The Art of Being a Friend

Everybody wants to have friends. In order to have friends though, of course it means that someone must be a friend. This is all very logical, but the being a friend side doesn’t seem to get talked about as much as the having a friend part. Being a friend takes hard work and intentionality, commitment and dedication, love and laughter. If it sounds like I’m confusing friendship with marriage, it’s because, particularly as a single person, I take friendship very seriously. Some friendships are only meant to be for a short season, but I truly believe that others can–and should–last years and years, and maybe even forever.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User penelope waits, Creative Commons

I’m not going to write a “How To Be a Good Friend” guide. First of all, I don’t think it’s that easy, and second, I have been (and I’m sure at times will continue to be) a really sucky friend. Maybe someday I’ll have it more figured out, but for now, I will simply offer these few observations about friendship.

  • There is no one right, perfect way to be a friend. People are wired differently, and therefore require different things from their friends. At the same time, different people are able to offer their friends different things. Some are good listeners, others are willing to give much-needed challenges, and others are good at bringing laughter when it’s needed. The way I’m a friend to Person A has to be different than the way I’m a friend to Person B, because they’re not the same.
  • Know when to lean in and when to lean back. This is something I’ve only recently been realizing, and I do not excel at it. The reality is that pretty much all of my friends have many wonderful people in their lives, and there will be phases where what they need most isn’t something I’m the best at offering. When that’s the case, I need to know it’s okay to lean back from that friendship for a while–not to walk away and abandon it completely, but to give space for others to give what I cannot. Being someone who feels deeply for other people and also has a natural inclination to want to fix things, leaning back feels very counterintuitive to me. Leaning in is important too, though. Even when life is messy and complicated and hard, my friends need to know I won’t shy away from that stuff even if it’s difficult to be in that space with them.
  • Shut up. This works in two ways: First, knowing how to stop talking and to instead listen well. There’s a difference between listening, merely letting a friend’s words hit my ears, and listening well, paying attention to what’s behind the words and to my friend themselves. Second, shutting up means knowing there are some stories that belong to my friends and are not mine to tell. Secrets obviously fall into this camp, but there is other information that, while maybe not a secret, isn’t mine to tell anyone else. Part of being a friend means being trustworthy without having to be asked to be so.

Friendship isn’t math or science. It can’t be reduced to stagnant formulas; it has to be allowed to breath, change, and take new shapes as time and circumstances dictate. So if we want to have good friends, we must also be willing to commit to being a good friend.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you strive to be a good friend?

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Being a Sympathetic String

I love music, but I don’t pretend to know a ton about it. Recently, I saw William Close and the Earth Harp Collective perform, where I learned about sympathetic strings. As he stretches the strings out over the performance space, there are some strings he’ll never actually play.

They’re not tuned to particular notes, they’re just there. 

Yet, as I watched the strings above me, not being tuned and not being actually played doesn’t mean sympathetic strings are inactive or unimportant. As he plays, the sympathetic strings vibrate and bounce nearly as much as the strings he’s actually playing.

Wikipedia states, “They are typically not played directly by the performer (except occasionally as an effect), only indirectly through the tones that are played on the main strings, based on the principle of sympathetic resonance…Sympathetic strings are used to enhance the sound of an instrument.”

 

I love that they’re called sympathetic strings. I love the idea that they sit alongside the strings making the music, and though they don’t *technically* have an action of their own to perform, they add something to the mix. Without them, the music wouldn’t be quite as lovely, quite as touching, quite as powerful.

When it comes to the people I care about, I want to be a sympathetic string. Sympathy itself is a tricky business–I don’t want to pity people, which is where sympathy can often lead–but I do want to feel for them, to understand what they are going through as best as I’m able. I can’t physically or emotionally take on the joys and difficulties of my family and friends, but I can be alongside it, listening, adding resonance to their lives by simply showing up and being there.

This isn’t easy for me. My natural tendency is to want to fix things, to put Band-Aids on them so they don’t hurt anymore. I have yet to come across a situation someone is going through where I actually have the capability to fix it, though. Sometimes I can take some level of action–sympathetic strings do move in response to the other stringers, after all– but lives are messy, especially other people’s lives.There aren’t wands to magic things all better. We make better sympathetic strings than Band-Aids.

I can’t fix; I can show up.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How can you be a sympathetic string for those around you?

When a Book Gives You the Hope You Need

As a teenager, I read all the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books. To say that I loved them might be a bit strong, but I certainly enjoyed them. There was something about their tight-knit, started-at-birth, years-spanning friendship that appealed deeply to the teenage me who had friends, sure, but not many who had been around for a considerable length of time.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Abee5, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Abee5, Creative Commons

And so, I was recently pleasantly surprised to discover a fifth book to the series, set 10 years after the last one. Here they were, these girls I hadn’t thought about probably in years, suddenly catapulted to an age just a few years ahead of my own. They were the same as I remembered them in many ways, but as we all do as we age, they had changed too. Almost like they were real. As the book recounted the ways their relationships with each other had cracked and mended and changed over the years, it felt so near. Because I know those things, too.

 

Friendships get weird when you’re a twenty-something. Suddenly the built-in place to make them, of shared classes and clubs and dorms, is gone. Many people scatter, to new places and new phases and new faces. And you scramble a bit, trying to hold onto the ones who have become so much a part of you that you can’t imagine life with them, and you learn the difficult lesson that some friendships are only for a season and that’s okay, but the line of which ones are which is thin and painful to find.

There is fear, too. Fear that this move, this relationship, this new job will be the one that somehow makes the divide between two friends a little too big, a little too far to bridge with texts and phone calls and coffee dates. People change and relationships do too, and there is goodness there, but hardship too. And sometimes it comes in ways you didn’t expect or invite.

 

But, this book. This unexpected discovery. I saw myself in the characters I’ve know for many years, and in them I found hope, too. These are fictional characters, of course, born in the imagination of the author and only truly existing in the minds of readers, but I think the best kinds of books are the ones we’re invited to see ourselves in. Things had changed for these characters, time and time again, and still they found their way back to each other. Never in exactly the same way as before, but somehow. It wasn’t without pain or missteps along the way, but it happened. And it makes me a little less fearful.

Maybe, as I continue through my twenties and beyond, my friends and I will continue to find our ways back to each other too.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you ever found the hope you needed in a book?

People Are My Drug

I’m a people person.

A communicator, a people-gatherer.

 

Every personality test I take affirms these qualities about me, and I see it play out in my life in a myriad of ways.

On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, my Extrovert number is usually towards the very top of the scale.

I like being a people person. I like connecting with people and helping connect them with others. I like to get to know people and like for them to get to know me.

 

There’s a dark side to this way I’m wired though, one I’m discovering more and more of: People are my drug.

I need people. On some level, we all do.

 

But when the people are not there, because they can’t be or don’t want to be, I can find myself clamoring and gasping and clawing for people in dangerous, unhealthy ways.

It’s an ugly little truth I’m uncovering.

When I don’t feel like my life is as “people-ful” as I would like to be, it’s easy for me to become needyTo see people as a tool to use to meet my own needs for connection and communication and companionship.

To miss the fact that they are people too.

 

I will always defend the idea and importance of community and relationships. But I can’t let my desire, my inner-wired need for these things, to drown out the fact that the people I am in community and relationship with have their own needs too. And sometimes what they need is not me, may not be people at all.

 

If I were a better Christian, this would be the part when I start waxing philosophical about how God is all I really need. But I’m not, so I won’t. As much as yes, I do need God, God has made me to need people too. Not in the way that I sometimes think I need them, as though they are a drug and I need my fix, but in that I need them because God often works through people to help me see him.

We’re all made to need people a little bit, just not in the way I sometimes do.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you ever found yourself needing people?

Posts from the Past: January 2006

A few days ago I was scrolling through my Xanga, that wonderful ol’ blog that I still reflect on guiltily at times for abandoning for the lure of Facebook. It provides an interesting glimpse of my life for the two years or so I actively used it. I’m a little appalled at some of the things young me wrote–thinly veiled rants against specific people, self-centeredness, and angst galore.

Yet there are other posts that have hints of wisdom even older me can learn from. Consider this snippet from a post I wrote in January 2006:

Overall, it has been a very people-filled year. But really, isn’t that what life is, for the most part? Interactions with other people? It seems that way. I would say this was probably my most people-filled year  that I can remember. I met many, many new people, most wonderful, but there are always a few bad apples on every tree, right? I’ve missed people so much it hurt, and been overjoyed at seeing people I hadn’t seen in a long time. I’ve laughed until my stomach hurt, but also cried myself to sleep a time or two. I’ve had days I would relive in a heartbeat, and days that I wouldn’t want to relive if you paid me a hundred dollars. I’ve been so happy I could burst and sad and angry enough to punch someone. I became friends with people I’ll probably never see again, and also with people that I never thought I would become friends with.

And now I’m wondering what will happen this year, and I know a lot of things will be changing, but I KNOW that God won’t. As I look back, I know that God was always there, through the stinky times and the awesome ones. So today’s verse is one that is filled with hope for the future.

Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'” Yup. God’s always there, and He’s got big plans for me this year. I’m excited to find out what they are.

Years later, a lot of those things still ring true. Graduating from college has given new meaning to the phrase, “I became friends with people I’ll probably never see again.” I have encountered oodles of change since writing that, yet indeed; God hasn’t changed. And though I sit in uncertainty, in waiting and seeking, he has plans. Plans I cannot see, plans I may not understand, plans I might not like; but plans all the same.

Fifteen-year-old me had more insight than I would’ve given her credit for. Perhaps I shall have to seek more wisdom from her via the annals of Xanga.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

How to Make Friends

It’s not a secret that I like people. More specifically, I like friends. I like having friends, I like being among friends, I like making friends. (Though I won’t go so far as to see there’s no such thing as having too many friends…more on that here.)

Yet now, as an official college graduate (my diploma finally arrived today-yay!), I find myself having to navigate a completely different way of making friends than I have known. Making friends in adult-land is currently a mysterious and baffling process.

As a small child, making friends is easy. You approach someone in the sandbox, and as long as they don’t steal your shovel or push you over, look at that-you made a friend. Over time, things get a bit more complicate. In elementary school different groups begin to emerge-the so-called “popular” kids and whatever other various groups that may crop up depending on the school. Middle school just gets ugly, and, particularly for girls, there are often long periods of time when you’re not really sure who’s your friend and who’s your frenemy and who’s your straight-up enemy. The drama may die down some in high school, or maybe just take different forms. Yet here there’s typically more selection for friends, so it becomes easier to group by interests than maybe just convenience.

Then there’s college. Friends made in college often become more like family, particularly if you live on-campus as I did for a little over half of my college career. Bonds become stronger when you live, study, eat, laugh, exercise, fight, and live mere feet from each other. It is not hard to rack up hundreds of hours of time spent together. These friendships often run very, very deep, and though they may not always be perfect, they are lovely things.

Now I find myself in a completely different phase of life. Though I strive to maintain many of the friendships I’ve had for years, there are other people I’d like to become friends with…but I really don’t know how that looks in this big-kid land I’ve stumbled into. With people who have full-time jobs and spouses and mortgages and children, where do I even begin to form a friendship?

Part of me is apprehensive, feeling too young and inexperienced to be able to relate to these people who seem to know how to do adulthood much better than I do. Most of me is baffled as to what friendships look like now. Clearly these are not the types of relationships that will be forged over late-night food runs and sitting in the same room Facebooking. Seeing as this is what I have known for the past 4 years, I find myself yet again in uncharted territory. I just didn’t expect it to be with friendship.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~