I've been thinking a lot about friendship lately. My friends are incredibly important to me. They are a soothing salve in the hard times, and a raucous cheering squad in the good times. They make special moments more special and ordinary moments less ordinary. I probably don't need to sell you on the virtues of friendship. I’m sure you’ve experienced the joy of having good friends, and maybe you also know the feeling of loneliness that comes from not having them. So, if we can all agree that life is made sweeter when we have friends, why do so many women struggle with their friendships?
We’ve all seen the cattiness that can ensue between women. Just turn on The Bachelor or the Real Housewives of Whichever County and you’ll see women clawing at each other, stabbing each other in the back and saying horrible things about each other. Yes, I know, this is not real life and there’s no doubt that the producers and copious amounts of Pinot Grigio fuel these nasty fires. But, sadly, I hear all too often from women who are struggling with their female friendships in the “real world.”
Women tend to spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what we want in a romantic relationship. We seem willing to examine our behaviors and choices from every possible angle when it comes to our romantic partners. But, what about our friendships? Should our friendship behaviors and choices also be examined?
One of my dear friends is about to move to another state. I’ve known this was coming for months...OK, maybe I’ve known for over a year (can you say denial?). But, the departure date is right around the corner and I am having a very hard time with it. I mean, a very hard time with it. I’ve been a bit surprised by the intensity of my emotional reaction. I mean, I love her dearly, but she’s just going to be a quick plane ride away, and, honestly, we were both so busy with our respective lives that we didn’t get to spend that much time together. But, as the day approaches, I can’t help but feel a great sense of loss.
As I’ve thought about our friendship, the word “safe” keeps coming to my mind. She has been a safe harbor for me in the chaos of life. A safe place to be imperfect. A safe place to commiserate. And, equally important, a safe place to feel good about myself, to share my big wide-eyed dreams, and to celebrate. It’s a safe and liberating friendship. One that makes me feel completely free to be myself. I’m fortunate to have a few other safe harbors in my life, but they aren’t as common as we’d like, are they?
So, what does it take to be a “safe” friend and to have “safe” friendships in your life? It would be impossible to articulate everything, but I’m thinking these four things are a good start:
1. Safe friends are consistent and reliable. Sure, things come up. We’re all busy. But, if you have to question whether or not your friend is going to flake out on a regular basis, you probably don’t feel very safe.
2. Safe friends apologize and forgive. No one is perfect. Even people with the biggest hearts and best intentions can say or do something insensitive. Safe people own their mistakes. They apologize. And, in return, safe people forgive. They give you the benefit of the doubt and can see the bigger picture of your friendship. They don’t punish or withhold to “teach you a lesson.”
3. Safe friends don’t keep score. Friendship shouldn’t be some game that involves a score. It’s not a “what have you done for me lately?” kind of arrangement. While it should be reciprocal, safe friends aren’t tallying up who has done what for whom and when. You know that friend I talked about earlier? I always joke that I had to court her. When we met, she had lived in the city longer than me and had a much busier social life than I did. But, I knew I wanted to be her friend so I was willing to be the one to pursue the friendship a little bit and initiate making plans in the beginning. I would have missed out on a beautiful friendship if I hadn’t been willing to be a little vulnerable. Don’t worry about keeping score. It’ll all even out in safe friendships.
4. Safe friends want to see you shine! Sometimes it feels easier to bring over ice cream when your friend gets dumped than it is to celebrate when she finds a terrific guy (especially if you’re still looking). But, safe friends reject a scarcity mentality that says there is a limited amount of love, happiness, and success to be had in this world. Safe friends face life with an abundance mentality and believe that love begets more love… success begets more success. They find hope and inspiration in seeing good things happen to you. Safe friends want to see you meet your highest potential. In fact, they may even gently nudge you there along the way.
Women carry so much on their shoulders. We find ourselves dealing with the pressures of career, relationships, body image, children, ticking biological clocks, caring for aging parents, and countless other stressors. It can be tough out there, and the last thing we need to be worrying about is the safety of our friendships.
Of course the best way to have safe friends is to be one. So, let’s be safe for each other. There is no limit to what we can accomplish when we’re on the same team.
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