Real friends will tell you when you’ve got a chin hair that needs plucking. Or when you have spinach in your teeth. Real friends will tell you when you’re being stupid or ridiculous or over-analytical or when you are flogging an already dead and decaying horse. Real friends will tell you to look on the bright side, but they’ll peer over the wall into the dark with you, holding your hair back while you vomit into the abyss. Real friends will tell you your ass has looked better, that acid yellow may not be your color, that it may be time to think about retiring the mini skirts. But they’ll also be the ones that tell you to go ahead and buy the $500 dollar boots because it’s good to treat yourself every now and again…as long as you’re not in debt and just not all the time.
Real friends are hard to come by.
But they’re really not.
If you are a real friend yourself, you will attract the same back. And once you recognize what you can tolerate and what you can’t, you’ll quickly find that you don’t need to do any weeding because they’ll weed you out first. I imagine that people who don’t like loud, rather opinionated, snarky, Americans steer clear of me. They’ve done the work for me. Result.
I have friends back home with whom I can laugh until I snort wine out of my nose. The kind of friends that you imagine cackling with on a porch swing some day with spiked lemonade. We have the beauty that is a shared history. We can giggle over those V neck sweaters we wore backward in high school. The pumps with the ankle socks. The Choose Life and Relax T-shirts that came down to our knees. We can get all misty talking about those boys we crushed on, the grade school romances, the lost virginity in the back of the car stories. (Not me, Mom, don’t worry). First cigarettes and first wine coolers, first loves and first forays into independence. That rich, bejeweled kind of history that makes conversations easy and giggling mandatory .
But I’ve also met great friends along this weird-o ex-pat journey that my family and I are part of. Friends that understand because they too have found themselves stranded in a supermarket looking for whipping cream. Or have been left scratching their head in wonder over local customs. Friends that you can call in the middle of the night because your husband is setting up house in another country and your kid has a fever. Who will leave their cell phones on by the bed, just in case. And those friends are just as real, just as valued.
I am lucky, on many levels. I find it easy to talk to people. I find it easy to laugh about myself. I find it easy to find the common denominator. I have met others who don’t find it so easy, and sometimes, after an initial bout of trying to ease them out of their shell, I have gotten side tracked. So for that, I apologize. I’m sure there are many people out there who’s paths I have crossed but not spent enough time getting to know.
We make it hard for ourselves if we limit who and where and with whom friendships can blossom. If we automatically discount someone who is a card-carrying member of a different political party, or of a different faith, or doesn’t wear the same type of jeans or has tattoos or comes from a different part of the world, then we are denying ourselves the opportunity for debate and discussion. The opportunity to broaden our horizons, to learn something new; to think, feel, approach something from a different angle. If we’ve convinced ourselves that our friendships will never be the same as they were when we were young or when we were home, then we are denying ourselves the opportunity to meet some wonderful people. To make real friends.
As the new school year starts and I have that series of conversations with my children, the ones were you use examples and parables to promote respect for differences, to push for a tolerant and diverse atmosphere, it got me to thinking about how to apply the same conversations to our friendships as adults. We don’t hesitate to teach our kids to be open, to play nice, to make the effort. Yet often we don’t practice what we preach.
The title of this post is not meant to suggest that I think of myself as a great influencer of people. Or even that I think that I am a great friend. I have my moments. But I also have a bad habit of interrupting people when they are speaking to get my say in or make a witty comment or just to get a word in edgeways. I have a tendency to run from one place to the next, perhaps not listening hard enough to clues and hints and sometimes, things are missed. I’m not particularly sympathetic to a lot of things. And sometimes I have my head so far up my own ass, lost in my own dramas and daydreams, that I miss the nose in spite of my face. It’s quite possible there’s a whole gaggle of people out there who merely tolerate me as I jostle and joke. Who knows. But maybe that is the key to making friends. Perhaps we should all have our heads up our own backsides a bit more. No, not really. But the truth is, most of us do. Most of us are so caught up in the day-to-day whirlwind of life that we are not thinking that hard about others.
Perhaps that is the key, realizing most people don’t have the time to worry about whether you are this or that or the other. It could be that I’ve reached an age when I really do need someone to keep an eye out for chin hairs. Or maybe it is reaching a stage in life when you simply don’t care if someone thinks you are loud or opinionated or snarky or American. And those that do care will weed you out.
Those that don’t? Well, you can invite them over to the porch swing and spike their lemonade when you’re old and gray.