Last week, I had one of those dispiriting telephone conversations with a friend of mine. You know, the kind that ends in a quiet thud.
Mike called me late (anything after nine is late for me now). And I’m sure I heard Mike say he wanted my point of view on a personal matter he was struggling with.
In retrospect, what Mike really wanted was for me to listen to him, and then show support, or at least compassion, for a terrible family choice he made. I’ve read many books on friendship. Typically, authors list the “Ten Qualities of True Friendship” or the “Twelve Essential Traits for Being a Friend.” I do okay at some of them, but I suck at others.
For example, most of these lists include being nonjudgmental. The last thing Mike was hoping to get from his friend Don was a lecture on how bad he messed up, and why he needed to make apologies to his spouse and kids, rather than stick with his lamebrained excuses.
Next on these lists comes some reference to showing empathy. I think I flunked at that trait as well.
With my best friends, I can’t help but go in totally unfiltered and share what’s on my mind. My best friends expect no less from me. If they wanted someone to dress up the truth, they’d call someone else. The greater the love and trust I have for my best friends, the more apt I am to share my honest beliefs and feelings, even if such thoughts fail the empathetic and nonjudgmental tests.
After my call with Mike, I could not get back to sleep. I kept thinking about the hierarchies of friendship and how they make up a pyramid of sorts. At the very top, if one is fortunate, are a few very close friends with whom you share a special bond. When times get tough, these best friends show up. I’m lucky and blessed to have a small number of close friends.
For me, right beneath this tiny tribe, is the “friend” category. Again, I am blessed. I have a much larger group of friends who play a major role in my day-to-day life. Mike falls into this category.
“Acquaintances” come next on my friendship pyramid. This is an even broader echelon. It is full of people I know and may appreciate, but who have yet to (or may never) move up to be my friends. And the levels continue on down past “familiar faces,” and all the way to the strangers I have yet to meet.
What I’m coming to realize is that the way I communicate with my very best friends may not work with my broader group of friends, and probably won’t work with my acquaintances. Since Mike is a friend, and not a best friend, I needed to be a bit more filtered in my responses. A little more empathy and support may have been the right call.
I’d enjoy receiving feedback from readers who know a lot more about the science of friendship than I do. I’m guessing I still have a lot to learn.