Today I want (and perhaps need) to talk a bit about friendship.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.”
He was right. If you have to walk on eggshells around someone who is supposed to be a true friend, something is wrong. It’s not a solid friendship if you have to constantly censor yourself or hide parts of yourself away.
But…what about the friendships that drift from those two tenets Emerson espouses (truth and tenderness) over time? What about the friendships in which one party finds they are always putting in more than 50% to keep the relationship smooth and flowing?
I am not good at letting go of people; I always want to believe the best of them and am more than willing to be the one who reaches out after a strained patch, or the one who carries the friendship on their shoulders in a time where the other person simply has nothing to give due to whatever unfortunate circumstances (bereavement, for example).
Sometimes, though, we fall afoul of this most excellent advice: “Never make someone a priority when to them you’re just an option.” It’s not healthy to be the one always giving more to make a relationship work — whether we’re talking about friends, spouses/significant others, relatives…eventually there *will* be resentment on the part of the person doing more to keep the relationship flowing.
I am reaching that point with someone I never expected to, an old friend who has witnessed many of the best and worst moments of my life from about age 20 on.
I keep turning it over in my mind, and what I know is that this person at some point stopped being a person I could trust with everything. I’m not sure why, but I realized they would meet some of my innermost thoughts with judgment and disdain. There are things I cannot tell them.
And…I’m putting in more than 50% of the effort. I have been for a long time, if I take a few steps back and hold this friendship at arm’s length for a moment. These things I took in stride for a long time, just grateful for the friendship’s existence.
But I am brighter and fuller these days and the more I expand the less room I seem to have for frail relationships, for friendships I have to wear kid gloves to handle. There are plenty of people who appreciate me for who I am and who genuinely want to spend time with me. Why am I holding onto this one friendship that is withering in my hands despite my best efforts?
The longevity of the relationship is not a free pass for neglect. I deserve better. And I deserve friends who wouldn’t judge me for my myriad imperfections, just as I don’t judge anyone for theirs. I’m not looking for “a mush of concession,” either; I value friends who aren’t afraid to tell me when they think I’m just plain wrongheaded on something or am making an unwise choice.
“A man’s growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends.” (Emerson again.) Is my growth evident?
I am going to clear the air with this friend; I don’t believe in cutting someone away without at least trying to repair what’s broken. It will not go well, but it may be that there is fertile ground for regrowth after this fire blazes through. Or…maybe not, but I can’t shoehorn myself into a friendship where I don’t fit or am not truly wanted, just for old times’ sake.
One more [Emerson quote] for the road: “I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be happier. […] I must be myself. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and if we follow the truth it will bring us out safe at last.—But so may you give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me and do the same thing.”