Friends are one of the most significant things you can have in your life. For many, friends are even more important than family. I’ve heard it said that “friends are the family you choose for yourself” and I believe that to be true. In many ways it’ll be even more applicable to you because you’re an only child. You have no peers genetically linked to you. I know there lots of siblings that don’t get along, but at the very least, I always saw siblings as a built-in ally, if not a best friend. Even if they don’t see eye to eye, for the most part, siblings have each others backs. From having someone to talk to in the back seat of the car to weathering the burden of aging parents, people with brothers and sisters aren’t alone. Whether the relationship is cultivated or not is up to the individual. My sickness robbed you of a sibling so your friends will be especially important to you. Your dad and I will do all we can to make sure you aren’t lonely. As an only child myself I always had friends around. Granny and Granddad went out of their way to include my pals as much as possible. I went on a trip with a friend (or friends) every year in high school. Parties were often at our house and my girlfriends had an annual weekend at the cottage for almost a decade. My parents made a real effort to know my circle and to make sure to include them as much as possible. As a result my friends remain close to my family today. I’m hoping to cultivate that same environment for you. I just bought a new car and the question arose of why I would need a third row of seats when there only 3 people in our family. It’s for your friends. I want there always to be room for them in our lives. I want them to feel as welcome at our house as my group always was at mine.
Right now Dad and I are your best friends. You tell us everything and want to be with us as much as possible. And as much as my heart hurts to know it won’t always be like that, it’s an important step in growing up for your parents to be usurped by your friends in order of importance. So, knowing it’s coming (sniff) here’s my advice. I want you to have killer friends and the only way you get that is by being one yourself.
To make friends you have to do two things:
1, BE YOURSELF– you can’t make real friends without putting your real self out there. People have to know you to befriend you. Don’t change to try and fit in. If you have to change, those aren’t the right people for you. You don’t have to be the same as everyone – lots of friendships are based in similarities but solidified by differences – you just have to stay true to yourself and the right people will find you.
2, CARE WHO THE OTHER PERSON IS – When I was little granny tacked a piece of birch bark on my wall that said, “You can make more friends in 3 days by being genuinely interested in other people than you can in 3 years by trying to make other people genuinely interested in you.” Take the time to listen and really understand people. You are incredibly interesting but so are others. I’ve alway been a devoted friend, but when I was younger I was preoccupied with how I was perceived. I wanted so much to be “cool”, to be “accepted”. That’s pretty normal teenage behavior – self absorption and the need to fit in – but it’s not something I’m particularly proud of. What I am proud of though, is that I had, and continue to have, great friends. I cared about them and they knew it. I hope they still do. I also took the opportunity to be friends with a number of different kinds of people and that was a smart choice.
Here’s the thing, I’ve always felt that cliques had a bad rap. Some people click. Others don’t. Essentially a clique is just a group of people that get along better than others. It only is classified as a clique when the folks involved are “cool”. A bunch of kids that let’s say, love D&D, and hang out with each other exclusively would not be considered a clique and yet, technically, they are. I think cliques are only bad when others are excluded maliciously. Exclusion itself happens organically. People with similar interests tend to hang with each other. That’s just how it is.
You will, in all likelihood, end up in some sort of clique. You’re a boy so they’ll call it a “group”. Enjoy it. It’s nice being part of a pack. I myself was part of a group internally dubbed SITC (after a game played on the original 90210 called Skeletons in the Closet, not after the popular TV show that took over my early 20’s called Sex in the City, though that’s not so far off) To this day, those girls remain some of my closest friends. At this point we’re more like family than friends, our knowledge of each other is so deep. We accept each others shortcomings as fact and have a vernacular that only comes from 25 years of friendship. Our relationships within the group – who’s closer to whom, who drives who crazy, who we’re worried about – changes from year to year. It’s a constantly evolving relationship. So, if I were to say “don’t be cliquey” I’d be a hypocrite and, I think I’d be advising you wrong. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a crowd where you feel you belong – whether there are 3 of you or 13 – respect and cultivate those relationships. They can be a huge source of strength for you throughout your life. When I was diagnosed, the first person I called was one of my girls. The one I knew wouldn’t cry. I gave her the facts and she relayed them to the rest of the group. She had exactly the right attitude to keep me from breaking down. Once I’d learned to handle the idea of being sick, I could then talk to the others without tears. To this day I wear the Tiffany’s bracelet they got for me (coordinating in 3 separate countries) to let me know they were there. It makes my medical alert look much more tolerable.
There’s a real intrinsic value in being part of a group, should you be blessed enough to find a good one, but I would also advise you not to segregate or limit yourself to only those people. I was a joiner. The member of lots of teams and clubs so I took full advantage of mixing it up in the friendship department. I also went to camp and some of my dearest friends are still from those summers. I’d encourage you to branch out. Try not to get too caught up in who’s cool or not cool. If you’re not traditionally cool don’t write off the cool kids and vice versa. There are so many interesting people out there. I have a number of friends who, at first glance, I have little in common with and yet we adore each other. Their perspective is different. Their humor is divine. They give me insight I wouldn’t otherwise have and I’m a better and more well rounded for having them in my life. But keep in mind, with friends in different circles it’s very important that you stay consistent. If you make an untraditional friend, remain his, or her, friend no matter the circumstance. Your friendship should not be contingent on environment.
Friendship is also not perfect. Like any good relationship, it has it’s ups and downs. When I started a new school in Grade 6, I was accepted right away by a girl who was, for all intents and purposes, the leader of the grade. She took me under her wing and introduced me to a whole new world. One day in late spring our group went to an event called May Fair (a small local fair with a BIG social element if you’re 11-17). I arrived at her house in flowered boxer shorts and a bright fushia t-shirt (1987, lest you judge) and all the other girls were wearing cut off jeans and white shirts. That may not sound like a big deal, but for the 10-year-old new girl it felt like the end of the world. When my friend realized my discomfort she immediately went upstairs and cut a pair of her jeans for me to wear. She cut her jeans for me. I have no idea what her parents thought, but I’ll never forget that kindness. 2 years later, that same friend and I had a falling out and she ostracized me. The power she had used to bring me in, she used to cast me out. I would talk and she would pretend she couldn’t hear me. What was worse is that the whole group went along with it. I fought and cried and rallied against it, to no avail. No one would talk to me. I was dead to them. (For the record, girls can be a lot tougher than boys in the mind game department – kinda glad you can avoid that) So, I dried my tears and, for the second half of the year, I got another set of friends. There was talk of Granny and Granddad pulling me from the school because I was so miserable, but I knew that was the wrong choice. I had to learn, if not accept, how to deal with the problem, and getting new friends was the first step to that.
The thing is, once I accepted it, it mattered less and less, and eventually it didn’t really affect me anymore. People only have power over you if you let them. That’s a hard thing to see when you’re in the middle of something, but still a good thing to know in the back of your head. Friendship shouldn’t be hard just as love shouldn’t be pain. Sometimes you just gotta let go. As it turned out, once I was over it, it was over. In the summer between Grade 8 and 9, my old friend called to apologize for treating me so badly. It was a nice call to get. One I had dreamed about getting all fall, but by August mattered much less. When we got back to school – High School – no one person seemed to have the power anymore. New girls came in and I met the person who would be my best friend and closest ally for the next 8 years. We too eventually had a falling out and coming back together. Life is like that. Don’t write off a friendship because of a fight. Sometimes you need time or space to grow. Sometimes it’s just over. That’s ok too. Not all friendships make it. Not all are supposed to.
For the record, that jean short cutting friend/Grade 8 nemesis is now your God Mother so…you just never know.
What I learned in that year though, is that you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. Friends can let you down. They can disappoint you. And though I ultimately ended up back with my old group, I knew I had to remain branched out. You might ask yourself, why did I go back? Why after being ignored by this group of girls for a year did I return to them? Why didn’t I continue to hang with the group that accepted me when I was an outcast? I just think it was an organic swinging of the pendulum. I’m not sure if there’s a lesson to be gleaned from my experience other than to be open and kind to people always. Things have a way of working themselves out.
Now, because I made a lot of dear friends early, I have few close friends from University or Grad School. There were plenty of great people I hung out with, but as far as retaining those relationships long term, it didn’t really happen. My dance card was full. I have a couple great pals from my days in New York but I don’t get to see them enough. You might find the opposite. Your close friendships might occur after your childhood/teenage years. Your Dad lived all around the world as a kid so most of his tightest bonds (with a couple notable exceptions) are from his adult years. There’s something special about old friends – who know your family, where you come from and who you were – but there is also something exceptional about the friends you make as an adult, as the person you are, not the person you’re perceived to be. Adult friends are, in some ways, less complicated. As time goes by you make less friends because you need less friends. Friendship takes time and commitment and as adults we don’t have a lot of either. So if you connect with someone as a grown up it’s really special. You’ve chosen that person because they truly add to your life. They accept you for the person you are without the shadow of the person you were.
Finally, as I’ve said before in my letter about Technology, you live in a socially networked world. Please don’t judge yourself on the amount of friends or followers you have on line. In my opinion, no one needs 500 friends. It’s too much work. However, you can sometimes reconnect with or get to know people you wouldn’t have otherwise using technology. It’s a brave new world for that. Acquaintances I had earlier in life have become friends on line. Sometimes the get to know you phase is simpler without the pressure of getting together. It’s often easier to share your feelings in the cyber world within the protection of a well crafted email or note. I know things about people that I’m not sure they would have told me had we been speaking in person. You can be more open on line. Plus, you can edit what you’ve said before you send it, a luxury so many of us wish that we had in real conversations. Finally you can be friends with people who aren’t in your day to day life. I can retain my friendships with people all over the world by remaining part of their lives on line. So when we see each other it’s not like we lost track. We can just pick up where we left off. And isn’t that, in itself, the definition of a good friendship?
Choose your friends wisely. Don’t cultivate relationships with people who are petty or cruel. Remember, if you can’t trust someone it isn’t real. Be the kind of friend you’d like to have and let people know how much they mean to you. Be loyal and forgiving. Everyone wants to be liked and accepted and ultimately everyone makes mistakes. Find common ground and build on it. Because friendships will carry you through life. They will be the life raft to your drowning man and champagne that launches your boat.
Never underestimate the power of a true friend.
Your best friend always,