“Friendship isn’t about whom you have known the longest… it’s about who came, and never left your side.” —Mikaela Tiu
Not to worry, I’ve got your six and I won’t charge a cent for any information I share with you today. I’m not a life coach or a therapist, and I suspect my life experience is not much different than your own. What I do have in abundance is a lot of nerve, a fair amount of ego and access to a keyboard that allows me to record my meanderings in that mysterious “cloud” where they will survive for all eternity, or, until we are swallowed by a black hole. Now, I know my limitations and have no intentions of telling you how to live your life, but I had lunch today with friends and as we laughed I realized just how important they are to me and how much they’ve enriched my life.
Those of you who were girl scouts will remember the friendship circles formed in summer camp. In case your memory is a bit foggy the ritual began with singing, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.” It was followed by a pinky promise, more like an oath, where we’d swear, “A circle is round, it has no end. That’s how long, I will be your friend.” Although we tried mightily to keep the promises we made, time and distance managed to bisect those circles and today those early friendships are preserved only in memory.
Clair, now gone, was the repository of my childhood hopes and dreams and for years we were inseparable. We came of age in a different time and safer place and had enormous freedom as children. On Saturdays we’d ride the Illinois Central, a local commuter railroad, and when we became to old to skate in the basement of the Oriental Institute, we’d spend the day riding the rails and stopping at the museums along its route. By the time we were twelve, we could have conducted tours of the Oriental Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum and the planetarium and aquarium as well. Trouble was, at least from our perspective, no one wanted 12 year old tour guides. Clair was my first confidant and much of what has happened in my life came about because she helped me to dream big. If she were alive today, I wouldn’t have to explain or apologize for anything I said or did. Judgment was not in our shared vocabulary.
I mention Clair, because psychologists and the media have begun to dissect the elements of female friendship. Anecdotally, when interviewed on the subject, Jane Fonda had this to offer. “I think that (friendship) is one reason why women live longer than men. Friendship between women is different than friendship between men. We talk about different things. We delve deep. We go under, even if we haven’t seen each other for years. There are hormones that are released from women to other women that are healthy and do away with the stress hormones. It’s my women friends that keep starch in my spine and without them, I don’t know where I would be. We have to just hang together and help each other.”
On a more scientific level, Patricia Leavy has identified the five types of friends most women are likely to include in their circles. The first would be a springboard friend, one off whom ideas can be bounced. She is a good listener and will, by means of questioning, draw friends to their own conclusions without interjecting an answer of her own. Then there are mirror friends. They know us through and through, and by a look or cocked ear can tell when we are troubled and instinctively understand what we need from them. Mirror friends are hard to come by, but these wonderful women should be cultivated because they can reflect your truth back to you in an authentic manner. Next on the list would be the safety net friend. She’ll only say nice things to you and about you. She is a non-judgmental sounding board and there may be times she provides the kind of comfort you need. To keep everything in balance, we need a tough love friend. When you need complete honesty and a friend who will not hesitate to call it as she sees it, you really want her in your court. She will not let you lie to yourself and chances are you’ll love her for it. So, if you need a reminder to get off your high horse, or a concise, what the hell were you thinking, you’ll want her on call. She’ll set you straight in minutes. That’s not true for a mutual silence is kindness friend. If you are not ready or able to talk about something, she will understand. There are times when silence is truly golden and her ear and empathy are all you need.
Over and above what the experts have to say, I’d like to add a few categories of my own. I want my circle to include friends who are younger than me, as well as some who have circumnavigated the globe more often and have a wealth of experience to share with me. I’m a broad spectrum type of person and I like input from several sources. Younger friends keep me current and the older ones teach me how to handle old age with a modicum of grace. And I can’t forget how important humor is to me. You can’t grow old in America without the ability to laugh at yourself and the folly that goes on around you. I want always to keep touch with those whose economic circumstances, first language and beliefs are different than my own.
Years ago, we were led to believe that old friends had a value greater than the new. I have not found that to be the case. It’s true that nothing can replace the history and warmth we share with those from our past, but new chapters can be written, and rather than classify friends as silver or gold, I’ve elevated them all to platinum status. They are all worth a king’s ransom and I want them to know I’ll always have their six.