Earning The Friendship Badge

This weekend, I had the pleasure of spending time with my best cousin. The two of us are like kindred spirits to the 100th power. Now I have friends, good friends, great friends- the best friends. But there’s nothing like a best cousin. At least, there’s nothing like mine. I’ve known her since she was born (1 year and 3 months after me); we even have the same alma mater. She’s in Philly and I’m not, so we don’t get to see each other as much as we did when we were younger. But she’s still the person I trust the most in the world- the one I’m 100% confident will always be there. Anyway, we were spending time together, and as we usually do, we talked- about everything. The conversation we had today made me want to cry- not because I was sad, but because I was relieved. Why you ask? Because she… gets me. I think that for most of us, the need to be understood is almost as urgent as the need to be loved. So having someone “get” you is a pretty big deal- and she does. She asked me about things, things that no one ever asks about. In the defense of everyone else, no one knows me quite like she does- so she pretty much always knows what to ask. But I’m getting off track- as usual.

We were having an interesting conversation about friends, which led me to some thoughts about levels of friendship, earning your status as a friend, as well as giving support to and receiving support from your friends. I’ve had similar conversations with my friend Nikki (@DarlingNiq on Twitter), so it’s been stuck in my head for a while. I just didn’t have the words to express the idea… but I do now.

I’ve always been an advice giver to my friends. Many of them look to me for an honest opinion and they care what I think. Because I know this, I shape my words very carefully when I’m talking to them. I tailor my advice, I try to make it as personal as possible. I feel like this is the least I can do, as a friend. I feel like the more careful and personal I am with the way I speak, the more they are sure that I am focused on them, and on our relationship. The more they know that I mean what I say, the more they can be sure that I am speaking from a place of love… even when I am saying something that they don’t necessarily want to hear. Sometimes, when you’re having a discussion, emotions run high- so I don’t always succeed in this. But I always try. Likewise, in other areas I feel like I try with all my heart and strength to give you what YOU need when YOU need it. In all honesty though, I don’t know if I feel like that care is returned. Let’s have an example…

I’m a bit of an independent, and I don’t usually ask for advice. But when I do, I expect it at the same level that I give it- because I believe in reciprocity. I believe that I’ve gone above and beyond to earn the badge of friendship- and I don’t think it’s wrong to expect a star effort if I’m giving one. Or at the very least, a star attempt. Sometimes, the advice I receive (from my friends) is impersonal and vague. How can this be, you ask? Well that’s what I’m wondering. They’re my friends- they know me- they… get me. Right? But maybe not. Because sometimes I get the coffee mug cliche advice- and it makes me sick to my stomach. I do have my own brand of spirituality, so I do believe in the power of speaking to God, and asking Him to show you the way. That having been said, if I ask for advice and all I get is, “you should pray on it,” I’m instantly angry. Now before you nail me to a stake, let me explain. I’m not angry because I don’t want to pray, nor am I angry because I don’t believe that prayer works. I’m angry because that’s not the advice I’m asking for- and you should know that. To me, that phrase is just a fancy way of saying that you have no fucking idea what I should do- and if you’re my friend, I’d rather you’d just be honest and say that. I’ll respect that. Let’s go again, shall we?

A lot of my friends are in relationships. My best cousin in a relationship; I have four very best friends and in our circle of five, I am the only one still single. Don’t worry, I’ve acknowledged and am working through my complex about that. But back to the point. I’ve noticed that sometimes when people are in relationships, the advice they give to single people is condescending and inappropriate. It’s almost as though every memory they have of their single life is filed away in a safe and they don’t have the combination. Don’t tell me to put myself out there more. What would you like? Me standing on the corner wearing a sandwich board that says, “Relationship Wanted. Inquire Within?” Don’t say that improving your social life helped you unless it actually did. Don’t tell me I’ll get him when my heart is ready to receive him because this is not a fucking Nicholas Sparks novel. And for goodness sakes- don’t tell me this is an opportunity to get to know myself. That advice will bring out the asshole in me and I will regale you with tales of my frequent masturbation. How’s that for knowing yourself? I know that there’s no magic fix to a single relationship status, but that’s not what I’m asking for. I’m not asking you to cry with me, or male bash with me. I’m asking YOU to tell me that you’re still here. I’m asking you to let me know that I’m never alone; that loneliness is temporary. I’m asking you to call me your friend- not your single friend.

This kind of advice breeds resentment and it alienates your friends. I know that there are relationships where I’ve been distancing myself because the reciprocity isn’t there anymore. The compassion isn’t there anymore. The personal element is lost. Friendship has become something we say, when it’ s supposed to be something we do as well. I know we think we’re being all deep and enlightened, but the truth is we’re being lazy. I’m a grown woman, and I don’t have time for fortune cookie advice.

I know I sound angry, but the topic has been building for a while. I think we get too damned comfortable and we stop earning the friendship badge. We forget to turn on our compassion and understanding for one another. We forget to put ourselves in each other’s shoes. We forget to reciprocate. I’ve tried to work at my friendships- to recognize their worth and seek to keep it. I think that’s what we all should do. My friends have a special place, specifically carved out for them, in my life. And I want a space too- in theirs. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with removing myself if I don’t get that.

I guess I just think you should be careful with your words. You should be honest with your words; if you’re giving advice to a friend, you should be personal with your words.  For most of us, the need to be understood is almost as urgent as the need to be loved.

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