Something special happened the other day. My friend sent me a random voice note, five minutes long, and for three minutes of it, she was praying for me.
This had never happened before. The simple act moved me. The words she spoke showed me that even with me being thousands of miles away, she, as my friend, was in tune with me. Completely unsolicited, yet perfectly timed, she prayed for my relationship, my health and peace of mind, my success and my future. I was suddenly even more grateful for my friendship with her.
Since that experience, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about what makes friendships solid, and why they matter so much. All my relationships (with family, my partner and friends) have become so very important now that I am living in another country. With the help of video calling technologies, messaging apps and social media, I have been able to seamlessly keep in touch with the most important persons in my life. Not all connections have remained as strong, and I am just 3 months into life in another place. However, the relationships that have remained stable, (especially with my parents and brother who video chat with me 3 times per week; and my partner who talks with me every day, despite time zone differences) have truly been my anchors and my rays of sunshine on the [literally, very many] cloudy days.
I believe that as human beings, we are created for community. We are born into a family, we are socialised at school, and we choose the people we want around us as friends. With friendships, that community is built through shared experiences, vulnerabilities and support. I am not talking about only the good times and giggles, but the friendships can be solidified by trudging through life’s muddiest moments together.
Friendship requires action. Especially over distance, it requires keeping up to date with the nitty-gritty of life when you do get to talk. Note, as adults, we really may not have the time to talk every day. However, the connection must be so solid, that when you do get the time, you move beyond the surface. Active friends do not pop in only in the good times, to celebrate. They are there in highs and lows.
Friendships require honesty. If I ever reach a point where I don’t feel I can be honest with someone about the things that deeply affect me, I question the strength of that friendship. Friendships ought to be a safe space, where we are ourselves, we share of ourselves. It must be a space for authenticity; not pretence. Friends must be honest with us when we have failed, and be kind enough to help us win. Friends win together. Coupled with this honesty, friendships must feature forgiveness. As humans, we will mess up, forget things and unintentionally cause hurt. However, forgiveness is like that strong quick-dry glue, that seals cracks in friendships; making them like new.
Friendships ought not to be a competition. This reminds me of that time when two former colleagues were talking about my girlfriends in Jamaica. They were curious about how we all get along, with each of us appearing to have type A personalities. I responded by saying we support each other and I am happy to be a part of a circle of winners. One of the colleagues, a woman, asked me an interesting question. She said, “What happens if your friends stop being successful in their fields; would they still be your friends then?” My response was simply this,”We have not connected because of individual successes. Truthfully, we are all connected by much more; much that is unspoken on social media. I am not in a competition for success with my friends. We are all on our own path. If one falls, then I trust that the others would be there to help hold her up, until she can stand on her own feet and win again.” This is important to me. I will withdraw myself at the very hint of envy and competition in friendships. That is a weed of discord.
As I have gotten older, I have become more concerned about the values that individuals around me hold. I have become unafraid when it comes on to distancing myself from persons whose behaviour and values give me too much pause. I am thinking about the future and about raising children some day. Therefore, I have a new benchmark. I ask myself if I would be comfortable with person X being around my child. If my answer is no, then that relationship may need to see some shifts.
In friendships, it is important that we also listen to the narratives that our friends use about us. Be mindful of those spending too much time re-hashing the past, when they know you are living in the now and want to move away from that past. When commendations come, what are the things said in Sotto Voce? Importantly too, be cautious of those persons who are always telling you what others have been saying about you, in conversations with them. It takes at least two to tango. This can cause questions of loyalty, and loyalty ought to be a pillar of friendships. You can probably finish the saying, “Birds of a feather…”
When I was leaving for the UK, the friend who prayed for me was the same one to say, “Swing by my house. I put together a few things for your trip.” She reminded me that friendship is also about giving. Not only giving things but giving of your time.
Having a solid friendship is an amazing experience. I have been blessed with a few, for which I never forget to be grateful. There are people who I can depend on to show up and be present. There are friends who I rarely see or talk to, but the connection always feels as strong. Your friends should inspire, encourage and challenge you. They should provide you with that space to run to when your wing has been broken. Beyond having a good time together, your friends should truly know you. Communication, empathy, understanding are all part of being an active friend. Never underestimate the power of friendship. At the same time, be strong enough to walk away from any relationship in your life that has become toxic.
Friendship is golden and a real blessing. If you are religious, take the time to pray for your friends. We all should make time to talk to our friends. It is important that you check in, affirm and do things to strengthen your friendships. “No friendship is an accident.” So, make deliberate attempts to be an active friend.