I probably rewrote this an estimated 14 times. There’s so much to say and I struggle with how to say it.
I asked myself a lot of questions. Am I doing this right? Am I a good friend? Have I offered them scooby doo fruit snacks in the last 24 hours? (duh) Well. I’m trying. This is my philosophy of friendships.
Since the wee babe years of my youth, it always seemed like my mom had this inexplicable super power of knowing who was a good friend versus who was a bad friend, especially before I did. And I generally don’t like admitting I’m wrong. So y’know we’re off to a great start.
I grew up under the assumption that there was an initiation if you will, into adulthood. Or rather a crash course with a section titled “How to consistently make accurate judgments of character” (Chapters 6-8). Somewhere along the way I reached those “wee babe” years of adulthood (aka legal adulting where I could vote but god forbid I left my high school campus without a note). However with them came the realization that life is the crash course. The only way to pass is simply through trial and error. (Alas, yes. Imagine my disappointment in discovering we can’t just “become” an adult in a matter of a 6 hour class on the weekend).
In high school, life dropped its first crash course and tbh it was to the beat of a catchy Rhianna song and went from 0 to 60 in 3.5. My mom did her best to prepare me, but I left her to wait patiently with ringside seats to the boxing match against my emotionally damaging (well, for an 18 year old) friendship fallouts. But that’s how I learned. That’s how I have continued to learn. Fast forward to now. If my progress towards reaching mom-level-friendship-wisdom was on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give myself a solid 8.5. Better yet, if this was jeopardy I’d be confident enough to shoot for the 400s category. (“What is: good friend; genuinely cares about well-being & maintains reciprocal care for 400?”) I’m not saying it’s a straightforward skill or trait to learn. There’s no exact art to it, just as you can’t watch one episode of Bob Ross and call yourself an artist (Despite thinking you can. No. You can’t.) But more and more, and with time, it’s easier to spot the behavioral patterns for the kind of person who will stick around in your life. Yknow in a good way.
So grab your digital cameras and your favorite suburban-dad-vacation-hawaiian-print shirt; because I’ll be your guide today on the sightseeing city bus tour of figuring out friendships. What was that? But yes, of course I’ll provide unnecessary running commentary laced with puns and vague/outdated pop cultural references. I’m almost insulted you expected anything different.
For today’s itinerary, I’m laying out a broad literary metaphor of your classic childhood detectives based on reasoning, deduction, and problem solving skills for how to learn who’s a good friend or not.
Level 1: The Great Mouse Detective deduction skills
Ok. This is a key point I’m about to make. (So pretend I’m teaching the crash course I’ve fallaciously believed my entire life and get out your detective notebooks.)
The thing about bad friends is that they’re not bad people. They’re just not good friends for you.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement of friendship that we choose to ignore and discredit our moms’ (or our own) foresight. Sometimes we’re so excited about this person who wants to be our friend and spend time with us that they can’t possibly be bad. Sometimes we look so hard for the best in others and that slim silver lining or long familiar history that we hope their virtues outweigh their vices and expect a person to be the good that we know they can be – only to be crestfallen when our expectations simply don’t correlate with our realities. However, sometimes these aren’t just “I only tipped our shitty waitress a dollar pls don’t judge me” kind of vices. Sometimes these are the “you probably once killed a man with this thumb” (very specific/vague ratatouille ref) kind of vices. At our younger age, we haven’t seen the worst of the worst in humans or the world. We hope for that silver lining; regardless of the gray area that exists, persists, and will always remain in the middle. We’re so busy caught up in who we want that person to be that we turn a (third eye) blind to who they really are.
Your great mouse detective skills are kicking in and you ask, but what are these RED FLAGS I need to sniff out like fresh gouda? (Trying to make this relevant for all the mice out there, not just the men. An ode to you, Steinbeck.) It’s difficult to spot (or sniff), and is also very dependent on each person.
Level 2: Encyclopedia Brown is about to broaden your encyclopedia of friendship
So lemme lay out some basics for ya. The following are qualities commonly found in bad friends, including but not limited to:
- Let’s talk Negative Nelly. Except she brought the whole gang: Pessimist Patrick, Malcontent Molly, and Curmudgeon Casey (Apologies to any Nelly, Patrick, Molly, Casey, or Tom/Dick/Harry reading this. Strictly alliteration purposes). Regularly speaks negatively. Of self, of you, of others, and of every day life. They’re such a victim to the perils of middle to upper class life. “Ugh I have to wait 7 minutes in the Starbucks drive thru?” “Why do bad things happen to good people.” “WHERE THE CRAP IS MY PUMPKIN SPICE.” “I need to speak to a manager.” Unlike the Killers, they don’t wanna find Mr. Brightside to any situation.
- The world is their oyster, but only if there’s only one oyster in the history of the world. Everything is always about them. They’re the center of the universe, obviously. Everything is very personal, too. Even if something’s about you, it’s actually about them. They don’t seem to care if you’re having a Bad Day and Daniel Powter is following you around as your own personal melodramatic theme song. Because they need you to care more about their day. However, there’s a point where you and Johnny Cash walk the line between sharing something personal versus sharing your life story kind of personal.
I’ve already gotten lost and sidetracked too much on this topic that I’ll stop being stubborn in my dad-vacation-hawaiian-shirt and oversized SUV to stop to ask for directions. Or at least pay attention to the road I’m on. More (slightly shortened) negating qualities found in negative friends/friendships are:
- Actions and words work as a means to glorify self, usually by bringing others down in the process. Magnifies flaws of others. Consider themselves superior to others.
- If they can’t be happy, no one else deserves to be (grudgingly or dissenting to celebrate the accomplishments or success of another). Criticizes or finds faults in your happiness.
- Blames others, not responsible for any misfortunes or hardships. Self-victimizes.
- Most importantly: glaringly unhappy with themselves. They haven’t accepted themselves entirely for their strengths nor flaws. Therefore they can’t accept other people for who they are. Everyone’s flaws remind them of their own.
When pinpointing any or all of these traits, it is made apparent the lasting effects on individual relationships, personal life, and interactions with the rest of the world. There’s a certain toxicity to it. In which the cloud of the sullen, antagonistic mind frame remains to embody you, even when lacking their presence. You feel kinda shitty; in the ‘I haven’t showered in too long i need some body wash and a loofah stat’ way. You’re all washed out with doubt. But what about the friends that make you feel brand loofah new?
Similar to Leroy Brown, your encyclopedia of knowledge has now expanded and is growing. Consider these a few metaphorical clues.
Level 3: Hardy Boys; hard of heart?
How do we utilize this knowledge? How to do we apply awareness of toxic friendships to improving our lives? How do we even see past the silver lining and face the cold hard truth? Because maybe you do feel good around them. But do you feel it in the Christina Aguilera power solo way? (she can riff for dayz). Or in the child singing the Star Spangled Banner at a baseball game but pees her pants solo sorta way?
Think now about the relationships from the days you laughed until you cried, you smiled so big your mouth hurt, you oozed green slime. An often overlooked, yet fundamental, element to a healthy relationship lies in the ability to maintain mutual happiness and contentment without requiring a physical presence. You smile to yourself as you think of that person even when they’re not with you. The idea of the person is so deeply associated with happy, positive connotations that even just the passing thought of their name can give you that warm fuzzy feeling inside that all the pizza bagels in the world can’t compete with. There’s a comfort in the undoubting confidence in the friendship’s foundations. This type of friend pushes you to step out of the comfort zone, to open your mind to new ideas, to motivate you in revolutionary ways, to inspire you to succeed, and to be proud of you simply for putting the best foot forward. All the things that you simply can’t do alone. Genuine friends help one another. They give their presence without needing to be present. They are steadfast and reliable. They love without condition. They inspire you. And you don’t hesitate for a moment to do all the same for them, but rather, want to do the same for them.
You may be asking what the missing clue is here. Well, our epistemology adapts. What we consider our basic known truths change. In this case our ideals of what we want in friendship mature and evolve with age. The prior knowledge gradually cultivates through individual experiences. Throughout each stage of life (wee-babe years, wee-babe adulthood, wee-babe senior citizenship, etc.), the things we consider important change. By result, we search for certain values or characteristics in our friendships with others that reflect that change.
Level 4: Nancy Drew me like one of your French girls
In kindergarten, I remember wanting to be friends with the girl who had the sparkly, purple backpack because everyone thought she was cool. But her personality seemed to exclusively revolve around that sparkly backpack. I felt significantly happier sitting crisscross next to the boy who would make me laugh during show and tell as he silently showed off made-up dance moves to me, both of us oblivious to anyone showing or telling. I think a lot of it was in the emotional experience/reaction.
So I guess I noticed the little things. When I felt myself instinctively smile warm & fuzzy when she walked in a room. When his face illuminated with encouragement as I nervously shared my personal writing. When I peacefully closed my eyes as we harmonized to the ukulele together. When he proudly drew a small cartoon for me without needing a reason. When she wrote me a letter with what she admires about me. When she asked to draw a portrait of me simply because she wanted to. When he said my weirdness was his favorite thing about me.
All of these moments might be small, insignificant. But also in these moments I felt my heart simply radiant, absolutely bursting with joy. I felt boundless love because I received some in return. I value the moments of genuine, authentic honesty in a friendship, and the moments of joy we share together. From kindergarten dance moves to quietly watercoloring, I love loving good people. I spent countless days immeasurably happier with people who unquestionably made me feel worthwhile.
Well, you passed your crash course. You solved it Sherlock.
Level 5. Whatever is left, must be the truth.
It’s hard to see from the outside looking in, just how toxic or healthy the influence is of the people we can surround ourselves with. After (insert number here) many years of failed, unhappy friendships you ultimately develop the understanding of who is good to you and how you can be good to others. You can find a person who glows. Whose soul overflows with an abundance of joy, peace, and love. Whose intent is nothing short of absolute genuine care for you. Whose glowing soul shares that positivity when you are near it. Because you see that you can become that person too, if you aren’t already. The world needs more light to chase away the darkness of life.
Inevitably, we all endure one or two or possibly a myriad of bad friends. This is a fact. On the other hand, we don’t necessarily have to ragret anything (to the point where you tattoo no ragrets on your chest). It wasn’t necessarily a waste of time. They can teach you how to be a better friend than they were to you. You’ve experienced firsthand what people can do that make you feel like crap, so you give everyone else better than what you had to go through. Finally, there isn’t necessarily an obligation to maintain that friendship solely because of the history. What is necessary is deciding how you will be happy and who you will be happy with.
It’s fundamental to encounter and familiarize with both types of people so as to better value the worth of those in your life with hearts of gold. Those who help you grow. And I hope to know those good of heart, of guileless intent, of love. I want to be all the good things for them as they are to me. I dream of the strength we give each other as we grow together. So, here’s to the innumerable times our moms were too kind to say, “I told you so.” We will learn. Just as you did. And to the wise moms who stand a steadfast sentry with us through them all: you’re the best friend there could ever hope to be.
I would dedicate this to every person in my life if I could. But I wrote this with a few people in mind. Despite those who inspired this, if you are reading this, then here is my message for you.
There’s a point when you need to move on, and it is okay. Ending friendships can be worse than ending relationships in that going in, you expect to be friends for always. (Relationships generally don’t hold such binding, lifelong commitment from the get go.) It’s ok to end friendships. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about the person or never did. Sometimes they can’t be the friend you need. Or vice versa. Maybe you were once, but it’s okay to let it go. Life goes on and you will keep living and you will meet so many wonderful people in this world. You will always care for them and eventually it’ll be easier to remember the good memories, which is why moving on is so hard. Because sometimes the good memories ebb away at the bad ones.
Not every friend has to be forever. I apologize. To all my friends who I couldn’t make forever. It doesn’t mean I love you any less. I hope we both find people who are good for us, who will make us happy. I’m sorry it couldn’t be me.
Mumford and Sons sing, “And where you invest your love, you invest your life.” Invest in unconditional, caring, beautiful love. We learn in who to invest our love and life as we go. And that, my dear Watson, is elementary.