I've often told my children that if one can have three true friends in a lifetime, one is very fortunate indeed. I truly believe that.
By "true friend", I mean someone with whom I have a strong bond that can withstand time and distance. A friend whom I may not have seen or spoken with for years, but when I do, we can pick up where we left off, as if no time had passed.
Some friendships are by nature transient. It may be a friendship formed in the workplace that doesn't translate into the real world. It may be a neighbourly friendship that fades once one of us has moved.
Then there are the friendships that while genuine, dissipate as the two of us grow in different directions, with different interests.
Of course there are the toxic friendships too--the ones that truly have broken my heart. I wish that I had been taught about them when I was young. These are the things that our mothers never tell us. I've had too many of them, and I only have myself to blame.
In looking back, I now see that there were plenty of warning signs. If I'd had the awareness to heed those signs, I would have saved myself many a tear. However, it's live and learn, I suppose.
One of the warning signs of a friendship that will ultimately break my heart is the friend who feels obligated to tell me every bit of gossip said about me. I used to get very hurt by this, but I always assumed the best about my friends and I thought they were telling me these things for my own good. They were not.
I now see that these were simple ways of undermining my self-confidence. For example, I didn't need to know that a man at a dance said that he thought I looked pretty until he saw me up close and saw my acne. Yet my friend was compelled to tell me this and many other similar such things during the course of our friendship. I also didn't need to know what another friend told me years laters: that my neighbours were gossiping that I may be an alcoholic because I was rarely outdoors. The truth was that it was a bad migraine summer, and I was much more comfortable indoors with the air conditioning. I don't think my friend said anything to disabuse my neighbours of their notion, either.
Then there have been the friends who love to make jokes at my expense. Jokes that are not particularly funny, and sting a bit. However, if I say anything, the friend will say, "I'm only kidding. Relax". Well, you know what? I won't relax anymore if a "friend" makes me the butt of all her jokes. It really isn't funny, and usually, I've found that there is more than a grain of truth from their point of view in their hurtful jokes. Experience has now taught me that there is often at least a hint of malice there.
Still another warning sign for me is the friend who loves to tell me her problems, and will let me spend hours helping her cope and strategize, but when I have a problem, she has no time for it. These people are not friends. They are people who tend to suck the life energy out of me.
Enter the friend who gives me bad advice. For example, we go shopping and the friend says, "Oh, this sweater would look nice on you". However, the sweater is a colour that looks awful on me. I may ignore this the first couple of times, but if it becomes a trend, then this is not a friendship. Again, this is someone who is trying to knock me down rather than build me up.
Perhaps the most painful is the friend who betrays a confidence. The last time this happened to me was many years ago, but I still haven't gotten over the heartbreak. However, a couple of the above warning signs were there for me to see all along, so I guess it's not surprising that our friendship ended in the manner it did.
What I've noticed about many of these "friends" is that often they will be the ones to end the friendship, and shun me, once I've caught on to them. More interestingly, I discover that for sometimes years after they have stopped talking to me, they are still asking questions about me, and following my every move. If they have no desire to even talk to me, why do they care about what I'm up to?
So I am delighted with the handful of lifelong friends that I do have. They are people who enjoy discussing subjects of mutual interest, my interests or their own. They are people who are loving and giving, and expect nothing. Hopefully, I reciprocate. They aren't offended if life has pulled me in another directions for a time, and I am not offended when the same happens to them.
They don't share nasty gossip with me, nor I with them. They are happy for my small triumphs and sad for my misfortunes, as I am with theirs. They make me feel good about myself, and hopefully I do the same for them. I can trust them with anything and they can trust me.
Now, I continue to make new friends, even on the Internet. Everything I've mentioned applies with Internet friendships as they do in real life. I hope that I've finally reached a point where I will never give my heart to someone who doesn't deserve it. It's taken a lot of hard knocks to get to this point, but I think I'm just about there.
'Til tomorrow, my friends. Much love to all.