My late mother comes to mind when the topic of friendship is discussed. She was one to value friends and by doing so was a very good friend to many. Mum was the eldest of nine children of whom only seven survived. The first-born in her family, she experienced the loss of two little brothers and was much like an only child until her sister was born when she was eleven, followed quickly by her other five siblings. The family was a close family but my mother was one to two decades older than them. So it stands to reason that she learnt early in life to make and value friendships outside her family. Her need for appropriate peer relational interaction could not always be met within the family, although she loved her family dearly.
There are people, especially those in larger families who rely on sibling relationships for their social and emotional needs entirely. I’m not for one minute saying this isn’t okay, it’s just that it can inhibit the skills of making and being good friends to others if the need is met entirely within the bounds of family. In these circumstances including others into a large family network is seen as unnecessary or awkward perhaps.
Friendship is an interesting notion to explore. It requires, I think, a level of empathy and thoughtfulness. Sometimes, the fit between two people is comfortable and the interaction works without effort, other times there are things to learn and appreciate about a person before the relationship falls into the friend category. I think it’s fair to say that some people are better at making friends than others. A comfort with being open and sharing is always a good start although sometimes that can be gained over time. Trustworthiness sits high on my list. Going the extra mile for someone is, in my view, a sign of genuine friendship, not that this has to be exercised constantly but when the ‘chips are down’ this somehow represents real friendship.
Just this week my sister told me about a strong and independent woman she knows who is under enormous stress due to her husbands hospitalisation and ongoing health issues. My sister explained that despite having a good family network the woman also has a strong group of friends who have been a wonderful support to her recently. My sister went on to praise her for the capacity to have and maintain friendships. We all know people who are particularly generous and loyal to others. The qualities needed to be a good friend, I would think.
Developing and maintaining good friendships is also a way of knowing oneself outside the familial situation. A different space that can be free of existing notions of who we are and who we are not. I value the contact of friends because it requires a level of preparedness and thought which is based on choice and endeavour. It actually takes time and effort to be a good friend and the journey to fulfil friendship encourages and reflects an attitude of acceptance of other…well I think that’s how it goes. More about this topic another time perhaps.