Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Lifers

I think one of the hardest things to do is to accept people for who they are, and forgive them when they fall terribly short of who you think they should/could be.

This is especially hard with friends.

With family members, there's a certain amount of understanding there that these people were put on earth to drive you crazy in some way. And that you're supposed to love them, regardless. No doubt they feel likewise.

With significant others, you have to go into relationships believing that there are going to be things you don't like, moments you'd rather do without, and personality quirks that most of the time you find irresistibly charming. (Most of the time.) Again - it's a give and take equation, and you go into this kind of commitment understanding that there will be discrepancies and shortfalls and gaps between perfection and reality. All par for the course.

With friends, however, there seems to be a different set of expectations. At least on the surface.

We don't choose our family, for the most part. We may choose romantic entanglements, but the long-lasting ones, the ones worth their salt, are bound to come with moments where you have to remind yourself that you chose this person, that you love him/her, and that at this very moment in time you still accept him/her for who s/he is. It's that conscious "for better or worse" choice that you make when you make a commitment.

The friendship thing, however, is much more intangible. And what do you do when a friend steps so far outside of who you thought they were, or who you think they should be? What if they make destructive, hurtful choices that pain those around them? What if they seem to become less and less "themselves"? What's holding you to them? Not familial blood or a spoken commitment, that's for sure.

True, there are some friendships that are flashes in the pans. Matters of convenience, the children of circumstance. A season, as the adage goes. Or even just a reason, because the adage never equated "reason" to a "lifetime." The reason could be third period math, or a dorm room, or a shared yoga class. The season could be a marking period, a semester, or an actual season, like summer. 

Friendships are slippery things, bound to break free from you. The long-lasting ones, those lifetime gems, can weather a beating. The "reason" or the "seasonal" ones cannot. The tricky thing is learning to distinguish the different types of friendship, and giving them the allotted amount of energy with which they can healthfully grow. A "reason" or "season" friendship can grow into a lifetime. Or a friendship that you thought was "lifetime" material could wither painfully into an abrupt seasonal affair. 

As we get older, the friendships can tend to sort themselves. When big events begin to unfold in everyone's lives - jobs, marriages, moving, babies - the people who are going to be there are the "lifetimers." The reasons and seasons will fall by the wayside. And then when the stakes get higher - illness, death, divorce - those lifetimers are really going to prove their mettle. Who do you want by your side for the good times, and the bad?

Our families (we can only hope) will be there. Our significant others (we can only hope) will be there. But friends? They made no promises when they agreed to be your friend. They didn't sign anything. They are there of their own accord. 

So how obligated are you to be there? How much are you willing to put up with, how far outside of your box can you step to still love someone as they are even when you are certain they have become someone else entirely? You certainly don't have to. Breaking up with a friend requires no paperwork. Unless you count a good old-fashioned Facebook defriending, which shouldn't be overlooked these days. 

In my old age, my friendships are something I have come to realize need cultivation, time, and energy to survive. Especially because so many of my friends are far-flung across the US (and the world). And the lifetimers are not to be taken for granted.

It's a difficult decision to write someone off entirely. And not one that can be made overnight, or because of one action. More often, it takes a series of actions. A series of let-downs and disappointments. 

But how do you ever know if you are doing the right thing? If you turn your back on this person, are you essentially shutting down? Are you failing that person in a far more deliberate and worse way then however they may have failed you? The lines are blurry, the area a solid gray. Does longevity win? What if the "reason" was compelling enough? 

Time will tell. You have your gang of Lifers, you have your groups of Seasonal Wayfarers, and you have your solid Reasons. When one slips the ranks, you have to take a step back and decide how far you're willing to let them go until they're out of the running altogether. And, depending on what kind of a friend they were in the first place, this could be a foot or the circumference of the earth and beyond.

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