I am fortunate to have friends, near and far, with whom I can discuss any number of topics. Some of them specialize. There’s the friend I talk to about the nonprofit world. There’s another friend who talks to me about food. There’s a recently divorced friend who gives me advice on the process and the immediate aftermath. There are any number of long-divorced friends who share their experiences with me, and there are a few not-yet-divorced friends who are watching me closely.
I also have a lot of “friends.” This is common in the internet age but the phenomenon is not new. People I’ve met, yesterday or 40 years ago, inhabit the outskirts of my life but don’t have any direct impact. That’s okay as long as I don’t mistake a “friend” for a friend and go expecting anything of them.
So I was thinking about the nature of friendship and “friendship” and trying to figure out how one is supposed to know for sure which category a given individual falls into.
And then yesterday, a friend with no quotation marks asked me how I was doing. He asked again after I deflected the question and talked about work. He asked again after I deflected the question again and talked about the kids. And he asked yet again when I deflected the question yet again and gave a phony pat answer.
I finally answered the question. I didn’t repeatedly deflect because I’m not okay. I am okay, mostly. I did it out of habit because I don’t really believe anyone cares whether I’m okay or not. And sometimes I think maybe someone cares but they turn out to be a “friend.” So I keep such information to myself as a matter of policy.
Right now I think that being a friend means pestering someone until they’re real with you. And being a friend means trusting someone enough to let your defenses down for a minute.
And that’s the end of today’s lesson.