I’ve been feeling the need to write something here in the past couple of days, but I’m apparently horrid at keeping up with my intention to post more frequently. Some of it is laziness; some is a lack of motivation; some is a lack of a good topic; some is time constraints. There are probably a scattering of other reasons. So, because a very dear friend of mine is supportive and encouraging of my writing, I shall write something that touches on her, but that is more general in scope. I will offer some thoughts on friendship, starting without much of a plan and seeing where it goes. Only time will tell if it’s coherent, or if the end has anything to do with the beginning.
I am not the type of guy who has lots of friends. I’m not a social butterfly, and I tend to keep to myself. And I’m also not the type of guy to maintain contact with someone who gives no sign that such contact is appreciated or wanted. I like to have friends that reciprocate, that don’t think I take friendship lightly, that understand that few good friends are more important to me than many casual ones. These are kind of critical for understanding my viewpoints, and so I mention them here.
There are different types of friendship that I’ve recognised over the years. There’s a fairly wide–but simple–spectrum of them. They range from the “nodding acquaintance” through to the intense BFF type. Some of the other major types that I can identify include: casual, school, work, shared-interest, good, dear, romantic, genetic, particular, best, and variations on the themes.
A nodding acquaintance is really anyone you’ve met. You know them and don’t dislike them, so you’ll say “hi” in the store, and maybe have a brief chat if you’re not rushed. There’s really not much “there” there, in that kind of friendship. A casual friend takes that a step further: you might have a coffee and talk sports with them; Facebook friends would fall into this category. These two type of “friends” are crucial, in my opinion, to be able to function in society, and I think they form the bulk of our human networks and interactions, even for people who are less than picky about their friends.
The next grouping in terms of closeness of friendship includes the work/school friends and the shared-interest friends. There are additional levels of connection involved, and they are also fairly critical in operating in society. School and work friends are just variations on a theme, and they are sometimes the same people. These are the friends you make in those environments, but where the friendship does not often extend beyond the school campus or the workplace (nor might you want that to be the case). Politics and news might form some of the discussions between such parties. Shared-interest friends are similar, in that you acquire them by doing activities or pursuits that interest you (and them). All three cases provide a basis to expand and grow a friendship, but only a very small percentage will follow that path. Friends in this group may also change regularly, due to things like changes in interests, disputes, moving, and so on.
The next grouping is definitely more close. Good friends and dear friends are similar. Good friends have regular interaction and do things together. Conversations can be far-reaching and intense, and there is a mental rapport that is often reflected in shared views on various topics. There are generally more shared experiences. A dear friend also follows this, but I believe there to be a stronger emotional component. Genetic friends are relatives that you particularly enjoy spending time with or talking to, beyond what might be expected of family. A particular friend is almost an archaic usage, but it pops up from time to time. These I would define as a dear friend, but with a physical bond. This might extend into a friends-with-benefits case, but it doesn’t have to. I would also tend to include friends with benefits/booty call friends in this general grouping, though I’m not sure I should, primarily because I’m not sure the “friend” part of the equation is strong enough. And friends from this grouping often develop into love connections, romantically or platonically.
The final grouping is the most intense. Romantic friends and best friends. It is not unreasonable to apply “soul mates” to either of these two categories, depending on circumstances. Boyfriend/girlfriend/lover/spouse…all are sides of the romantic friend die. These tend to be humanity’s most-intense friendships, not least because of the love/sex bond that forms. Romantic friends can also be best friends, but I think there can be situations where that is not the case, unless one allows the possibility of having multiple “bests”. In both romantic friends and best friends cases, the parties involved have a much deeper personal connection than in other friendships, and are much, much more at ease with each other than with pretty much any other people they know. These types of friendships tend to have fewer boundaries, and they also tend to be more resilient from the shocks of negative experiences. Such friendships can be broken, but the emotional trauma tends to be quite large. And such friendships have the potential to last a lifetime, juvenile BFF proclamations notwithstanding.
I have had only a few notable friends across the years of my life thus far. But I haven’t had more than a double handful of what I would call good friends in my 40-plus years. Unfortunately, I don’t remember some of them, as I was quite young, and end up having to recall them from pictures—badly. And I should point out that I generally have an easier time getting along with women than men, but most of my good friends have been male.
I really don’t remember the friends I had before I started school, not really. I had a couple of friends early on. One of them lasted until he graduated university (I stuck around there a bit longer than he did) and I left the Church. We just ended up going separate ways, and I think we were both equally responsible there. The other early friends I had didn’t really last more than a few years at school, largely because our interests diverged. I think there might also have been some jealousy in one case that involved me getting into a special program that he had not. Throughout elementary school, I had a few other friends besides this “best” friend, and not all of them were in my school. I had some neighbourhood friends that I lost after moving; we played outside constantly all the time, and even did recreational sports stuff together. There were mostly boys, but a few girls kept up. After moving, a different set of neighbourhood friends appeared, but only one had any type of staying power, and that largely ended with us both in high school. I don’t really know why. I only had one or two failed attempts at romantic friends, during the elementary years, once I realised how interesting girls really were.
The slate of friends sort of changed in high school, as my best friend ended up being among the popular kids, with me the faithful puppy dog hoping for table scraps. But he always had time for me. Others came and went in his orbit. My first girlfriend actually dated him first, but they didn’t last very long for some reason (I didn’t think of it at the time, but I’ve long since suspected that he’s actually gay). High school was peppered with a bunch of people I might label as friends of the “good” type, but they were never really that good. None of them really lasted beyond university, and most not even that far. Even my girlfriend and I split up before we graduated, though we were always friendly. But as time went on, even my best friend and I drifted apart. I also had some outside interests in this period that gave me a different group of casual friends through another good friend at the time, probably my “second-best” friend. He and I were schoolmates in high school, but we also shared an interest in the military and aircraft, so we were in Air Cadets together for the two years I participated. He kept on with it and had a 20-year career in the Canadian Forces as a reconnaissance pilot. I had lost contact with him after he left Royal Military College, and only recently reconnected via the wonders of Facebook. We’ve both changed, both loved and lost, but the changes knock us back into casual friends, rather than good ones.
University was a new environment. It was chock-full of casual and school friends. Few of them stuck. My best friend found a new best friend, and they retained their faith in religion, while I lost mine. They became teachers, and I decided teaching wasn’t for me. It’s hard to fight against that, and when they stopped trying, so did I. I did, however, find my second girlfriend (and first lover) during this time. We got along really well, in addition to being kinda bonkers for each other. Because pre-marital sex was kind of taboo among my friends, that certainly didn’t help in me staying around them. Plus, one of the group hit on my girlfriend kind of aggressively (which she told me about after the fact), and that also discouraged me, because the person was defended when I mentioned it. This group of friends stayed more or less intact for a few years after university, but then stupidity on my part and lack of interest on theirs just basically cut me off from them. I had a bit of despondency about it, but I eventually got over it. One of them reconnected with me on Facebook when I joined, but I see now that they and I are just too different these days.
The remainder of my time in Saskatoon was floating between jobs. I never really found good friends that stuck around. I came close twice (I think that was all), but in one case the interest seemed not to be maintained from one side (I think his wife didn’t like me much), and in the other, she moved away just as things seemed like they might develop more closeness. I also, towards the end of my university career, found my third girlfriend (and second lover). She ended up taking over the role of best friend, as well as my romantic friend. We were largely inseparable, until I started going into field work, and we talked for hours every day. With her around, I didn’t feel much need for other friends anyway, so the lack of them didn’t bother me much. We ended up with a very complicated relationship, but it survived in some form or another for over 15 years. And the last three years have been me trying to distance myself from the pain she’s caused me.
Since moving to Calgary, I haven’t developed friends outside of work, except perhaps for ones I used to work with but now no longer do. In only a small number of cases have I really found someone with whom I would associate outside of work. Unfortunately, only a couple of them have persisted, though in one case, the friend moved to Montreal area to be closer to his wife’s family, so the distance between us as people can’t be faulted. But few relationships have persisted beyond me leaving a company or they leaving it. I can, at present, count only a handful who are more than Facebook friends, if that. And I try to keep them up, but without reciprocation, it’s almost impossible for me to maintain something one-sided. Nor am I inclined to maintain contact where there is no interest in such. But I have a few friends now that I would call really good friends, even though they have demands on their time that reduce what time I an spend with them, and I’m OK with that.
Through all of this, I also had one pretty good family friend: my cousin. He and I and my one sister were fast friends when younger, always wanting to hang out and do stuff. We used to visit regularly, if not frequently, because our mothers are quite close. And our friendship has lasted through our lives, though he is much more concerned with his family and circumstances and his own interests, naturally. That he lives in Ottawa does not help, but we try to keep in contact. But family bonds allow these to take precedence without damaging the friendship itself.
Then there is this one friend at work that I really want to get to know a lot better than I do. We have an amazing working relationship, and I find her attractive and funny and interesting, and I would like us to be so much more. But, it’s complicated, and I’m scared of putting a foot horribly wrong.
And then I have my current best friend. My highly-improbable, wonderful best friend, whom I cherish deeply. Over the past nine months, I have become as close a friend with her as I could imagine–and which I couldn’t have conceived of when I met her the first time. She fills a need in my life I hadn’t truly realised was there until she stepped in to fulfil it. The topics we discuss are wide-reaching, and many go deep into our respective psyches/souls, sharing our pain and confusion, hopes and dreams, desires and foibles, thoughts and feelings, anger and fears, ideas and creativity, and many other things. Our boundaries seem only to be honesty, support, encouragement, and privacy. And not being a total ass. So far, she seems to be (scheduling issues notwithstanding) pretty much everything I had ever wanted in a best friend, but which had been missing in previous such relationships. This makes her special to me in a way that’s hard for me to describe fully, but it does have me wanting her to be my BFF, as corny and juvenile as it sounds, because I think that without her as my friend, my life would seem rather…barren. But it really is quite nice having someone know all my secrets and still liking me and trusting me and willing to share with me in the same way. She can satisfy my curiosity about her, and in the same sentence, create a new and deeper curiosity that needs fulfilling. I was worried about sharing some things with her, but the more I tell her, the more I want to tell her–something that both scares and thrills me. And yet, I feel completely comfortable with her in a way that I haven’t felt in years, perhaps ever. And because of her, I think I have a truer understanding of friendship than I have ever had before by showing me what it can truly be, and not coincidentally, giving me a truer understanding and acceptance of myself in the process. And the only way I can really thank her is by being the best friend for her that I can be and being there when she needs me. Though I wonder what any future romantic friend might think of that…
I have no idea how I was going to wrap this up. I’ve had a night’s sleep and a mid-writing nap since starting this, so I probably forgot. I’m pretty sure I covered all the high points, but I have no idea what my conclusions were going to be. So I’ll just say something trite: there many types and levels of friendships, and everyone should have friends. Friends are awesome, and best friends even more so. And I wish I could read minds at will. Wait, what?