I don’t automatically start looking up Google Reviews, so that I can tell her they are disreputable. We don’t plan our outings together so that we can both ‘discuss’ how ugly of a wedding dress our other friend purchased, or how her venue is not actually that nice. I don’t offer to get together so that I can hear her complaining about her big nose, and then so I can call another friend and ‘vent’ about it. I don’t seek information from her for my own gain (to share with another friend at a later time).
Instead, when she tells me about her mortgage company, I ask her where she is in the process, why she made that determination, what her next steps are (and am excited when she submits her first bid). Our outings together are centered around intellectual conversations, adventures and checking things off our bucket lists, discussing current events and pop culture, places we want to go, places we have already been, equipment we will need, how we plant to spend our holidays.
When I walk alongside my friend, and when she (inevitably) shares her disappointments with me, her struggles, her grievances with me, I don’t say, “I told you so, you should have taken my advice on that lender. I knew that report on the BBB meant something!”. I don’t ask probing questions, “Well, how do you know? When did you find out? Who else was there?” so that I can be the secret-keeper of information, and can potentially use as leverage and power against someone later on. When she tells me about her insecurity, I don’t laugh at her, blab about my own insecurity, tell her she “needs to read this book so that she can improve herself”, give her the number to my favorite plastic surgeon.
But, I do let her talk and share her disappointments, her struggles, her grievances, and then ask her what she needs. I don’t assert needs onto her (because maybe she doesn’t need anything at all). I don’t assume that she wants to see a therapist, that she wants to read the book that changed my life, even that she wants to have change. Instead, I ask her what I can do to help, who she wants me to contact, what she has already been doing and what she would like me to do to assist (if even anything at all).
And, as an adult, walking alongside means that I protect my friends. This doesn’t mean that I need to show up to her ex-boyfriend’s house with a taser and ice pick (just in case the taser malfunctions), or that I need to post a bunch of stuff on social media to defend her, intervene in what (I think) may be a potentially contentious situation, or even that, when in conversations that she comes up in, I share the information she’s entrusted me with to justify her actions and other’s perceptions of her.
But rather, as an adult, when I walk alongside my friends, and when I’m in situations where potential gossip or negative comments about them could be made, I redirect; I turn the conversation about a recent news story I read, to a funny YouTube video I watched about a sheep getting stuck in a tire swing, I ask what people are doing this weekend. When my friends share (really any) information with me, I keep it to myself. Even when others speculate on her actions, wonder why she didn’t attend a social gathering, ask why she’s not married, when she’s having a baby, how come she moved out of her apartment, why she changed jobs, what happened to her last boyfriend, I simply don’t engage, how come she’s gained so much weight (or lost so much weight) I don’t share any information (for, that is hers to share with whomever she wants).
And I do all of this simply because this is the kind of adult friend that I want. Someone who doesn’t judge, but rather makes plans with me because she enjoys my company. Someone who I can come to when I’m going through a difficult time, but who I know won’t churn me in the gossip mill. Someone whose focus is on building OUR relationship, who sees value in US for the long term, who carries no expectations, other than to simply share life together.