Friendship

How many friends should we have to be truly happy?

One? Two? Ten? A hundred? On social media, it’s definitely the more the merrier. But are they friends? The number we should have, is constantly in dispute. And this is because the term “friend” has varied meanings.

The in-tune friend:
If we’re lucky, we have that one friend, who knows exactly what we’re thinking and we can finish each other’s sentences. Sometimes just a look is all we need to know and we fall about laughing. That’s a great friend to have. You feel in tune with that person and therefore have a sense of belonging which so many of us need. But not everyone has that friend. There are other types of friends.

The Forever Friend:
Then we might have that friend who we rarely see, perhaps once per year at most due to distance, family or just life. But when we meet up we feel we’ve never been apart. We have the same viewpoints and interests so we instantly reconnect.

The Effortless Friend:
Then there’s the friend who we can relax without the need for conversation. The friendship is peaceful. It’s effortless. We all need peace in our lives.

The Challenging Friend:
In contrast there’s the friend who we feel we should hate. Who argues with us and has totally different viewpoints. When you analyse your friendship you have no idea why you keep arranging to meet up all the time. But perhaps, unbeknown to you, you actually like the challenge of having to prove your viewpoint. The relationship is fiery but fun and keeps you feeling alive.

The Reliable Friend:
Then you might have that reliable friend. You know if you arrange an event, whether it’s a party or a sponsored run or a litter-pick, they will turn up. They will support you whatever you do, even if they don’t like what you’ve organised. You organised it, so they’ll show up. They’re solid.

The Party Friend:
If you organise a party they’ll be there and they’ll be the important life and soul of the party. But they’re unlikely to come to much else. They know what they like and they stick with that. And that’s fine – they don’t owe you anything.

The Friend of a Friend:
We don’t invite them out and they don’t invite us out, but whenever you bump into them, you get along. Probably because you have the same friends.

The Fantasy Friend:
Sometimes a celebrity or fictional character in a book can feel like a friend. We’re not daft, we know they don’t know us (perhaps don’t even exist), but it’s still a nice feeling – I have a lot of those!

The Phone Friend:
If you’re feeling down, you can pick up the phone and they’ll listen. They don’t interrupt, they don’t tell you what to do, they just listen.

The Social Media Friend:
They interact with lots of your posts. That brief moment of trepidation when you post something that you hope others like but maybe won’t is immediately alleviated by their reactive “love”. You might never even have met them, but you feel a bond with them which you reciprocate by liking and sharing their posts too. Often this can be a “business” rather than an individual person, yet you still feel that bond.

The Work Friend:
You get on like a house on fire at work. You really appreciate each other and have a good laugh. You only want to go to work dos if they’re going to be there. But you never meet up any other time.

The Family Friend:
It could be your spouse, sibling, parent or adult child. The friendship is different but so important. They know you so well, yet never hold that against you! They may be your only confident.

The Furry (or feathery or scaly) Friend:
It’s no joke – your pet can be that constant source of love and acceptance. You can tell them your deepest darkest secrets and they’ll never tell a soul.

The Manipulative Friend:
The one who sucks the life out of you, makes you feel angry, depressed, worthless and tells you that you owe them. They’re not a “friend”. They’re just a manipulative “person”.

The Self Friend:
This friend is the most over-looked friend – it is you! Are you kind to yourself? Do you allow yourself “me time” or are you harsh and judgemental? Friendship definitely starts with yourself because you’re with yourself 24/7.

Some of the above might be the same person. And we don’t need all of them. But what if you don’t have any friends? Not any true friends – just people who you associate with and think they’re your friends. Sometimes, friends are not the people you expect them to be…

In “The Boy Who Couldn’t”, I put Greg, a boy with a difficult family life and who was considered cool and tough, with two younger boys, one of whom, James, was very uncool and certainly not tough. It was like a little social experiment. Of course, none of them wanted to be friends, they never would have chosen each other in a million years, but circumstances placed them together.

As they were forced to spend time together, they saw past these external façades and began to get to know the real character inside. Greg began to admire James for his knowledge and passion for the countryside and in particular for badgers. James glimpsed a kinder side to Greg and a vulnerability as he saw him smile and laugh for the first time as he watched the badger cubs playing and came to the realisation that Greg must usually be very unhappy.

This tenuous friendship is soon tested when the boys have to rely on each other to save the badgers from dangerous baiters. Distrust and misunderstandings quickly cause problems.

The friendship that is perhaps more important than any other in this story is James’ father towards Greg. It’s the relationship he should have had with his own dad and it is the gentle glue that holds Greg together when his world is falling apart. It is initially James’ father’s idea for the boys to spend time together and it made me think about how often we can influence our children’s friendship choices.

Too many times I hear of children with autism, ADHD or some other difference, being excluded from parties. Recently, it was one of my own friends who poured her heart out; how upset her child was knowing he wouldn’t be invited to the “Freedom” parties during the summer holidays. We need to teach our children that everyone deserves a chance at friendship. Every child deserves forgiveness and second chances when they get things wrong. When you invite that troublesome or lost little soul to your child’s party, you won’t miraculously cure all their problems, but you can be one significant signal to that child that you think they’re worthy.

World Friendship Day this year is 30th July 2021, followed two days later by National Friendship Day UK on 1st August 2021. Wouldn’t it be great if every child and every adult picked up the phone, called round (if rules allow) or sent a message to a friend – whatever type of friend that might be. And if they reached out to someone who isn’t a friend yet, even better.

Friends make the world a better place. To quote Winnie the Pooh (well, A A Milne I guess), “A friend is someone who helps you when you’re down, and if they can’t, they lay beside you and listen.”

Let’s all try to be that friend and teach our children to be that friend too.

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