At the end of each year, it is my custom on this blog to reflect on themes of the year: things I’ve learned, things I’ve been working on, things that keep coming up until they achieve a resonance with the year that’s gone by. And this year, as with last year, I find myself wanting to talk about friendship.
My friend Rahul wrote a blog post back in July that has stayed in my mind ever since: “Your friends probably won’t be there for you when you most desperately need someone’s help.” I was very bothered by this post because it put one of my fears into words and presented it as truth. Boiled down, the idea is that in your time of need, your family is all you have.
I completely disagree with this idea. And I think understanding this idea is not the only possible truth is perhaps one of the most important things I did this year.
This is not to say that I don’t think family is important. I do, absolutely. But sometimes we might not have very much family, or they might live far away, or they might be dysfunctional in a harmful way. Some of us end up without a lot or even any family. It can happen. And what then?
This is also not to say that all friends will be there for you at all times. More casual friends might not be there for you at all. Or you may surprise each other as the friendship deepens. And friends aren’t operating under an obligation that is the same as the familial obligation we are familiar with in our society.
But it is possible to build a chosen family, a family of friends. It is not as straightforward, perhaps, as having blood ties. Different friends are willing and able to give each other different things, and this giving can’t be forced the way it sometimes can be in traditional families. Friendship has to be built over time, and because there isn’t one template, one correct way to do things, friendship has to be negotiated in a way that both people are ultimately comfortable with.
Just as with relationships with family or significant others, deeper relationships with friends are not always easy. Sometimes they need more time and care, sometimes they need some space. Sometimes your friend lets you down, and sometimes you let down your friend. Mistakes are made, feelings are hurt, things that need to be said aren’t said. Sometimes tough circumstances can be communicated through, and sometimes such efforts prove to be too difficult. Sometimes you are left with the thin hope that the passing of time will work some magic to allow renewed understanding to pass between the two of you.
This is what I AM saying. There have been times during the past two years when I have desperately needed someone’s help. And collectively, my friends have been there for me. They have shown generosity and caring in a thousand different ways. They have stood by me and let me learn what I needed to learn and most crucially, they have reminded me, over and over again, that I am not alone.
They are my family.