On Friendships

I am thinking about two different themes in this post. How do you, or does one, determine if a person is a friend? And then I also wonder, how do we help our children and young people determine or distinguish about types of friends?

And here is another question, can the category of BFF (Best Friends Forever) be determined in the first months of friendship, or is it something one can determine, only after years of solid history, looking back from the other end of time? Being someone’s BFF can be a lot of pressure.

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The best compliment anyone every gave me as a friend, came many years ago, more years than I want to count. They said that I was very accepting as a friend; that I did not judge them, but accepted them as they were. I liked hearing that, and tried to be that person to the best of my ability. My ability has not always lived up to the ideal described by my friend (what was his name?) so many years ago. See what I mean? I can be very “out of sight, out of mind.”

In addition to that, I procrastinate, and live with the “shoulds.” I should give “so and so a call,” but maybe later. Later, turns into much later until I am embarrassed. As I recently said to a friend of over 40 years, “Well, the phone does work both ways.” I really wish I hadn’t said that. It was immature and even if it is a truth, it does not excuse my failure to call a good friend with whom I have a long term shared history.

Oddly enough, Facebook has helped me to see the need to think about different types of friendly relationships. I think Facebook’s categories are useful, (Friend, Close Friend, Acquaintance and Unfriend), but I also think that is a starting place. To them I would add the following:

FRIENDS FOR A SEASON: I met Gloria in Spanish class at the then, Pensacola Junior College, when I was a lonely and confused Navy wife in Pensacola, Florida. She was also a Navy wife and our husbands were not in Pensacola. She taught me so much, made me laugh and cry. She was Lutheran and I was Catholic and we went to church with each other and bemoaned not being able to take communion in each other’s churches. We spent some real quality time together, but lost touch after I moved way. I am still grateful for her and miss her, but it was a relationship for a season.

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WORK FRIENDS (Colleagues) I am an itinerant pastor, which means I go where the Bishop sends me for as long as I am sent. It is part of my ordination vows, and something I knew going into the process. I live and serve in a defined geographic area (Central Pennsylvania ~ from the Maryland Line to the New York border). It is not unusual for our moves to create a crisscross pattern, like a team building exercise where a group tosses a ball of yarn back and forth, creating an acrylic web. In the process, I have had some colleagues that fit all of Facebooks’ criteria, but that has also made me think of other criteria as well.

CONFIDANTS That is not a noun I use very often, but, ask yourself this question. Out of all the people you connect with in your life, especially if you are the gregarious, extrovert type of person, how many of them do you trust with your most personal thoughts, experiences, hopes and dreams? As far as I know I have never been burned in this area, but I know people who have been very hurt by a failure to be trustworthy.

I think for many of us at least this is, and probably should be, a very small number, compared to all of the other people who we relate to in various capacities. Twice in twenty years, I responded to a colleague’s question by saying, ‘We do not know each other well enough for you to ask that, or for me to answer.”

I read somewhere that there is a limit to the number of sustainable friendships a person can manage. That makes sense to me. While one can have a lot of acquaintances (should they be forgotten?) close friendships require an investment of time and the development of history. I am not talking about those relationships that are sometimes, truthfully or callously referred to as “high maintenance.”

PROFESSIONAL FRIENDS (Mentors, mentees and others.) Not splitting hairs, but I see this category as a little different than work friends. When I was going through my process toward ordination, I had several very good mentors. At the time we worked together they seemed like friends, and I suppose they were. But our friendship and relationship had time and content boundaries. When that stage was over, and it was a relationship that was assigned by our supervisor (District Superintendent), it was time to move on to the next phase and the next mentor.

Pastors are in a slightly different situation than other professionals, like doctors or counselors. For instance I have had many people say to me in recent years, “You are not just our pastor, you are our friend.” Pastors are, hopefully human, and we are expected to have good boundaries and we are expected to love the people we pastor. We are also expected to move on at the end of our time, and that makes the ‘pastor/friend’ category somewhat challenging.

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FRIENDS YOU LEAVE BEHIND:

Every move that I made as an appointed pastor, I cried the first two weeks in the new place, not because anyone was mean or unkind, but simply grieving the loss of the previous relationships. It was a little bit like housekeeping for the heart, making space in my heart for the new flock, meant setting aside the prior relationships. Not ceasing to love them but ceasing to relate to them for the most part. When I retired, I cried. A lot.

FRIENDS WHO ARE LIKE FAMILY: My brother whom I love, is only six years older than I, but I lived almost half my life in a place he never lived. We have seen each other through the toughest of times. I cherish our relationship. For most of our adult lives we have lived at opposite ends of the country. While that relationship is important to me, I am also very grateful for friends who are like family. Friends I did not grow up with or even know in the first half of my life. But they are a present and ongoing part of my life, work and daily experience. Every time I pray, I give thanks to God for family and friends who nurture and enrich my life.

BLOGGING FRIENDS: A new category! Strictly speaking I have only been blogging since just before Christmas, 2019, although I have been writing for years. I realize that it may seem premature to label the connections I have made with other bloggers as “friendships.” Yet, while these women and men are unknown to me personally, having read their thoughts and experiences and their having read some of my most personal and formational stories, provides an interesting sense of connection. I am grateful for their feedback on my writing and stories. Perhaps because writers need to be readers, and bloggers especially, need to read other bloggers, a new depth and richness has been added to my experience of writing and to my life.

PIVOTING TO AN EXTENSION OF FRIENDSHIP:

Even for all of the categories and types of friendship I have described, I have probably just scratched the surface and that is part of my argument against an early declaration of someone as a BFF. I am not, however, arguing against close friendships; I think that we need them. Further, I think that close, trusted friendships are part of our mental health and are genuinely good for society.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

I do want to suggest before closing though, that the best qualities of friendship can be part of healing the world. We do not have to be friends with someone in order to treat them with respect, honor and kindness. We do not even have to agree with them politically, religiously or otherwise. When I shop, I try to engage the cashier in a brief conversation, ask about their day and how they are being treated during the busiest seasons. I admit to having favorite cashiers, but I never mistake those relationships for friendships. Just simple humanity. A simple opportunity to help make someone’s day better, because it can affect everything that follows.

CALLED TO KINDNESS: My friend Donna says that she sees herself as “Called to Kindness,” during this Pandemic especially. She says that it is not that she is trying to impose that on others, but it defines her understanding of who she is called to be, especially now. There was a movement a few years back, perhaps more than a few years, encouraging people to practice “Random Acts of Kindness” I think now, we need more than Random Acts, but Intentional and Frequent Acts of Kindness. It can make such a difference and it is not superficial. Kindness won’t cure illness or disease, but it undergirds compassion. It seems to me that kindness and compassion ought to be the middle names of a group of people known as humankind. Kindness fueled by compassion and simple respect can be part of healing the world. I.M.O.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Published by msomerville2014

About: Michele Somerville is a wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She lives with her husband and their dog Sheba. Sheba is their fourth rescue dog in 30 years. She is a retired ordained United Methodist Elder and serves two churches part-time in North Central Pennsylvania. She obtained her Bachelors’ Degree in 1999 from Mansfield University and her Master of Divinity in 2004 and Doctor of Ministry in 2016, both from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. My Doctor of Ministry Thesis was:” Prophetic Words of Grace: Biblical Storytelling in the Local Church.” Michele began writing and performing character monologues for worship in 2008. She began by asking the question about nameless characters in the Bible, “What would they say if they could speak for themselves?” and then using her theological education and experience of the human condition to attempt an answer that is both academic and creative. Much of what you will read here are memories from growing up in a tourist town, in a bar, in the 1960’s, shaggy dog stories about our rescue dogs, life in a small town, and stories of faith and hope. Throughout her life she has lived in many states, including small towns, large towns and cities. She lived in Rota, Spain, for nine challenging months. Despite all the places she have lived since moving away from home in 1970,Michele is at the heart of all things Jack and Maggie’s daughter, and a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts.

27 thoughts on “On Friendships

  1. As a former high school teacher, I had many students who considered me their “friend” but I had to be careful to NOT be their friend, at least while I had them in class. There is a difference, as I am sure you know, between being kind, compassionate, and friendly, and being a friend. Now that I am retired, I am FB friends with many former students.

    When I first began blogging, I was surprised that I began thinking of readers as friends but you are exactly right. We do write about very personal issues and discuss them in the comments., My children read my blog, I think, to learn more about what makes me tick. Thanks for making me think, Michele. I really enjoyed reading this post on friendship!

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    1. Thank you Laurie. I often think of the title of a Dr. Seuss book, “O the Thinks you can Think” I often wanted to use that as a title for theology papers in seminary, but wasn’t sure that my prof would see the humor in it or the reality. I once got called out by a history prof in community college for including a pun in a paper about President McKinley. Maybe it was just a bad pun.Blessings, Michele

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  2. I enjoyed this read. As a kid, we moved around every couple of years so I didn’t really form deep friendships – they were more friends for seasons or reasons. These days I have a lot of people I call friends, many of which I’ve met through blogging, some from when we lived in Sydney, none from school and none from uni. I work from home so it’s difficult to meet new people where we now live, although we do have enough of a social circle to keep us occupied. As for trusted friends? I can count them on one hand. All of them live away from me, and that’s okay. #MLSTL

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  3. Hi Michele, I agree that there are many forms of friendships and the blogging friendships I’ve formed over the last 5 years are treasured. I am probably the friend who always calls and is there when needed – that is just my way. Although sometimes it is nice to feel it is reciprocated. My friendships are not great in number but a great in quality. I have my running friends who are my Saturday Sisters. We have been running together for about 12 years now and each Saturday (before COVID-19) we run and solve the problems of the world. I’m also fortunate to have the friendship of my daughter which is a special bond. I’m always saddened when there are friendships for a season but that is part of life isn’t it? Great to have you join us at #MLSTL and have a lovely week. x

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  4. I can very much relate to this and the different friendships we have over our lives. I’m still friends with many of my school friends (though we finished high school about 35 years ago). We see each other only rarely but when we do it’s like we’ve not spent a moment apart. Of course now we have Facebook to connect us.

    And then there are friends from Uni, friends I chose I guess…. and I consider them to be my ‘best’ friends. On the whole they’re the friends I could tell almost anything and not be judged. Or perhaps they would judge me and call me out on my behaviour.

    Of course there are work friends that come and go from my life. Again Facebook means they probably stay around longer than they might not otherwise have.

    More recently there are those I’ve made since undertaking my seachange and again I realise there are those I choose to spend time with and others I see but don’t mind if it isn’t often.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my post and for commenting. As a new blogger I really appreciate it (Dec. 2019) You might enjoy this. Twice I have seen bloggers refer to Uni, which I assume means University?? (I live in Pennsylvania in the US) but I have a good friend whose name is Uni, so it has given me a start, Oh, you know Uni too?? He writes it with *s so in print it is *Uni* and is short for a name I cannot pronounce. Thanks again, Blessings, Michele

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      1. Ha, no I did mean University. I know you have ‘college’ in the US which is something we don’t really have. You go from school to University, though there are technical colleges which are more practically-oriented.

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  5. What a thoughtful post about friendships. It made me remember some close friends of the past that I remember fondly but that are no longer in our life. I remember reading once, ” Some friends come into our lives but then quietly go, leaving an imprint on our heart forever. “

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  6. Midlife has taught me a lot about friendships – I’ve stopped being the friend who does all the work – if it’s not shared input, then I now feel comfortable letting them move on. I’ve been betrayed by a close friend and let her go too. I have a few close long term friends who I value immensely and they know me inside and out (and still like me!) And over the last 5 years I’ve made online blogging friendships that have become more real to me than a lot of my IRL friends – maybe because we share our thoughts and bare our souls on our blogs? I’ve also come to appreciate that we can let people go – work colleagues, mothers of my kids’ friends, people who have moved location etc – it’s okay and part of the circle of life.
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 😊

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  7. Hi Michele, this was a lovely read and I could feel myself nodding along at various points – friends for a season, grieving for friends, life changing moments, they all add up to make us who we are. I love that you’ve added in blogging friends and this quote is perfect ‘a new depth and richness has been added to my experience of writing and to my life’. That says a lot! #mlstl

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  8. Michele, so many things swirling in my head with this post. First, I guess is…. the class I just took (summarized in my last post) shared the research on both random acts of kindness and speaking with “strangers”. Both activities are proven to increase an individual’s feeling of happiness/wellbeing! So while not necessarily friendship, both are important aspects of wellbeing. I miss the casual connections with self-isolation. I’ve limited my grocery shopping and eliminated most other causal connections, too.

    Second, I recall once being told that most people have fewer than 5 people who are truly “best friends”… the call at 2 AM friends, the share the depth of my soul friends. In fact, I can think of only 2 in my life…. and one is my husband.

    Third, I recall another saying – friends for a season, friends for a reason, and friends for life. I have lots of friends for a reason currently – friends who I enjoy talking about life with (the deep psychological conversations), friends who I talk to about life just in the moment – almost gossip, but also what’s going on with their family, friends who I enjoy sharing a meal with because they eat adventurously (as I do), and blogging friends who share a similar spot on our collective journey.

    I’ve come to accept the loss of most of my work-friends. Sometimes I wish for another “friend for life” – the call at 2 AM soul-mate kind. Sometimes I wish for an IRL girl-tribe. But usually I’m pretty happy with my friends for a reason set.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I had this one in the hopper, as it were, when I read your post earlier in the week and thought they connected nicely. There is a wonderful quote from a M8A*S*H episode I almost used, when Hawkeye Pierce was interviewed and he compared the relationships of the M*A*S*H unit to people who gathered together in a bus shelter during a storm and then went their separate ways. I also think about Judeo-Christian concepts of repairing the world. It doesn’t happen without simple respect and kindness. My husband too, is my best friend, who cares more about what I think and feel than anyone I have ever met. What is IRL? Thanks and blessings, Michele

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  9. A really interesting read, Michelle. Yes, I guess, over the years we do gather all sorts of friends, and they do fall under different categories. And again, some get left behind, or time and situations bring about a kind of natural end to other friendships. Food for thought, though #MLSTL

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  10. Good initial questions, Michele. I am exceptionally fortunate I have long term friendships. My best friend and I have known each other for 55 years. We never feel pressure to connect. We have lived in separate cities over the years. We now live ten minutes apart, yet communicate by Zoom the last couple of months.

    I agree with “Friends for a Season.” I like your phrase “housekeeping for the heart.” I am very surprised how “Blogging Friends” became a real thing. I began blogging to challenge myself and a forum for writing. The first six months I did not even have “comments” toggled on until a kind blogger told me about this. I learn as much or more from interacting with my blogging friends. I have also met some bloggers in real life. I am still at about the 1 1/2 year mark for blogging and it has changed my life. Yes, Michele, “richness” added to my life. And yes, “simple humanity.” A thought-provoking and beautiful post!

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    1. Thank you for sharing. Erica/Erika. I come from a small family and over the years I have learned to treasure special friends, old and new. They are like family. I love my brother and as I said in a previous post, we have seen each other through some difficult times, but I have friends who know me better, and they are like family. Thank you too for your kind affirming words. I love writing and that I get to do this and the connections have been an unexpected joy. When I made my trip home last October, I reconnected with classmates I had not seen since high school and did not feel in the least connected to them. I think 50 years later, we have much more in common than we did in senior high. So many of them feel like new friendships because of the things we now share in common. That trip was a combination of classmates, cousins I did not know i had and writing. It was the event that helped me start writing the blog and make a commitment to my writing. And nothing has been the same since. So many blessings to count!

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      1. Hi Michele, Friends who are like family are a priceless treasure. I have been to a couple of reunions over the years and I found them uncomfortable. At least I had my best friend with me. It is wonderful how the trip was positive for you.🙂

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  11. Michele, I have many categories of friends, similar to which you have mentioned and I find that each category contains degrees of commitment. My ‘friends for a season’ are literally just that. They live in Florida for the winter months and return to their Northern homes during the summer. When they are here, we are constantly in each others lives, but when they go home, our interaction comes to a halt. It is a strange phenomenon, but it works. I have had few friends that I would consider a ‘confidant’ and admit wholeheartedly that the role belongs to my husband of thirty-three years. My blogger friends have been the biggest surprise. I have found so many positive, encouraging individuals here and I enjoy following their stories and sharing mine. Thanks for being one of those positive connections. I truly enjoy your writing.

    A while back, I observed a hairdresser with a client in the chair next to me at the salon. The client was pouring out her heart about a personal issue and the hairdresser was listening attentively, as she offered an occasional reassuring word. From anyone looking on, you would think they were the best of friends. In reality, it was simply a kind person, who took the time to listen to someone in need. Kindness matters.

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    1. Suzanne, thank you for those kind words. I love writing and am glad I finally stopped procrastinating. The first few blog posts I published, I was shaking! Something about sending all that vulnerability out into the cosmic world, like an email that was accidentally sent to “Everyone” instead of one person. One of the issues with youth and BFF’s, with adults too, is it can get so exclusive that there is no room for other friendships or friendly relationships that can be healthy and healing. I have heard it said that hairdressers and bartenders hear more stories or confessions than most pastors, and that is probably true too. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! Blessings, Michele

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  12. Michelle – there was a time that I had loads of friends, but as I’ve got older and with certain experiences my list is pared down to a just a handful of friends. I hear what you are saying about BFFs. I had a couple of those and they relationships became so unhealthy that I just had to quit.
    For me friendship means acceptance and yet being willing to give and receive feedback for mutual growth.

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    1. Yes, I agree. I have never had a group of friends in one place before. that has changed a bit with connections with high school classmates, but we have been out of each other’s lives for 50 years. I am enjoying those connections, but most of them are not people I reach out to for advice. As I said, I think my post scratches the surface, lots of categories and types of friendly relationships. To have one or two trusted friends in your life is a great blessing.
      Thanks for sharing.

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