Many years ago, when AOL was pretty much the only internet community, and the guy who invented Facebook was still in grade school, I had an online pen pal from Scotland. She was a homeschooling mom with spiritual ideals, so we hit it off right away. One day she wrote to me about when her best friend dumped her, for no reason that she could imagine, and how difficult it had been for her to heal from that.
At first I couldn’t empathize with her pain. Sure, I’d had my share of best friends, but they come and go, right? It’s not like a romantic relationship where you let yourself be vulnerable and raw in front of another person. Friends are just friends.
Now many years, and best friends, later, I’ve been giving this much more thought. Do friends really come and go, or can we be just as invested in our platonic friends as we can be in our romantic relationships.
The Celts have a term for such close and profound friendships, Anam Cara, which is Gaelic for “soul friend.” An Anam Cara is someone you connect with immediately, and feel as if you have known them forever.
I thought about the post I’d written recently on what I’d learned from my old lovers, and realized that as much as I’d learned from my failed romances, I’d learned just as much, if not more, from my failed friendships.
To C. You were my best friend throughout high school. And WOW, did we ever fizzle out after graduation. I don’t think we ever had much in common, but we did have fun. What I learned from you is that the potential for friendship is in anyone, no matter the differences.
To J. You were my first best friend after high school, but it took me six years to find you. You were so cool and looked like you should be in a rock band. I felt like such a geek around you, but you never thought that, or if you did, you never let on. You were spontaneous, I held myself back. You tried new things, I wanted to go home and watch TV. You introduced me to Stephen King and the concept of the existential crisis. You painted my nails on the morning of my wedding as we laughed our way through a bottle of champagne. You opened your true heart to me. I was so hurt when we stopped being friends. I couldn’t understand your wildness, and saw it as you not caring enough. What I learned from our friendship is that people are who they are, and it’s okay to love just the parts you love.
To D. I learned and grew the most because of our friendship – but only after it ended. When we met I was closed and didn’t trust others very easily. I don’t even know why you wanted to be my friend, but around you I felt all warm and safe. I was hypnotized by your brightness and laughter and found myself sharing things I hadn’t realized had been hidden away so deeply. I let you take the wheel, and I became overly dependent on you. You were psychic advisor, life coach, and best friend all rolled into one. What I learned from our friendship was that when I hand the reins to someone else, I go in the direction they’re going, and lose my own way. I am always my responsibility, and not someone else’s.
If a marriage is on the rocks, counseling often comes into play. Steps are taken because vows have been given that society takes somewhat seriously. Yet with friendships there is no vow before man and God. There is no promise given that through sickness and health we’ll be there for each other. There is only ever understanding, and at any time we can change our minds.
When our lovers leave us, we have our friends to rally round and support us through our healing. No one would blame us if we wanted to cry in the shower, or eat a half gallon of ice cream. Yet when our friendships break apart, most of the time we are left scratching our head in wonder with no recourse but to buck up and get on with life.
Friendships should be treated tenderly. They provide a framework for learning to understand ourselves and they have the potential to awaken us to a deep and unconditional love. Within friendship we find a safe place to be vulnerable. But friendship is always without promise and commitment, and should be treasured, no matter how long it chooses to stay.