The Art of Friendship
The Jakarta Post -- WEEKENDER | Thu, 01/29/2009 6:10 PM |
According to a scientific survey on aging, one of the things that can improve our quality of life as we get older is having friends to spend time with and to confide in. I cannot agree more.
Having spent the early part of my grown-up life away from my family, friends have been more than just company for me. They are both my anchor and reflection. They are such a big part of my life that I sometimes feel an even tighter bond with them than with some relatives. Even now, separated only by districts from my parents and siblings, I find that I spend more time with friends than with them – by choice.
I am not a social butterfly, although having been in the business of journalism where meeting new people is part of the job, I have accumulated more acquaintances than I’d really care to know.
Yes, there are people I contact and meet for work-related discussions. Occasionally we go out for drinks or do something involving our shared interests, but they are not necessarily my real friends.
In truth, there are only a handful of people I would call my friends, and these are those whose relationship with me has been tested by time – sometimes cracked and broken, but over time mended again.
These are people I would never dodge when I run into them at the grocery store, even when in a particularly unsociable mood, people I would not hesitate to call at an ungodly hour if the need arose, whose motives I never question and whom I trust will not talk about me as soon as we’re out of each other’s sight.
The three best friends I had during college now live in the United States and Turkey, but each time we talk or email each other (I have not seen two of them in person since), those intervening years away from each other, during which time we grew into who we are now, have not made us strangers. In fact, our bonds remain as strong as they were a lifetime ago.
Considering the complexity of friendship, I consider this a marvel. How relationships between two people of different characters and experiences can survive conflicting personal neuroses, seasonal fallouts or minor deceptions is nothing short of amazing.
But I wonder if our friendships would be as strong had we lived closer and spent more time with each other all these years.
Because lately I realize that being a friend gets harder when we’re a little older and hardened.
In our younger days, we take our capacity to let other people into our lives for granted. We tolerate flaws in character and dismiss our instinctive misgivings about a harmful friendship.
A wonderful person I know – let’s call her Cheryl – has a best friend who always criticizes and makes fun of her when they are around other people. Being an expansive person with a self-deprecating sense of humor, Cheryl takes it in her stride and even joins in to laugh at herself. It is obvious Cheryl’s friend thinks she is the dominant one in the relationship.
I would never interfere in their friendship, nor do I have the right to criticize it, but it is hard to see such a great person as Cheryl being undermined by such an overbearing friend.
There are other people – I’ve noticed that many of them are women – who are involved in similar “toxic” friendships, in which the other person is manipulative, controlling or injurious to their self-esteem. In my younger days, I had my share of this type of relationship, too, but as I get older, I have learned to keep away from such toxic friends.
The good thing is I may be free from the threat of unhealthy friendships. However, I wonder if in my efforts to protect myself I risk shutting other people out too easily.
For a long time, I was very close to a person I consider one of my best friends. Then, in the past few years, some things started to bother me. It was her way of talking, of always being competitive, and of constantly trying to prove herself to other people.
She was constantly changing, and over the years I watched her turning into somebody I no longer recognize. She became overly critical of other people, and was often beset by dark moods.
I stopped seeing her for some time because I got so bothered when I was around her. Then I saw some of our friends starting to alienate her too. I felt a magnitude of guilt, because I know she is a kind and sincere person deep down, and I like spending time with her.
Then again, I had no idea what to do. Should I tell her how I feel about her? Would that be crossing the line into being intrusive? Would I hurt her feelings? Besides, who am I to criticize her and what she is going through?
I ended up keeping her at arm’s length, which works on some people but might not be the best solution. The thing is, though, I have always believed that the strength of our friendship would sort things out, whatever my problem is her.
In my recent contemplation, I realized this is how I have always treated people. I care for them greatly, until I see a side of them that strikes an uneasy chord with me, and then I start to draw away from them. As much as it is a good filtering mechanism – and real friends never really go away – it is also unfair to the other person.
Just as people keep changing, our perception of people also changes, and it affects our relationship with them. That much I am aware of.
Now I just need to accept that no one is perfect. Not me, not any of my friends. And the last thing we need is to try to change them.
+ Devi Asmarani