Good Friends or Thorns?

Friends are the roses of life: pick them carefully and avoid the thorns.” – Unknown

I have no idea who said the above, but I was thinking about this recently after the departure of some dear friends who had visited from another state, and who had spent the night. Though we don’t see each other often, when we do, I am reminded of what wonderful blossoms they are in the bouquet of terrific friendships I have been fortunate to gather.

As far as friendships go, I have been blessed with few thorns. I have numerous friends who have been a part of my life for 25, 30, 40 and even over 50 years. They may not all be people I see frequently, but we do communicate, and there is one characteristic shared by the very special ones. We are able to pick up where we left off and every time we talk or visit, it seems as though we have never been apart.

Remember, though, that friendships are much like flowers. They require some tending if they are going to blossom and give back. You must feed your friendships, or they will wither from neglect. Care about your friends as you expect them to care about you. Make the time to listen and not only to unburden your own woes. Don’t just use your time together to complain or to one-up them when you discuss your problems.

It’s true that there are some people who get caught up in thinking about how unfair life can be, or get stuck in anger and resentment. They let themselves believe that they have somehow been targeted for heartache and troubles. They complain a good part of the time. They are not so much fun to be with because of their negative attitudes. The truth is, there is nobody who avoids pain and heartache altogether. It may seem like some have more than their fair share, but all human beings eventually get some thorns in their lives. It would be sad to let the roses in our gardens of friendship turn brown because we did not want to go near the thorns of our friends.

No relationship is always perfectly balanced, however. The scales can and do tip in terms of the giving and receiving. This is natural. There will be periods of stress or misfortune when your friends need a good deal of understanding and support. You may be the needy one at other times, and that is ok. Those who live in isolation and who do not have compassionate ears and occasional objective advice to help them over hurdles tend not to do as well as those who can open themselves up to a trusted support system. In fact, this tendency to shut out the world and to live in secrecy or isolation can often be a recipe that leads to depression and self-destructive behavior. Self-reliance is a valuable and admirable quality, but “no man is an island.”

If you have a lot of folks you call friends, but often feel alone because few of your buddies are available to you when you need to share, unburden and seek comfort, it is time to examine your roster of buddies. When you have contact with certain friends, do you feel drained because they are in a state of perpetual crisis, but are rarely willing or able to listen to what you want or need to speak about? I am not suggesting abandoning friends in their times of woe or crisis, but if this is a regular pattern that has endured for a long time and you have a hard time getting a word-in edgewise, then this is probably a toxic relationship. It is most likely one you have to consider winding down or eliminating altogether.

Friendships, like any other relationship, are dynamic organisms and they do change over time. Our focus, interests, needs and life circumstances change. Certain commonalities that brought us together with some people may have ceased to exist. Some of our acquaintances will fall by the wayside and maintaining these relationships may not be beneficial to you, or to the other parties. It’s practical to acknowledge this.

It is possible for new friends to become close and important allies with whom we can easily share and who share with us. Sometimes people just plain click and find an incredible sense of honesty and compatibility, but it does usually take time to build a foundation of confidence on which you can both rely.

There will be a core of individuals who have shared with you the good and bad, who have been there for you, and for whom you have been a faithful support and a bedrock of help, love and wisdom over time. These are the friends to trust, to keep, to water, tend and enjoy.