Zen And The Art of Friendship Maintenance
Zen (from Buddhism) meaning enlightenment.
A happy surprise happened to me this week: I was asked to join a girlfriend circle with the objective of becoming a new friend to the woman who extended the invitation. A girlfriend circle… How intriguing! A girlfriend circle that is part of an organized network of girlfriend circles… ‘Curiouser and curiouser.’
The rule for this gathering is that there are to be no fewer than six and no more than eight participants who will gather – preferably at a coffee shop – converse, and subsequently decide which (if any) of the women one wishes to befriend. My invitation bears only the name of the gal who invited me (and I don’t even know her), so I’ve no idea who all will be attending. Fascinating, non? The invitation is accompanied by a delightfully pretty card listing the rules by which each woman must abide both at the initial meeting and throughout the period of friendship development and maintenance.
Not knowing anything about this phenomenon, I immediately went on-line to do some research and what I discovered was amazing indeed. This is an enormous movement, mostly active in big cities throughout North America, organized by a handful of creative entrepreneurs (Of course these are businesses…) to help women make new friends. A type of friendship brokerage, I suppose. By typical standards, Cobourg is far too small to catch the attention of these companies, but because our town is rapidly growing with retirees from the GTA, apparently there is a need to help the female diaspora connect and form new friendship circles close to their new homes.
So! Friendship rules? I imagine we all have them, even if we don’t think of them as such. Do I abide? Am I a compliant friend?
Friendship maintenance? When I think of maintenance I think in terms of physical restoration and repair, not human or relationship maintenance. Do I care for and preserve my friendships?
Time for a little soul-searching, methinks…
Spending most of this afternoon thinking about the entirety of my past year (spent on a dialysis machine), it became obvious to me that I’ve typically been despondent, fractious, bitter, cantankerous and probably worst of all, unresponsive to visitors, phone calls and many e-mail messages. In short, I’ve been very difficult to love. Yet my core group of friends, my girls, my sisters, held steadfast throughout against my railings, my bad temper and my silences and suddenly there it is, my Zen moment:
Having, for so long, done all the needing and taking myself, I am woefully overdrawn at the friendship bank!
I feel quite ashamed, both in the realization of this and in the confiding…
Zen And The Art Of Friendship Maintenance!
Yes, I clearly have good friends, the very best of friends in fact, who shower upon me love and support in unlimited measure. But now, now that recovery is on my doorstep, now that life is about to return to my normal, it is my turn – my time – to invest in them the affection, the care and the attention they all so richly deserve. I can do better. I must do better! I need to become a friendship mechanic…
The rest of my afternoon was spent reading, critiquing, laughing at, considering and rewriting the list of rules for friendship maintenance. For me, the entire list (a huge one) can be distilled into three words:
Time Nourishment Emulation
The Art Of Friendship Maintenance – Time
Each friend deserves to have time dedicated to her and her alone when she has your undivided attention; time that is intimate, private if she wishes, time that is impenetrable by anything or anyone. Regardless of how busy life becomes, regardless of how ebullient or melancholic I may be feeling, it is very important to share time with each friend, to ensure they feel absolutely supported and understood by me.
The Art Of Friendship Maintenance – Nourishment
Deep and abiding friendships need nourishment to ensure they are able to develop and mature to their full potential but here is where, for me, the friendship maintenance theory becomes nebulous: The women I have befriended are a diverse lot; each is alike any of the others as chalk and cheese. A formulaic approach is futile yet the concept of nourishment is so clearly an essential element of friendship. I believe ‘nourishment’ boils down to understanding what is needed by my friends at any given time and being ready and willing to fill that need, be it as simple as camaraderie, kindness and loyalty or as complex as counsel, sensitivity and confidence.
The Art Of Friendship Maintenance – Emulation
Specifically: Be the friend you would like to have!
Be a good listener, be empathetic, reach out when you sense you’re needed, limit your expectations, be honest, be loyal, be reasonably forgiving, and allow your friends to be each of those things to you, in turn and in time. Emulate, in other words, the friendship you are given.
Enlightenment is one thing. Creating a strategy and then working that plan is another thing altogether! I truly hope I am able to do just that in the weeks, months and years ahead. Only time will tell…
Next week I will be attending my first girlfriend circle meeting, mindful of the rules I’ve been given. Although I am honoured to have been included, I know I’ll be full of trepidation – it feels like a bit of an audition and I suspect I will hate that. The explicit act of making a friend is new to me. Everything I know about making friends I learned in the schoolyard, every friend I’ve gathered came to me naturally. How will my audition be received? Perhaps my next post will be all about this new experience…