Friend (frend), n. 1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard. 2. a patron or supporter. 3. a person who is not hostile. 4. a member of the Society of Friends: Quaker.
My dictionary gives a slightly broader definition of what it takes to be or to have a friend. In one sense, it lets me off the hook for not being a more diligent friend. According to Random House, just not being hostile is enough to qualify as someone’s “friend.” I don’t think so. And I am not a Quaker, so we will skip #4. A patron or supporter could mean I am “friends” with Winn-Dixie … not exactly; but perhaps patronage to my bartender has lead to a solid relationship. I believe the first interpretation is the one with a bit more bearing on friendships. Although, I will fall back on the meaning behind curtain #3 when feeling guilty about not being there for someone, or putting myself ahead of their welfare, or not sharing that last slice of pizza with them.
A friendship has always been something that I was taught to revere, to cherish, to be proud of. Somewhere along the way, the word was given more meaning and importance than that of a mere “acquaintance.” You could be friendly to a neighbor, customer, co-worker, or someone you merely pass on the street, without them becoming a part of your life and you theirs. My parents and my sister always placed their friends in very high regard. They were special in the hierarchy of folks they knew. Sure, I was taught to respect any and all, but the people you take on as your confidants are those who have your back and you damn well better have theirs.
Did I grow up placing too much importance upon these people who enter my life, or has the world become too friendly? I answer: no, no, and well, maybe yes. You can never underestimate the power and value of a friendship. However, Facebook has certainly diluted and undermined the credibility of the term “friend.” They have taken the noun and turned it into a verb and allowed mere strangers to wedge themselves into your personal world. Sure, most on social media invite, approve, and encourage this acquisition of people, and some might go for the numbers—just how many “friends” they can garner seems to be a goal for some. Harmless, I assume, but it is still trivializing a real relationship (or so I feel).
But just how stuck on the word should I be? Why shouldn’t I introduce a customer as my friend or elevate the rapport I have with a neighbor to, “This is my friend, Shelley.” Perhaps the dictionary has it right—anyone not hostile can be a friend! But then, what about the dear and loyal friend of many years that just has that small nasty gene that makes that person hostile from time to time? Does she love me any less? No. Sure, it would be nice to forgo the sh*tty attitude … but not the friend.
Oh, and this leads me to the “BEST FRIEND” category. How can I call her my best friend when she is also my best friend; and what about him? He has been my best friend since high school. And then there are my best friends from the old neighborhood; and what about the old Mobile gang of BFF (swore I would never use this sophomoric acronym)? I feel guilty or rude to reference someone as a BEST and not another dear friend. Oh, screw it—all my friends will now be best friends. Hell, if they can put up with me, they deserve a medal of honor (and one for bravery).
Years ago, a boyfriend (yeah, here’s another whole category. Girlfriend: platonic, unless I’m gay; boyfriend: romantic, unless he is gay—then I am confused and so is he; and so on and on…) Wait, where was I? Okay, some years back, this boyfriend said I had too many friends and that he just couldn’t have that many. At the time, I thought he was so wrong, and I felt sorry for him not wanting more friends. Now, I think he was on to something.
If you ascribe to definition #1 and feel that friendships come with responsibility and are treasures you work for and maintain, then he was correct. How do you possibly have the resources, emotions, and time to be there fully for more than a few? I have come to realize I have taken on more friends than I am capable of caring for. In “caring for,” I mean giving unselfishly of myself. I am just too damn selfish. And when not being selfish, I simply have not the time to be there for them. Should I “break up” with these wonderful people? Or might I hope they are fully aware of my shortcomings, glean something of worth from me, and not dump me?
An old saying of mine: “My friends are the best thing about me.” And now I realize, the worst thing about me is when I take them for granted. One can never have too many friends. But one must know that these are the most important acquisitions you will ever make, and that friendships do come in the form of family, neighbors, co-workers, and co-conspirators, and even the stranger that walks into your life—never to be a stranger again—and simply connects.