By: Shamyla Tareen
Last week, I was telling a friend that June’s blog topic for “the Happiness Project” was Friendship, and she laughed. “That should be so easy for you! You have such great friends. And everyone is your best friend! Piece of cake, right?”
Wrong! As I started to think about the complexities and nuances of friendship, thoughts came tumbling out all over the place and I jumped back, unsure of what to make of all this. Where would I even start? Tying to understand friendship is like trying to pin down a wave. Everyone’s definitions vary, and I have no real definitions; I just know what I feel. I mean, haven’t we all read the quotes, seen the movies, read the self-help columns… don’t we know what it means to be a good friend? I wondered how to describe friendship in words that weren’t trite. My thoughts, like my friends, were a motley-crue of inexplicable, colorful predictability.
Today, my friends are a mix of people I went to college with and those I’ve met as an adult – colleagues, neighbors, roommates, their siblings, cousins, and partners. I’ve learned the hard way what makes an exceptional friend, and that not everyone can be one. My closest friends are generous, kind, empathetic, and good listeners. They understand that often life makes absolutely no sense but they’re still hopeful. They’re people who are not afraid to be open, or say they are sorry, and we are able to discuss our differences without making a federal case out of it. Above all, they’re loyal and funny. I really believe that friends are the family you choose for yourself – even though it’s harder to keep in touch with so many extended family members in this day and age. In pure Eastern style, I don’t want to set up appointments or call before we both come over, but that is an unfortunate necessity in this fast paced age. Despite our busy schedules, the joke amongst my friends is that I have friends coming out of my ears… and I don’t know what to do with them!
It was not always that way. As a kid, I had very few friends. I used to go up to cool girls on the playground at my very exclusive, all-girls school every September, nervously approach the nicest one, and boldly ask, “will you be my best friend?” (Note: this agenda was NEVER too successful, so don’t try it at home.) I was shy and bullied in elementary school (Note: to those who are experiencing this: trust me, it DOES get better!) Then I moved to Pakistan, where I became an instant celebrity because I was from that magical land- America! And a whole new set of friends who shared canteen snacks and tiffin lunches were made. Due to the fact that I’ve moved around a lot, I always have new friends, but I always keep a soft spot for the old ones too…
I was always the one who never wanted to let go. Now I get it – not everyone’s well-intentioned. Some toxic friends are better left in the past with the dark sea of bobbing faces that you try not to think about too much. You can forgive friends who hurt you without necessarily inviting them back into your life for your own peace of mind. Sometimes – miracle of miracles- an old friend that you thought you’d said goodbye to forever, re-enters your life! You don’t exactly pick up where you left off – you just start with a new purpose. Sometimes you don’t even know what kind of person you’re dealing with until you listen to that nagging feeling in your heart – whispering ” something’s wrong here… watch out.” Those are the “frenemies”, the ones who pretend they’re there for you when they really aren’t. And to quote a very wise client I once worked with: “Well, I ain’t got time for all that mess!”
Here’s a great quote from “The Happiness Project” that struck a chord with me: “One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” It’s a balance. You have to take care of yourself to be a good friend. You can’t buckle everyone’s seat belt if yours doesn’t fit. You can’t save your friends; everyone has their own path, and it’s not about being a hero. Maybe it’s just about having fun and showing up when you need to show up, and not saying things that cause pain. Maybe it’s just being there when you can, without promising or expecting too much. Truth is, I’m still struggling to be a good friend. Just like anyone, sometimes I am envious, moody, gossiping, annoying. Then I catch myself. And I start again. It boils down to this – friendship is about adding warmth and color to your life vs. draining you. It’s about cutting the ones who love you deeply some slack…. and letting the rest go.
There will be beautiful moments. There will be difficult moments. But one day soon, all I’m going to do is sit down, curl up my feet, and watch marathon re-runs of my favorite show – you got it – “Friends.” My friends: you bring the popcorn ! … I’ll have as many samosas as you want, hot and ready. And all we’re going to do is laugh.