Thursday, January 29, 2004

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a good friend. There are a lot of obvious things to say about the subject. Good friends listen when you need them to. They make you smile when you need to smile. They’ll cry with you when you’re suffering. The bottom line of it is that good friends know you well enough to know when you need which response. That’s what being a good friend is all about.

I’ve very rarely been a good friend to anyone. Not because I didn’t want to be a good friend, but because circumstance and personality differences made it impossible for me to be one. Good friends have to have some basic understanding of each other’s deepest identity that, for the vast majority of people, it’s simply impossible to attain.

It is perfectly possible, in other words, to be a good neighbor to someone without being their good friend. It’s perfectly possible that I treat someone very well, that I love them even, without being a good friend to them. And most of my relationships in life have been that way.

I am a basically good person, with some really glaring faults. But very few people would accuse me of being mean, or purposely hurtful, even to people I don’t like. Last weekend I told someone off at a party, and I think, it was actually the first time that I’d ever done it in my entire life. It was evidence of how deeply jarred my personality is right now. But it was so exceptional that it prompted a friend to ask me if maybe I wasn’t getting mentally ill. Not in a bitchy way or anything. But in earnest, because that’s the sort of thing I’d never ever do.

So in short, I’m usually a very patient sort. And I really want people to be happy. And I usually try to govern my behavior with that goal in mind. If someone needs a friend, I try to be that friend; even when it’s hard for me to do. Even when it means going against the crowd, or taking a little personal humiliation. But nevertheless, the fact remains that I’ve been a good friend to very few people. I don’t have any sort of intimacy with very many people at all.

I’ve learned to accept over the years, and particularly recently, the fact that I will really become close to very few people over time. There are a lot of good times that I can share with a lot of people. I will love a lot of people, and I will care about so many more than I really love, but that won’t mean that we’re really good friends; that is to say, that we share an unshakable bond.

There are a few friendships that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about how certain people have really added to my life; how they’ve made me a better person just by being who they are.

And I’ve been thinking about certain other friendships, which haven’t really added anything positive to my life at all. It’s my natural tendency to blame myself for that fact. And, in fact, some of these friendships are the friendships most dear to me. These are friendships that I can’t imagine losing; friendships that it hurts me to know that they will someday fade. They’re almost like friendships I never had, that I’m sorry for having missed.

Right now I’m thinking about how lucky I am to know such really awesome people. I haven’t always been so lucky, and I know it’s a great mercy that I should be so fortunate now. I need to get better at telling people how fond I am of them, and how much I appreciate them. I need to get better at letting people see who I really am; better at trusting that, once they’ve seen, they’ll still love me anyway. Because that's what good friends do. And I know that, even though I'm not always a very good friend to everyone, I can still count to my side a few people who are truly good friends to me.