Last weekend, my daughter and I had some special bonding time. I chose to bring her along on a trip to stay with a good friend of mine and her two daughters. Four hours of driving each way provided a wonderful opportunity to chat about a lot of things…some random, some funny and thankfully some quite poignant.
As we hit the road, Libby began asking questions about our destination and hosts.
“So…how did you meet them?”
We met online…through Facebook and blogging.
“Hmmm. How long have you guys been friends???”
Uh…hmmm…let’s see…maybe, like five or six months?? I’m not sure. I do know that I talk to these ladies literally every day…I know them well. And I trust them wholeheartedly.
“And…THIS…is the first time you’re going to meet them? “
Yes…strange as it may seem, this would be our very first time meeting face to face. So how do I explain the sudden and genuine friendship strong enough to pull me four hours from home, with trust enough to bring one of my children? I know my initial answer was vague and didn’t likely scratch the surface of her curiosity. “Let’s just enjoy our trip…have a great time…and you’ll see what I mean when we get there.”
Despite my lack of sufficient response, her questions certainly got me thinking. I once again began inventorying every female relationship I’ve had over the years…familial, professional, academic…all the same struggle for me. As I’ve said before, I find difficulty trusting women. Could be mommy issues…could be bad experiences as a kid. Who knows, really. Truth is, it doesn’t matter what molded me. I’m responsible for myself and how I relate with others…men OR women…today and going forward. And my responsibility extends to my daughter. I’M the one molding HER. In ten years do I want her to have this same struggle? Hell no. Ensuring that doesn’t occur begins with my relationship with HER. And IN that relationship I need her to know it’s important to be clear on what is expected of her and what SHE should expect of others in the context of a friendship. I don’t know that anyone ever taught me these things. There IS no “How to…” in relating to other girls or women for that matter…or if there is I’ve not stumbled upon it. For me…trial and error, baby.
From the moment we arrived, the smiles were abound and the chit-chat and laughter endless. (That is, until about 2:00am when we realized…HA…we’re old, we need sleep.) We talked about everything…you name it: Kids, parents, siblings, spouses, and friends…the good, bad and the ugly on friendships of the past AND present. What have we found welcoming in friendships? What is off-putting? What is enjoyable? What is downright exhausting? As I sat there in great conversation with these women, feeling the positivity seeping from their words, the genuine desire to know more of each other, the lack of judgment or competition…I began to mentally draft a list of all things necessary in a true friendship. I began to recall times when I did not provide these things to other friends of mine…and vice versa. It became clear why some friendships failed and others flourished. And I realized….THIS…this is what my daughter needs to know.
So I wrote her a letter:
I love you more than life itself and want nothing more than for you to be happy and healthy…in life, in love, and career. You and I will always have a special bond and I would like to think that very thing will help BOTH of us get through this life with light and love. Beyond our relationship you will also have connections with friends, other girls, women, ladies who you are sure to find steadfast, reliable and a critical part of your life as you grow old. My hope is that you find a few great women to be those rocks for you and you for them over the years.
Making and keeping those dear companions is not always an easy thing. I’ve not always been as supportive or selfless as I could be. I’ve allowed my inability to trust get in the way. I’ve lost myself in friendships, watching my own interests, goals, and successes dissipate over time. But I’ve learned much. As I’ve aged I’ve determined there are a few simple yet necessary aspects to friendship that I believe will guide you toward longevity, “genuity”, and continued trust.
Reach out to your friends…see how they’re doing. If you know they’re struggling or worrying about something in particular, be that one person who is always the first to ask. Don’t worry about bugging them…if they don’t have time or feel like chatting, they’ll tell you. But it will make them feel good knowing that you care. Likewise, be quick to congratulate and help celebrate successes.
When you talk with your friends…engage. Shut out the outside world and really listen. We all know what it’s like to be in the middle of a conversation with someone who feigns active listening when they’re merely awaiting their opportunity to speak. And expect the same in return. If you’re a good friend to others and listen when they need a shoulder, it’s reasonable to expect to be able to do the same when you are in need.
Know this…the amount of time you’ve known a friend does not determine the quality of the friendship. You will find that over several years time you may grow apart from friends you once found dear. You will encounter tough times in life that will truly test the elasticity and tenacity of your friendships. THIS is where you learn what your girlfriends are made of. You may find friends that unexpectedly come into your life with whom you form an instant and unbreakable bond. In the face of adversity it truly does not take long to determine who is a true friend and who is not. When you find them, hold those girls near and nourish those relationships.
ALWAYS remember to check your competitive nature at the door. I love that you enjoy a challenge and that you don’t hesitate to step up to the table. But your game face is for basketball or academic competitions or a card game for that matter. NOT when you’re relating to your girlfriends. If a friend is sharing a struggle or a victory, don’t turn it into a match. Just. Be. There. Be happy when things are going well and empathize when things are not. Vice versa, do not allow friends to make you feel bad for being smart, or doing well on a test. Nor should you feel as though you’re not measuring up to THEIR performance in any given event. It doesn’t matter whose clothes are trendier, who has the better cell phone, who has more friends on Facebook, who gets married first, who has children, who chooses to breastfeed verses bottle feed…just know the competition will NEVER end if you allow it within your friendship. You are you, and that is all you should ever be. And that…is wonderful.
And finally, and most importantly, know when to say when. You’ll find that over time, your convictions will draw you closer and further from other women. Don’t change those beliefs for the sake of salvaging an old friendship or creating a new one for that matter. Know who you are. Know what you believe in. If a friendship, cannot withstand the test of differing values don’t compromise yourself, but know when to respectfully walk away. Know what you deserve. If you’re not treated respectfully, be honest about it. Likewise, when you know you’ve wronged a friend, apologize. Genuinely. Be supportive of your girlfriends but understand the difference between empathizing and enabling. There are toxic relationships out there that are good for neither involved. It’s important to make friends a priority but never compromise your safety or sanity.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means. As I said, I’m still learning how to build a successful friendship…I’m a work in progress. My hope is that this will at least provide the building blocks for you to create and maintain a lasting, healthy support system. Boys will come and go…but your girlfriends will always be your rock. Even in marriage, you will need your girls. As an outlet, an escape, a laugh with someone who understands, a reality check from someone who gets you…someone who will always have your back. And someday…if and when you have a daughter, you’ll be the best role model a girl could ask for. In some ways you’ve been mine too.
I love you, my Libby Lou…
***This one is for all of my true girlfriends…you know exactly who you are. Some new, some not so new. I would never have gotten where I am without you. There are days I’m positive I would land in the fetal position under my desk if not for your ability to make me laugh. I know for a fact I’ve not told you often enough, but I love you and am so very thankful.***