Friday, January 6, 2012

Befriending a Hermit

How does one define a friend? There are many definitions and people differ in how they classify people they know. What is the difference between an acquaintance, a neighbor, a coworker, a classmate? Does the amount of time you spend with another in a particular setting and in a particular way make them a friend? There has been a lot of chatter about this in the age of Facebook and I have taken note. In the book, The Art of Friendship, the authors write,

Friendship is not always easily defined. There is a range of meaningful relationships, and not all of them need to be of the close, call-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the night variety to be worthwhile. Work friendships, situational friendships, cordial acquaintanceships--the varieties are as plentiful as the people you meet. Each type of friend should be treated with respect and the appropriate level of affection. If you stay open to the possibilities for friendships that do not necessarily conform to the most common expectations, you are likely to engage in some rewarding interactions that you would otherwise miss out on (Roger & Sally Horchow).

I am a pretty independent woman (I often call myself a hermit actually), and I always put family first, however I highly value my friendships with both men and women. I am a loyal friend and a fierce friend. Very protective and never afraid to speak up when necessary, I come to the defense of any whom I learn have been wronged.

I am very open to people, the differences between us, and the respect I offer up in knowing that we as human beings are all unique and free to live our lives however we do, and yet sometimes I probably appear to be quite picky or selective in my friendships. I am not sure about that. I tend to welcome different people with a smile or a conversation, but then again, my time and energy is precious and if I am bothered by one’s actions, words, or attitude, I don’t invest much in continuing a relationship with that person. It’s not that I need people to be like me, but some folks give off a vibe that is sneaky or dishonest and that’s a huge turn-off. I don’t need to be friends with everyone and I will not be someone I am not, simply to gain another friend.

I warmly treasure several friends I have had since I was a little girl, and I am proud of the people I have befriended only recently. They are all good people and I feel good to have relationships with them. Although quite shy at times, once I find common ground or develop similar goals with someone, I rarely hesitate to open up and trust. Some of my friendships are very easy. I know this will sound selfish (and I suppose it is), but there are the friends who require very little of my time or attention, those who I fall easily into conversations with no matter how long it’s been since we last talked. My dearest and oldest friends aren’t in constant need of me nor am I with them. We are all quite the same when it comes to our priorities with our families and we’re simply on the same page when it comes to our relationships. Cheryl and Ann Marie are two such friends. I befriended Cheryl when we were just 8 years old and our bond to this day is strong. Built on 36 years of fun and fights, cheering and chiding, mayhem and maturity, we’ve remained committed to one another and I love her as a sister. I will never let her go. Ann Marie and I became friends when we were 12. We endured middle school and high school together and visited one another frequently in college. We have similar stubborn personalities, are both passionate about our families, and as with Cheryl, we’ve grown up together and have similar values. My times with Cheryl and Ann Marie are always filled with both serious talks and great fun.

As I became an adult other friendships became important to me. There were those I met in college and in graduate school. And there were those I met on the job over the twenty years of my career, and those I befriended in the community where I settled twenty years ago. Community theater, church, and meeting the parents of my children’s friends secured other important friendships for me. Relationships challenge me; they help me practice patience, perspective, and compassion. I have much to learn from people. Becoming friends with people of various ages is an amazing experience also, let me add.

I have both female and male friends. Friendships with men have always helped me along in life. It’s no secret. Although women are quick to understand one another, I need good guys in my life. Men offer me those brotherly relationships that are so important. I’ve long easily been comfortable hanging out with guys, no doubt that’s because of the amount of time I spent with my own Dad and my three brothers. I demand respect however from the men I am friends with, and if I don’t receive it, we’re done.

After joining Facebook, a strange but beautiful phenomenon occurred. People from all the various areas in my life came back into my daily life, and not solely in a virtual way. Some friends and I have reconnected beyond our laptop greetings. I’ve had a chance to reconnect with people I knew only superficially in the past and I’ve become closer to people I see regularly. It’s as though we’re all meeting over the picket fence, sharing stories over coffee in the kitchen, having slumber parties, or passing notes. I’m tickled by it in all honesty because it doesn’t take me away from my loved ones. We’re connecting when there is time to, when our days allow a few moments to check in with one another. And when we do make plans to see each other in person, there is less of that awkward feeling of trying to come up with conversation; we easily dive into an easy dialogue with one another. I sometimes feel I wish I could live twice as long so I could make more friends with those I never had the opportunity to get to know. Wow. This hermit is evolving.

The lyrics to one of my favorite songs, For Good from the Broadway musical Wicked, capture my thoughts perfectly tonight: "I’ve heard it said, that people come into our lives for a reason bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them, and we help them in return". In my near 44 years, people have come into my life and our friendships have continued to teach me greatly. There are numerous people I hope to write about in this coming year. I wish to offer up my sincere acknowledgement of how they have touched my life. My talks and time with different individuals have helped me grow and mature, and others have allowed me to remain childlike and impulsive. We never truly know how our being affects others however. So I only hope I have helped my friends in return. What I know for sure is that I truly love people and I am so very grateful for my friendships. Will there be more? I don’t think I need more but I am excited to see what the future holds.

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