Why We're Still Friends: The Truth about What Really Makes Friendship Last
December 2, 2014
Why We’re Still Friends: The Truth about What Really Makes Friendship Last
By Julie Obradovic
I met my best friend in second grade. A mutual friend introduced us by claiming we looked just like each other except that I had glasses. That’s not even kind of true, but it worked. We have now been best friends for almost 35 years.
In the early years, our circle of friends changed and grew often. We had different teachers, different classes, and enjoyed different activities. But we were blessed. We always stayed close regardless, and we pretty much got along with everyone.
By high school, the sheer number of girls in our circle became such that we inevitably began splitting into smaller groups. Ours ended up with a solid 7 of us. It remains so today.
I have often thought about the day we take a picture for an article at age 70, discussing our friendships and lives while marveling at our ability to make them intertwine seamlessly and solidly for so long. I have no doubt that will be possible. Although it isn’t always perfect, what we have is special.
But it wasn’t until recently, while watching a reality show of all things, where hurt feelings and anger abound…this person is liar…that person is mean…this person can’t be trusted…that person is fake…that I realized it’s more than being lucky or special that has sustained our friendship.
We have developed a very unconscious way of dealing with one another that flies square in the face of everything anyone’s ever learned about what it means to be a good friend. You know, always tell them the truth. Don’t talk about them behind their backs. Don’t make fun of them. Don’t ask them about their private business. Call them back in a timely fashion. All of these things these ladies were so mad about.
In fact, I realized in that moment, laughing at becoming a little enlightened, we do the exact opposite of what these people claim they want in a friend. And because of it, we have been the closest of friends for three decades.
It made me wonder (in a very Carrie Bradshaw kind of way): Is it possible most of what we think and teach about what it means to be a true girlfriend is wrong?
I can only go off of my own experience, but the following is how and why we have stayed friends for over thirty years as far as I can tell. Surprisingly, here’s what actually makes our friendship work so well.
(And just for the record, when I say friends, I mean friends in the truest sense of the word. I trust these women with my life, my children’s lives, and everything I have and hold dear.)
· We talk about each other behind each other’s backs.
People talk. Women really talk. We are wired to be social beings. Language connects us. And although it would be an ideal world if we all sat around the café discussing politics, humanitarian crises, and important things instead…which we do on occasion…the truth is, our conversations most often center on the people we know. Our families. Our neighbors. Our spouses. Our lovers. Our children. Our co-workers. And yes, one another.
Sometimes we talk about one another for the practicality of it. Within our group, it’s difficult to maintain consistent contact with all 7 women, but we all have one or two in the group that we talk to more than others. When the others catch up, they fill them in.
But sometimes we talk about one another for the necessity of it. One friend is doing something questionable. One friend’s husband is being an ass. One friend doesn’t see the same mistake she’s making over and over. One friend is struggling with something. We create a council of sorts without realizing it; if an intervention is warranted, the tribal leaders will figure it out. If not, we leave it alone.
And sometimes we talk about one another simply because we’re angry, hurt, or disappointed in another, and it’s a hell of a lot easier, safer, and wiser to just vent to a mutual friend that will help us see the other side and let it go, than to have a confrontation that could lead to an argument, hurt feelings, or worse, a damaged friendship. Most of the time, it’s just not worth it.
Finally, we all know we do this. There is not a person among us who doesn’t know we get talked about, even sometimes not nicely. (What was she thinking?!) It would be really naïve at this point to think otherwise. And it would be really silly to get upset over it. It is what it is. And we’re all closer for it.
· We lie to one another.
For all the reasons one spouse may lie to another…Yes, honey, that dress looks amazing on you…No, it doesn’t make you look fat at all…we lie to each other. We lie outright, we lie by omission, and we lie selectively. Some of us can handle the truth way better than others.
To be sure, as we’ve aged and become more comfortable with who we are…and frankly, as society has normalized being substantially less formal and open with what would have been crazy to share with anyone only 20 years ago (like waxing habits, or tampons, or vaginas, or any of that)…we’ve lied a lot less often. But at the end of the day, if what we have to say isn’t nice, helpful, or absolutely necessary, we won’t say it or we’ll say something else.
The bottom line is, we simply don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings to the greatest extent possible. And sometimes we lie to do that.
· We make fun of one another.
Always. All the time. Every time we see each other. We laugh the hardest at ourselves. And some of us are much more fun to laugh at than others. It’s completely disproportionate who gets picked on and why, but that has more to do with honoring one another’s personalities than anything. But no matter what, everyone is fair game. And we like it that way.
· We rarely, if ever, confront one another directly.
Unless we’ve been seriously hurt or misunderstood, there is no confrontation. 99.9% of the time, it is simply not worth hurt feelings or a fractured friendship. And 99.9% of the time, it actually is a simple misunderstanding. In the rare occasion that there is a need for a confrontation, it is usually done so privately between the two people involved. It is also usually done so calmly and respectfully, or with one upset friend stating her case while the other apologizes. That's really about as far as it goes.
· We let it go. In the end, our friendship is always more important.
True friendship is built on trust, like any good relationship. You either trust your friends or you don’t. And when you trust them, you believe that at their core, they love you and wouldn’t intentionally try to hurt you. More important, you believe that even if they did hurt you, they didn’t mean it, or they made a horrible mistake, they are sorry, and they won’t do it again.
We always give each other that benefit of the doubt.
Likewise, we never throw each other under the bus. If one girlfriend has come to me to vent about another, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I tell that other girlfriend unless I have been asked to do so on her behalf. I might share that conversation with another friend in the group, but I would never air one friend’s frustration at the other without her permission. The same is true for all of them.
And most important, if that happens, we go to bat for one another. Even if we are hurt by someone in the group, you can bet the other friends are trying to smooth things over. In the end, maintaining our friendships is always our priority.
· We don’t talk for weeks, sometimes months…and it’s fine.
With my best friends, it is anything but high maintenance. Consistent contact is not necessary to make sure we’re close. Of course it’s nice to hear from one another as often as possible. And of course it’s sad when it’s been a super long time, but the reality is, six months can go by, and when the phone rings, it’s like no time has passed. There is no awkwardness. No apology or explanation needed. It just is. We know life is busy, and we know we love each other. That’s all there is to it.
· We have a long-standing monthly Girl’s Night.
At least 10 years ago, one friend in the group suggested we make the first Saturday of the month Girl’s Night. Make it; don’t make it, no matter. That was the night every month we would try our hardest to see one another.
By that point, it had already become too hard to coordinate dates we could all make. Some of us were married, some weren’t. Some of us had children, some didn’t. All of us were busy. Getting 7 distinct schedules to jive was impossible. With this system, the evening was just there.
We rotate whose responsibility it is to plan. About twice a year, I get to pick the restaurant or activity for the group. We look forward to it every month, but love that there is no pressure or hard feelings if we can’t make it. There’s always next month.
· We tell the same stories over and over again.
Thirty years is a long time to gather memories and get the dirt on one another. And boy, do we have a lot of dirt. From junior high cafeteria stories, to first boyfriends, to frequent car accidents (as a high school car pool, we had 3 in one year), to bad haircuts, to poor clothing choices…the list is endless. We go on and on and on, the stories getting more embellished and outrageous each time. It’s awesome.
· We live very different lives and have very different views.
Five of the seven of us are married. Only three of those five have children. One lives in the city. Most live in the suburbs. One had a horse farm. Two live out of state now. One lives in the same hometown. One is moving back to that hometown. One drives a BMW and lives in a high rise, and one had her own chicken coup, compost pile, kept bees in her backyard, and now lives on a lake. Politically we're spread across the spectrum. Financially we are too.
The differences are stark and remarkable, and yet, they don’t matter. The laughter, experiences, memories, and enjoyment we get out of one another’s company dwarfs anything that could separate us. And it makes for fun conversations after a few glasses of wine, that’s for sure.
· We laugh our asses off when we’re together.
One of our friends has the gift of being a great storyteller. She’s loud, she’s funny, and when she gets with the rest of us…a pretty sarcastic, witty bunch ourselves…you know beyond any doubt you are going to laugh so hard you will cry. Your stomach will hurt. Your mascara will be smeared. And someone will probably spit out her food, or now in our older age, pee her pants.
We say all the time that if a camera crew just followed us to Girl’s Night every month and made a show of it, we’d have the funniest show on television. I stand by that. If laughter is the best medicine, we own the patent on how to make it.
· We accept one another for who we are, and we treat one another accordingly.
I am a highly sensitive person. I don’t do well with criticism, although I’m getting better at handling it, and I have a hard time not taking myself too seriously. I think about things and talk about things I care about a lot. And at this point in my life, I accept that. It’s simply who I am.
I’m a lot of other things of course, but I bring that up only to point out that my friends don’t try to change me. They also accept me for who I am. They let me talk, or they just don’t ask. And they don’t pick on me often. Not surprisingly, I don’t get made fun of too much (to my face!). They know it’s very hard for me to handle, and they are fine with it. They are gentle with me because they love me, and because that’s what I need.
But everyone is our group is different. There’s one friend you simply don’t want to aggravate. She scares the crap out of us when she’s mad. There’s another friend who hates to eat late. We make fun of her for being like an old lady, but we eat earlier for her. Another friend exaggerates everything. We just look at one another and laugh after we make fun of her of crazy version of events.
We’re like a well-oiled machine. Everyone knows everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. And because we love each other flaws and all, we behave accordingly.
· We are each other’s soft place to fall.
The world is constantly telling us we’re not enough. Not pretty enough. Not thin enough. Not young enough. We don’t have enough. We need this. We should wear that. We should be this. We should have that. And if we don’t, we suck.
Our lives also seem more complicated, more overscheduled, and more stressful than that of any generation prior. We need our girlfriends to make it. We really do. They are the last people who should ever make us feel inadequate.
My girlfriends, outside of my husband and family, are my soft place to fall. And especially when I have a hard time with my husband and family, they are an even softer place to fall. I can tell them anything. ANYTHING. And I know they have my back. They may not like it. May not agree with me. May think I’ve lost my mind. They may even talk about that behind my back…like normal people do.
But I know that they will be there for me no matter what. And I also know that the most important thing to them is that they find the balance between not hurting my feelings, supporting me, and telling me the truth when I need it (and only when I need it) in a way that honors who I am so that they can be the best friend possible to me.
I know this because that is what I strive to do and be for them. And this is why we have been friends for over thirty years and will continue to be friends for over thirty more.
True friendship, real authentic friendship, is not about avoiding disagreement, difference, or disappointment. It’s about handling it and yourself in a way that values that friend and that relationship above all else in spite of it.
Sometimes that means venting about that friend behind her back. Sometimes it means holding your tongue and letting it go without a confrontation. Sometimes, it may even mean lying to her face.
And from what I’ve lived and learned thus far, as crazy as that sounds, that’s the honest to God truth about how and why real friendships last forever.