Friendship is one of the most precious treasures in life – some friendships are extraordinary. Occasionally, they are disappointing. But they all offer us the chance to improve ourselves at every turn, and provide us with a context for learning valuable, fundamental lessons about ourselves and the larger world.
It’s safe to say that without having experienced both the fairy godmothers and the wicked witches of close personal relationships, we might well be morally lost. Ultimately, we’ll find ourselves at a disadvantage while trying to understand the complexities of life.
The rewards are obvious and important: we come to recognize and value kindness, different perspectives, loyalty, and even simple, companionable silence. We grow to understand why we need to turn away from cynicism or manipulation. Our friends sort themselves out through time and circumstance, and the rest is up to us.
What kind of friend are you? What do present and past relationships suggest about your nature, your desires, and your own road to emotional maturity? There are truths to be mined here, important understandings about who we want to be to the world and what we need from it in return. If you were to reflect on yourself as a person through the filter of friendship, what would you learn?
As I contemplated this question, I decided to consider a handful of relationships that seem to encapsulate clear ideas regarding what I take to and bring from the table of such fellowship. I wanted to reflect on the most satisfying and disappointing moments of friendship, and in doing so I understand more about about who I am.
The value of a positive friendship is enormous, the sort of emotional anchor that makes life a happier experience. Have you ever had a friend that makes you laugh so hard you cry? How about someone that you can truly trust with your biggest secrets? It’s relationships like these that make us realize what exactly it is that we need to feel good about life. To preserve such a bond, you need to make sure you’re a giver, too. Offer kindness and patience, and you’ll be rewarded with the same in turn.
Then again, you might have a friend who tests your understanding of what it means to give yourself to such a relationship. Maybe the balance is off, and you feel you get so much more than you give, or that what you give is taken for granted by someone more selfish.
While these friendships aren’t always the most fun or the most consistent, they are often times eye-opening, a reality I’ve certainly experienced first-hand. These relationships demand our attention, and in asserting our values, we can both protect ourselves and better someone else.
One important thing to consider is the idea that friendships will usually show us something about ourselves. I can think of many instances where my stubbornness has been a stumbling block, and then I find myself having to wonder about… myself. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of saying “I’m sorry,” – two words that go a long way to making things right. If we can’t perceive when we’re the problem, we’ll find it harder to grow and harder to keep our friends. And a friend lost to our own shortcomings is a treasure lost to carelessness.
The friends you have say a lot about you – that’s for sure. The friendships we choose to foster most, we nourish for important reasons. It’s our way of telling ourselves, whether consciously or subconsciously, what we need. And the opposite is true, too. When we don’t have a good feeling about a friendship, that’s a voice inside us telling ourselves that perhaps it isn’t best for our personal growth or well-being. If you don’t take steps to preserve your values and your expectations, you might find yourself on the bad end of an uneven friendship.
It’s important to be honest with yourself and trust that you’re feeling how you are for a reason. In this way, your friendships can be what both friends need them to be, not just what someone else needs them to be.
If nothing else, reflection illuminates the idea that friendships can be ephemeral. While most of us will be lucky enough to know what it means to be a “lifelong friend,” some of these special bonds will dissolve insidiously, an idea especially true for those of us that are young. One day you look at what used to be a wonderful camaraderie and think: What the hell happened? We change schools, find jobs, fall in love, pursue our dreams, and scatter ourselves as we create ourselves. But we’re in charge of this, and we need to proceed accordingly, working all that much harder to preserve those relationships that mean the most to us.
Another generational reality up to consider is the influence of the digital world on our attachments. I have 1,242 “friends” on Facebook, but I have to remind myself on occasion to not confuse automated birthday greetings with true friendship. I love to keep in touch and to feel like I am connected, but I’ve also come to truly value more meaningful moments.
I’m happy to have friends, and I think I know what my intuition has told me all along— that friendships are at their best when they give us what we need most, even if what they teach us is that we don’t need what we thought we might.
What does friendship mean to you and what have you learned the most about yourself through your friendships? Let us know how you have grown through the people close to you :)
Melissa Fares is currently a student at Smith College Massachusetts, where she was first introduced to ideas relating to the development of transcendent self. She is a student advisor at the Smith College Center for Work and Life, the creator of the blogWomankind, and is the Opinions Editor for Smith’s student newspaper The Sophian. Her writing has appeared in The Dallas News, FindLaw, and India Times. She plans to pursue interests in psychology and journalism.