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Many of the most important relationships we have and will have are our friendships. French author Anais Nin said, “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
Because of the amazing potential of friendship, it is important to step back and consider this often unexplored aspect of our lives. I invite you to consider your own friendship paradigm and how you can live with more intent in this critical area. Wikipedia defines friendship as: a relationship between two or more people who hold mutual affection for each other.
Understand your Current Framework
When I was a child, I believed in love ever after… with my friends.
I believed that when someone was my friend, they would always be my friend. The only thing to stop our friendships was one of us moving away, as my first and second best friends did. This was before the internet! That was the unconscious framework I held for many years.
It changed after a conversation with a grammar school friend when I was in my mid-twenties. I told her I was living in a house with my boyfriend and another couple. I felt her beaming on the other side of the phone. She had had serial boyfriends and I had not – he was in fact my first official boyfriend. I understood she had judged me negatively over the years and now I was part of the ‘clan’. There had never really been ‘mutual affection’ between us. Now that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, I saw the tangled strings attached to her affection over the years, and I cut them and her from my life. I formed my first conscious definition of friendship – a friend is someone who does not approve of you only when you behave the way they behave.
See friendship as a conscious choice based on mutual healthy self-disclosure.
Beverley Fehr, a University of Winnipeg sociologist and author of Friendship Processes, asserts: “The transition from acquaintanceship to friendship is typically characterized by an increase in both the breadth and depth of self-disclosure.”
Self-disclosure is an interesting word and means different things to each of us. What I consider depth is not often where others wish to venture. It is ‘going to the places that scare you’, as buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s book by that title states. A new world cannot be born if we and our friends remain in our known, familiar territory.
As I explored new inner worlds and expressed that externally, by moving where I wanted to live, being driven by my passion for writing, and living an openly spiritual life, I tapered off friendships that lacked breadth or depth. I was no longer willing to have repetitive conversations based on past experiences or unmet needs.
A second turning point was when I chose to study for my MFA. I had a good friend who could not accept my limited availability for a specific period of time, as it triggered a sense of abandonment she experienced when her mother left her to come to the US to work. I understood then that I could neither heal her wounds nor give up my dreams – that was not part of what friendship required. I trusted her to find her way as I found mine.
What is Your Friendship Paradigm?
In the very short Mitta Sutta, or discourse on friends, the Buddha tells his monks to seek out friends with seven qualities: “He gives what is hard to give. She does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. She reveals her secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, she doesn’t abandon you. When you’re down & out, he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.”
This framework speaks to self-disclosure and to mutuality, both keys to healthy, vibrant friendships. Using this framework doesn’t make my decisions easy, but it gives me a foundation strong enough to withstand the inevitable gales of delusion.
Take the time to decide what your friendship framework is and to release or strengthen your friendships based on your current needs. Friendships are essential to our well-being and do not, as I thought as a child, last forever.
Because of that, it is possible at times to find yourself in a ‘friend desert’. We have decided what we deserve, and have stopped engaging with friends who do not nurture our authenticity and courage. We are more often alone. Then the pain comes and we feel sad and lonely. We can then be tempted to sort through our contacts and start making excuses for friends’ behavior, giving them the kindness and love we deserve. We are disappointed once again.
Being Our Own Best Friend
And then… we stop. With an abiding, authentic sense of worthiness, we re-commit to spending time with our true selves and return to the inward journey of becoming comfortable with solitude. We learn about many kinds of relationships, including acquaintances, mentors, colleagues and FaceBook ‘friends’. We also watch out for those who do bring what we want, but do not practice mutuality. We discover we are our own best friend and, once the wave of hot loneliness has washed over us, we focus on embodying the seven qualities for ourselves. We enjoy our company when alone because we are infinite and vast and we hold the universe in our soul.