The Family We Choose
It’s been quite a few weeks that we’ve been wanting to write about friendship; but, somehow, every entry we’ve started on the topic has fallen short of this concept’s actual depth. We’ve tried describing the essence of the word, the characteristics of the relationship, its benefits for health, what good and bad friends look like, types of friendships... You name it. All we’ve come up with are rather flat descriptions about this or that version of friendship that in no way resemble the complexity of the experience of actually having a friend.
The truth is that friendship may very well be one of the toughest topics we’ve ever tried to cover; which isn’t really all that surprising once you realize that this is probably due to how imbued with love any real friendship is. And we all know that love is awesome, but it’s also often quite complicated.
So, half of our problems with writing about this concept, then, are probably related to how hard it actually is to speak about love and come about good friends in real life –a sort of testament to how extremely valuable both of these things are. The other half of the story, though, has to do with our lifestyle and place of residence. Because, if there is one thing that can challenge your relationship with your friends it's moving places –far places. So, there are many reasons why we are not the most obvious choice when it comes to making generalizations about what friendship is supposed to look or even feel like...
But we all have our experience of friendship, one way or another, and one thing is certain: when you start thinking about why friends are so very special and what turns someone into a true friend and someone else into a mere acquaintance, the logics of the entire recipe of friendship gets really, really nuts. Just think of your life for a second and of the people you have chosen to share it with. What makes for a good friend and a good friendship? Is it the amount of time you spend together with someone? The similarity in values or personality? Or is it the quality of the time spent together; the fact of having shared some of life’s most formative, most exceptional, or most mundane experiences? Would you say that there’s a similarity in the frequency or rate of vibration between you and your friends, or are they all different from each other and/or from yourself? Furthermore, do you think of friendships a sort of pre-destined encounter or as chanced? Are the friends you made in early childhood similar or as important as those you’ve met later in life? In sum, are all good friendships alike?
Most of the questions above have as many possible answers as there’s people, and having changed places so frequently over the past few years, our views on friendship and what makes for a good or a bad friend have also changed considerably. While at one point in our lives, friendship was all about the amount of time spent together and being physically and emotionally present for the other person, now distance makes being present not always an option. With it, the quality of the time spent together and being emotionally ‘there’ for the other person gain in importance –even when this must often be done at a distance, through instant messaging, facetiming, or over the phone.
Still, to pretend that this leaves things unchanged would be foolish; for there is something to real face to face communication, to the power of an embodied look or hug, that nothing can ever make up for. Not really. Nevertheless, friendship at a distance is possible, and it's all the more doable when both sides of the relationship care as much about keeping things alive.
But yes, moving places has changed our doing of friendship so much that a lot of it for us now is like a game of shadows, with as much gladness as there is sadness to the thing. And so, we feel a slight tinge of regret every time we miss out on some of the most important moments in our friends’ lives; or at our inability to give them a hug or just show up when they need it most. We miss teasing them face to face or patting them in the shoulder like one does… And yet, it is perhaps because of moving places that we have met some of the most unique and interesting friends we have, that we have formed new relations, some of them really meaningful, with all the potential for transformation that they bring forth.
Having had to learn to do friendship the traditional and the alternative way has truly transformed our actual experience of this most special connection, teaching us many an important life lesson. But perhaps the most importance realization has been to learn to let go of any and all definitions of friendship we may have acquired over the years, to forget what it is supposed to be like or how it is supposed to take place, and embrace our experience of every single friendship we make as it happens, however it happens, and for as long as it lasts. Not everything in life is meant to last forever, and the duration of an exchange is never really representative of how intense the bond. Sometimes, a change in scenery does change more than just your surroundings and there’s grace in learning to live with that. But as old things and old friends go, new ones also come by. The blessing is in the exchange and the learning and not on the holding on.
So, regardless of the actual form our friendships take, friends, both new and old, remain a key component in the fabric of a healthy life and a healthy heart; and whoever has a friend in this lifetime knows himself to be a really lucky kind of guy. For friends help us deal with stress, anxiety, loneliness, and sadness and not always because they actively try. Friends are just like that, they simply do that. Friends also help us grow old while staying younger, happier, embracing change; they motivate us, move us into unexpected directions, challenge our viewpoints, and bring meaning to our lives. At every step of the way, the family we choose is there to remind us that life is always sweeter and fuller when we have someone to share it with, even if it's just for a short period of time. For there is something to knowing that we go through this fleeting and ephemeral experience seeing others, touching others, and being seen and touched in return.