After falling out (not for the first time) with a friend who lives far away in a place I’ve never seen, I was pondering the mysteries of friendship. Some people are easier to get along with than others, and it helps when they’re not busy and stressed… but I often wonder if I’m communicating the right things in the right way to the right people, and if my expectations are reasonable or the reverse.
I suppose communication styles and friendships are as individual as people are, and all you can really do is communicate in a way that feels right to you, and hope to connect with someone who has a similar outlook.
I decided to search Google for ‘maintaining friendships’, and the following were the most common tips and cautions:
(1) Be a good listener — prove you have heard by responding thoughtfully and in detail.
(2) There should be some give and take — we don’t want a situation where one friend makes all the plans, starts all the conversations and does all the listening.
(3) Communicate frequently (short but regular emails etc).
(4) Be supportive of your friend’s stance unless he/she is really about to land in trouble; avoid judging and moralizing.
(5) Be honest and genuine — preferably in a pleasant and tactful way!
I never understood people who request ‘brutal honesty’ about their cooking, artwork or whatever… I like honesty, but never brutal. Perhaps such a request is just a polite way of making people feel they don’t need to worry about commenting less than positively… but actually, we do need to do that tactfully.
Being ‘genuine’ includes feeling relaxed and ‘yourself’ in someone else’s company… if you feel you’re constantly on your guard and having to maintain a persona, then that’s not a good friendship to be in.
(6) If someone has a tendency to be hurtful, explosive and unpredictable (to your damage), or leaves most of the effort to you, it is most likely time to move on. But consider whether you’ve given the other person enough of a chance, and whether he/she might be going through a bad time just now — perhaps a bad time that you haven’t been told about. Not everyone communicates the same way, and it can be particularly tricky by email. Some people communicate naturally and well by email, but others don’t see it as a valid way to talk.
(7) Humour is good, and can save a situation from spiralling out of control.
Actually it was me who added Tip 7! Humour as a resource doesn’t seem to surface much in the other lists I’ve read, except (a) as a defensive barrier — it can be frustrating if you feel you’re not seeing the real person, or that you’re not being taken seriously… or (b) as something potentially destructive (sarcasm, thoughtless teasing etc).
This is already on the list, but is important enough to explore: real friends feel ‘at home’ with each other. The other day I found myself emailing a friend I always felt comfortable with… not the one I fell out with, but one I’ve not seen for years as we don’t live in the same country any more. I took it into my head to describe the room I was sitting in, just as it was… saggy curtains, CDs sitting around, an old and out-of-date TV that isn’t used much, computers still on the desk that aren’t even operating. The wallpaper came from a time when I was younger and more enthusiastic; those feelings are all locked up in it. It was something to giggle over or relate to… better than trying to come across as perfect and organized when we both knew that wasn’t me.
There were some singular pieces of advice here and there on the internet. I particularly liked one about how people on the edge of the crowd are likely to be the most loyal, down-to-earth and constant friends. They will have more time for you than someone who is very popular and busy. I’ve generally found that to be true.
Arguments, also, are not to be feared (unless someone is constantly browbeating you). I never sought out arguments, but at the same time never felt that a friend was here to stay until we’d rowed about something and survived it! If the friends we’re with tend to see a row as a reason for them to give their side of it but not hear yours, and especially if they see an argument as an automatic end to the relationship… well, we can find better friends; ones who don’t keep us walking on eggshells.
Do any of you have ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s you would add to that list? How do you keep your friends, even if they live far away, and in what circumstances do you decide to move on?