8.28.2012

On Friendship

Sometimes, people ask me what I think about stuff via email or Facebook or Twitter, and want advice. Sometimes, they make requests for blog posts. I don't always entertain them, but when I feel like there's something I can share about my perspective on life gained from my experiences that could help people, I try to share it. This is one of those.

I can point you to any number of essays, diatribes and bumper stickers that will tell you all about what a "real friend" is. My favorite summation: "Friends help you move; real friends help you move bodies."

That's not what this is. I'm not going to attempt to educate you on what a real friend is, because I've already done that in several other posts. Add to that the sheer volume of shit you'll get back if you Google "Real Friend" and I think there's really no need for me to write yet another opinion on what constitutes a real friend.

No, this is a little different. It's about a harsh realization that, if you haven't learned already, you will. It's one that everyone gets to learn, whether they like it or not. In fact, it's so harsh that there are people who have learned it but simply cannot believe it's true, so they refuse it. They make excuses for it, or attempt to hide from it, or otherwise delude themselves into believing it can't be true.

But it is, and it sucks... At first. And then, it becomes the single most wonderful thing you'll ever learn:
More than 90% of the people you know in your life -- and this includes your family -- are not really your friend. 
I don't mean to say this to depress you, and I'm not being a pessimist. In fact, the goal here is to actually make your life better, and ultimately make you happy. But to get there, we have to wade through the darkness, which in this case is the realization that the vast majority of people you call "friend" will watch you burn and not even piss on you to put you out.

You may be a popular person. You may be well liked and well thought of. You may have 200 or 2000 Facebook friends. But make no mistake: they're not actually your friends. You may have tons of kids in school that you're friendly with; they're not your friends, either. Liking someone is not friendship, it's liking them. Doing favors for someone does not mean you are their friend, it just means you like them enough to do favors for them.

You will figure this fact out the hard way. There is no other way, because this is a very, very hard fact of life to face. You won't want it to be true. In fact, as I said above, a lot of people can't believe it's true, so they go on pretending it's not. But it is.

The shortcuts to finding this fact out: go to jail and see who visits. Get cancer or become a serious kind of sick and see who helps out. Have your house burn down and need a place to stay. Attempt suicide and see who shows up to save your life. Become addicted to something and see who stands in your way and stops you. Say something you feel honestly that is terribly unpopular and see who stands behind you (not "in agreement with" -- real friends don't necessarily agree with everything you think or say, but they do love you enough to get your back when you're being attacked for being who you are, thinking what you think or feeling what you feel).

Of course, I really don't want you to have to go through these things in order to find out who it is in life you can truly trust -- it's compounding a terrible fact of life with a terrible event you have to deal with, and I really don't want you to have to go through something terrible. At the same time, I also really don't want you to build your life around the wrong kind of people; wobbly legs that hold your emotional table up so long as you don't put any weight on it.

More than once in my life, I've had to recalibrate my understanding of what friendship is. This year, in fact. And I suspect I'll have to at least a dozen times more before I pass. And let me tell you from first hand knowledge: it hurts to realize someone (or a group of someones, or most everyone you know) isn't really your friend, and it doesn't hurt any less with each iteration of figuring this out.

So here's where this all turns into a good thing.

You will go through a certain period of your life thinking you have all these friends, and some stuff's going to happen to you (or because of you) and they'll disappear. You're going to get into some trouble -- not necessarily that you've done something bad, but you'll need help. There will be people who you've talked to, opened up to, poured your heart out to, and when you need them most, they'll be gone.

"Where's the good thing, Joe?" you're wondering. Well, watch who sticks around. See who remains. There's the good thing. There's your friends. And if there's no one... You've discovered a very important fact, one that's even more important than recognizing who your real friends are:

YOU are your real friend.

Get to know yourself, and you'll begin realizing what it is you do and do not need from others. More importantly, you'll get to know what you will and will not tolerate in your life. Know that you can survive on your own. You don't NEED anyone to save you.

That said, don't go isolating yourself from humanity. Other people are valuable in life, when they're the right people. And there's the big trick: surround yourself with the right people. People who don't seek to gain from you, who don't want from you what you have, who don't need you to make them feel good. The flip side to that -- don't do that to other people. Don't tolerate it from yourself. That's how you build real friendships.

And when you find them, hold on to them for dear life.

I hope this helps.