Real Talk: Choosing Friends

I am lucky in my friends. They span near and far. Some are close to my heart, and some are dear to my heart.

I was asked recently about things I think about when choosing friends.

Most often people just say “Well, you need to get out there and meet people,” but we all know it’s more complicated than that. Sure, if I meet hundreds of people, I’m bound to find a few that I click with. But especially since I turned 30, I just have zero time or desire to wander through the masses looking for superficial friends.

I pick exceptional people that inspire me, people I admire a lot, and people that I genuinely am true fans of.

Wondering How to Find Your Tribe?

For me, I can sum it up by saying that friendships are nurtured when we give and accept the freedom to be authentic.

Friendships are nurtured when we give and accept the freedom to be authentic.

Maggieothevalley.com

There you have it! Post over! You really don’t need any more than this to understand my philosophy.

But, if you do want more information, keep reading I’ll unpack this idea in the post below:

Authenticity: Both Sides of the Coin

Here’s a thing I keep in mind, and the good news is, it starts with someone much smarter than me.

This lesson comes from Dr. Maya Angelou. She said this famous quote:

When people show you who they are, believe them.

Dr. Maya Angelou

Notice she’s saying show, not tell. When people show you who you are, believe them. The first time.

So, I have news for you, and you might not like it. People are always showing you who they are. Let’s talk about this so you can see if you might just be overlooking some things in your circle.
Unless you change it intentionally, the framework of your relationship with someone now is the framework you will have for the entirety of your friendship with that person.

What to Expect From Their Side

This does not at all take into account what you may or may not bring to a friendship. This is just something to consider when you are evaluating the messages that your friends or prospective friends are bringing to you.

  • Friends with a gossiper? They are going to be involved with gossip for as long as you know them. When you stop gossiping with that friend, do you think they’ll still feel as close to you? No way! Gossip is part of the framework of your friendship. And here’s the thing: a gossiper is a gossiper. How much do you want to bet that person gossips about you? If you’re going to remain friends with this person, you’ll have to stunt your maturity and remain a gossiper forever, which does not sound like a very fun idea to me.
  • If you are friends with someone who doesn’t initiate communication, you need to know that in your friendship, you will not be able to rely on that person calling you first. Ever. Being occasionally delighted and/or surprised by a call? Great! But that’s not the default framework of your relationship with that person. Knowing that could help you accept and love them better, or at least prevent you from feeling embittered or embarrassed if you’re always the one reaching out. The framework is the framework; if you’re going to remain friends, you’re signing up to be the one to call first, period. My artist and musician friends are so very much like this! I find it a charming part of their free-spirited character. Creative types really suffer with these types of expectations, so I place none. This is how you accept this person for who he/she is, and give them the respect and freedom to be who they are. Your choice of behavior should honor who YOU are, so react to this accordingly.
  • If you’re friends with someone who refers to you as her “best” friend when she’s lonely, and then simply a “good” friend when her other friends are back from wherever, you need to know that’s a framework of your relationship. Is this person still your friend? Heck yes! But it could be that this person is still figuring out what friendship means to them. That is ok! You can accept and love this about her, maybe even help her explore what friendship means to her! Be a buddy. I have friends like this, and it’s not because of any other reason than they don’t keep “best” friends, they keep honorary sisters, and that’s a truly high honor. It’s also something I relate to. Conversely, I have other friends like this, and the underlying issue is that they often feel burdened by what other people think, and it makes me feel that they must worry about what I think a lot too. If this is who you’re dealing with, why not give them the great gift of freedom from having to worry about what you think? Why not just accept and love them as they are? When you offer this, they’ll sense it, believe me. It’ll be like giving a thirsty person a cool drink of water; sweet relief from the pressures of what other people think.
  • If you have spent quality friendship time with someone but they still don’t find reason to share the things that are going on in their lives with you, chances are they never will. It’s not a part of their framework. Hey, they have every right to decide that with you! Just like you’d have every right to decide that for someone else. If you remain friends with this person, just know they like having their own world that you’re not a part of, and they’ll tell you they’re “fine” when you ask how they are. If you want to know more, you’re signing up to be the one to ask! And if you don’t that’s your call too. I have ended friendships with a person like this simply because I felt after ten years of trying to reach out in friendship, he should be able to tell me basic things about his life, but that’s my standard–one that I am responsible for. I have also ended friendships with people like this who have not only not offered anything about their basic day-to-day, but when asked, they have lied. That’s not the sort of garden you want to water, if you know what I mean. You just don’t need a friend like that.

These are just a few examples of literally millions of possibilities out there. Evaluate the people who are influencing you in your life. What can you learn about them based on what they show, regardless of what they say?

Some Good News

  • If you have a healthy friendship framework with someone, it is more likely that you will be able to keep it healthy, no matter what life changes come your way.
  • If you have a healthy friendship framework with someone, it can grow and change without becoming lost. This is because you have been able to love and accept them for who they are, but also, you’ve found someone who is willing and able to do the same for you! Way to go, both of you!
  • Healthy friendship frameworks don’t falter with distance or time. These are the kinds of friends we can love all throughout our lives.

More Good News

It’s not a one-way street! I’ve talked a lot about which friends to choose, which to hold on to, and why.

You want a healthy framework for friendships with people? Make one! You’re half the equation, after all.

BE AN INTENTIONAL FRIEND!

If you want to meet interesting people, you can start by being interested in people.

If you want to be a friend that is cool to be around, learn to accept people as they are. You may not like the framework you have with someone, and you’re not obligated to invest in a friendship that your heart isn’t in. But you do have the power to let people “do them,” as they say. Accept them. Appreciate what there is to appreciate, and keep yourself moving right along. Don’t gossip.

If you want authentic friendships, go for quality, not quantity. It’s far better to have four quarters than it is to have 100 pennies. Don’t get me wrong–you might wind up with 10 or 20 quarters, and boy oh boy, that’d be reason to celebrate!

How about being a friend to yourself first? It’s that age-old rule, you can’t give away what you don’t have. Make sure you love yourself, and if you don’t yet, then start by respecting yourself.

Be a Fan

Giving and accepting the freedom to be authentic means you’ll probably start to genuinely appreciate the friendships you do have, and that’s a win! You might not encounter a bunch of people you’d want to have as friends. The thing about freedom and authenticity in friendship is, when you do find excellent people, you’ll genuinely and sincerely admire them. You’ll be able to wish them well and mean it. You’ll be able to encourage and pump them up, and mean it. You’ll be able to be happy for them, to want to help them, and you won’t ever have to worry about “keeping score.” You’ll just think they’re awesome!

Feel shy about meeting people? I bet you wouldn’t if you had the mindset of truly appreciating people in this way. Think of all the people out there just waiting, whom you are going to find truly awesome and inspirational? And I mean it, you’re going to think they are the bees knees!

What If I Have Friendships That I Want To Improve?

We never throw people away. I’ll repeat: we never, ever, ever throw people away. Got that?

We can decide to eat at different tables, and that’s ok. That doesn’t mean you deem someone as worthless or meaningless.

The only exception to this is if you are dealing with someone who is abusive. If you are friends with someone who is abusive, I’m sorry but that is unacceptable. It will never improve. Got it? Never. Eat at a different table. And they are not allowed to sit at yours. That is the line that can’t be crossed, capiche?

If you have healthy relationships with people but you need a tune-up in your framework, you’ve got options. You can:

  • Tell them about what you want to change in your friendship, and what you will be doing going forward. They can accept this in you, or not. They have a right to either.
  • Put that friendship in a “time out” category. That means you’re going to take some distance, and you will return at a later date to rekindle the friendship under terms that you feel are more appropriate. You are taking on the acceptance that you won’t know what is going on in their lives during this time. And, they have a right to accept your new terms upon your return, or not.

Summing Things Up

People are good. People are best when they are free.

If you want to be a good friend, let people be free with you, just free to be who they are, how they are.

Call them if you want, show them the kind of love that you know how to give people, as best as you can, and do better when you learn how to love better, yes?

If they need freedom to go be who they are, give it to them, and use the time to love, nourish, respect, and be a friend to yourself. Peace is possible, and it’s all good.

Good friends kind of take care of themselves in this way: with this mindset, I find that I sort of naturally gravitate to people who are interested in life, and who only make time for things that are authentic. I find that these types of people are closer to me too. Inauthentic folks, or folks who aren’t ready to be real, simply aren’t interested in me, which is ok because I don’t have time for that anyway. Wish them well, and let them go.

The Right People Will Stay, and the Wrong Ones….Won’t.

I have a different understanding of what you might call “best” friends. In regards to the folks in my circle, if they weren’t the absolute “best” people I knew, people who were authentic and accepting, around whom I could be myself, an extension of my family, part of the village that I found, and people who helped me be closer to God, they wouldn’t be in my circle of friends in the first place. They are my friends, and this fact just shows that there is no higher compliment that I could give them. I truly admire them, I’m their biggest fan, and I feel happy for them totally sincerely. They’re the family I’ve found so far in my life, and they make my world so much bigger. It’s such a blessing. I’d be such a self-centered person if not for them. They make me feel so very grateful. Plus, these are people who feel as deeply as I do about friendship, which means I am given the grace to contribute good things to their lives, too. It’s an all-around blessing. We are kindred spirits, and that is so very valuable to me.

And for the folks I’m not meant to have a kinship with, honestly they just aren’t much interested in me, nor I in them. I have reached an age where I’m really no longer concerned with what others think about me, and you shouldn’t be either. If people are going to talk, they’ll talk, no matter what you do with/for/around them, so you’re better off just being you. Things will happen naturally from there. They’ll zig. You’ll zag. No problem. Wish I’d known that when I was 20, believe me.

A Tribe Just for You

You may think that this limits you to only having a few good friends. My answer to that is: well yeah, maybe. If that’s the personality you have, the life you have, the friends you have, then maybe that’s your circumstances, and that’s all good.

Maybe you’ll have a life that leads you to real, authentic, meaningful friendships with lots of people, and that’s entirely possible too!

You might even experience both sides of this coin over the course of your life! Life changes, and we all go through periods of loneliness. That’s a part of life, and it doesn’t mean you are friendless. You are transitioning. You can still make a tribe wherever it is that you’re going.

My point is, don’t limit other people with rules that really don’t mean anything, and don’t limit yourself with ridiculous conventions, either.

If you go for what is authentic and see people for who they are, you’ll wind up liking all kinds of different people. Some of your new friends will be married. Some will not. Some will be mothers or fathers. Some will not. Rich, poor, fat, thin, from your country, from not your country, your same sexuality, not your same sexuality, from your religion, from a different religion, inter-abled. You can make friends and neighbors of them all by having the courage to be uniquely you, protecting AND expecting the freedom to be authentically individuals with everyone you are friends with.

Just love people. Expect what is good within them. Treat people with respect, and you’re more likely to get respect back. Value differences. Assert yourself. Avoid saying anything to your friends unless it is useful, fun, or a value to them. Take no crap.

And most of all, be grateful for the friends you do have, while you search the world for more. Your tribe is out there, yes, but the secret that I want you to remember is that your tribe is already forming around you.

Resources

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As a former bookseller, you guys know I often look to books to help me explore ideas in just about everything. Here are my book recommendations for learning more about friendship!

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A Beautiful World: Viewing Life As A Traveller Passing Through

I learned very early that the world was a colorful, wonderful, curious place.

A World of Beautiful Things

Growing up as the daughter of trade confectioners (among my parents’ MANY skills and careers over the years), it was exciting enough that ice cream was a part of the family business.

Now picture my whole family going to county fairs in city after city over the summer, selling gourmet ice cream and other special treats. Hot summer days, ferris wheels, selling ice cream, riding elephants, and parking our trailer in a different city every two weeks over the summer. It was an exciting and vibrant childhood.

My family had a beautiful trailer for life on the road. Very often, the ferris wheel wherever we were was my nightlight as I drifted off to sleep.

The County Fair of My Childhood

In those days, the fair was SO MUCH DIFFERENT than it is now.

Now it’s seedy, commercialized, and cheap. In those days, it was different. It was a place for families.
It was perfectly respectable, for example, to find your teacher at the fair selling ice cream or fresh local-made pie as a summer job.
All your neighbors had pigs, chickens, or livestock competing for a blue ribbon at the county fair.
Clowns were the good guys (and on occasion, some of the more fun babysitters I ever had).
Travelling acts came through each city with their caravan of trailers and buses and paparazzi, and some of them launched huge musical careers this way. Others stayed in the circuit, with their trick divers, zydeco bands, exotic bird expositions, magic shows, pan flutes, acrobatics, elephant training, and fire-breathing.

If you’ve never heard of zydeco, this song from Buckwheat Zydeco provides a great example of this dance-inducing Louisiana style of music.

All these people were friends of our family. All these people were my neighbors. The carnival was my neighborhood. And I was so very free.

What kid wouldn’t want one of these in her back yard?!

I learned lots of life skills–to this day, I can sense a fight in a crowd before it happens. I can walk through a sea of people and they’ll hardly notice I was there because I won’t bump into anybody. I can sell a bridge to a bridge-builder. I am unafraid to look people in the eye, even when (and especially when) they are trying to be aggressive. I learned what it looks like to be targeted and followed by strange men (very important to know, especially as a little girl). These were things I learned from the general public. Most people trust the public, and look down on the fair folk, but let me tell you: in regards to quality, the truth is actually reversed. I was always in more danger from the general public.

The fair folk were my extended family.

Some real Roma folks were always around ready to read our fortunes, but as our families saw each other multiple times a year, my parents and they became familiar and always had a kind and neighborly word for each other. We girls sat while the grownups drank coffee and chatted.

But I also learned a ton from the other families like mine–the ones who travelled, who belonged to this circus-ish world, who saw each other in every city at every fair, and others only once a year at a particular show. My parents were friends with the elephant trainers, who let my sisters and I feed the elephants oatmeal raisin cookies every morning, and ride the elephants any and every time we liked. We knew the people who operated the rides. We sold ice cream to Robin Williams, MC Hammer, and other big celebrities. We knew people who got their start at the fairs, like the makers of those Dippin’ Dots.

Some kids have their height measured on a doorframe. We also had caricatures done every year for fun, and to commemorate our growth from summer to summer.

And clowns? Again: they were the good guys. And at the fair, they were everywhere. If I needed to get to safety or report some creep-o scaring me, or get a message to anyone, anywhere, I’d go find a clown. They’d help me. Suddenly, there’d be a whole network of people making sure I got safely to where I needed to be. They’d look out for and protect me. You certainly wouldn’t find that now, but let me tell you–back then, they were a network of good guys who did what they did because they cherished the innocent. They were performers who devoted their lives to joy, and protection of the innocence in all of us. And you know what? Most of them had regular day jobs, some of which where pretty prestigious. I think my parents knew of a physician and several of his doctor friends who did moonlighting as clowns at the fair. What, you think Patch Adams started that? No way! He may have been the most famous doctor to don a red nose, but he certainly wasn’t the first.

Stupid Stephen King ruined everything, but that’s another post.

Clowns and other street performers provided a guardian angel network of information and safety for all of us “fair kids.”

As for the other vendors, we had the same kind of rows of trailers selling stuff that you see at fairs today. But it was different then. The folks who sold Chinese food were actually from China. The folks who sold Native American jewelry belonged to those cultures–and had tons of their lessons, legends, and folklore to share. The folks who sold Mexican food were from Mexico. The folks who sold grandfather clocks were actually from Germany. Then you had families who had trades and skills passed down from generation to generation. Real leatherwork from families with generations of tanners. Photographers from families who had literally every iteration of the camera in their attic since the invention of the camera. Blacksmiths. Engine builders. Inventors–real ones, with their wildest new robotics and ideas that no one else in the world had heard or seen yet.

Demonstrations like these at the fair always followed with actually getting to meet the performers, who told me all about their families and culture. I soaked it up like a sponge.

And dumb jacuzzi salesmen and ridiculous seen-on-tv guys that the rest of us really didn’t pay much attention to. I wish I had known then that it would have been those cheap commercial guys who were going to take over everything.

My point is, walking from one side of the grounds to the other was like entering dozens of different worlds, different countries. Talking to people was amazing–they’d tell me these stories of how they came to America, what they were doing, how they did what they did. Everywhere you look was a human being of a different color, shape, and size. Each one–no matter where they were from–would tell me how glad they were to be in the United States, because they were free to be who they were. This freedom allowed everyone to live peacefully together, even though we were all different–and we were ALL different, with different skills, religions, cultures, folklore, languages….it was SO wonderful. Everywhere you look, someone was doing something different, had a different skill, and it was all interesting.

I imagine heaven looks something like that.

Diversity is Proof that God Loves Us

That’s how I know what I know about diversity. It was woven into the fabric of my understanding of the world, and of God. You see, diversity is God’s way of showing all the multitude of ways that God loves us. That’s why it’s so wonderful that we are all different.

The Changing Tide

Like I said, things changed. The cost of doing business in this way became higher. Soon it was only the commercial guys who could afford to do business, that and the old-fashioned folk who became crooked and lied and cheated their wealth in order to stay in business. You know how in The Hobbit movie when Radagast notices the beautiful forest becoming corrupted by a spreading evil? That’s what it felt like to see my childhood world becoming darker, greedier, needier. My parents always ran a clean business, so in this new market they very soon were losing profits. More and more, the community turned sour and seedy, since only the more money-mongering, villainous characters were able to afford to stay. There were a couple times when it felt like my family was on an island, and things were green and good and safe where we were, but my beautiful childhood was becoming a dangerous place around me. Twice, I saw one man pull a gun on another man and shoot him. I would have been less than ten years old. A couple times, the crowd became so dangerous that my sister and I had to hide under our ice cream counter until my father came to get us–a couple hours of fearful waiting.

At long last, my family had to throw in the towel, sell the business, and return home. We weren’t the only ones. All my wonderful, colorful, beautiful neighbors in all their shapes and sizes, languages, flavors, smells, countries, all had to return home too, one by one, then handful by handful. Back to our drab tiny little towns, where everyone was the same color and the same religion, and didn’t believe my sisters and I when we said we personally knew the elephant in “Operation Dumbo Drop.”

No one in town understood the beautiful thing we had, the beautiful thing we lost, and the process of that, of what we went through. It was hard.

We still knew a good family in the business, and I worked for them every summer in high school selling corn dogs to earn money for the school year.

To them, we were abnormal. To them, we had returned home and that finally made sense, we would finally be respectable and fit into the boxes that they had always known for themselves.

I Felt Like We Were A Disney Version of The Addams Family

But we never would really fit in. My dad knew way too much about the wonderful diversity of people, and it made him an amazing teacher to hundreds of students young and old. He had seen and met too many people, had too much of a wide perspective to waste his time being pretentious or snobby like so many of his colleagues, even though he was way way wayyyyy more educated than they. My mom knew way too much about global business from, well, being in the globe and from running a business. She kicked you-know-what and became a global credit expert, one of less than 100 in the whole United States. She was simply too exotic and interesting to fit our town’s assigned role of happy pill-popping waspish cheerleader-uniform-still-drycleaned-in-the-front-of-the-closet Christian housewife. Even some of our distant metropolitan relatives clicked right into the mindset of us being back in the sticks, and for the longest time I wondered if they thought we sat around barefoot on the back porch with banjoes.

I’m proud that my parents had such integrity to run a good and honest business, teaching my sisters and I how to work. They also hired a staff every summer, and I never knew anyone who worked for my folks who didn’t come away much better, as they always took them under their wings and taught them life skills, loaned them money, listened when no one else would, fed them hot meals. Even when we returned back to town for good, my parents turned their attentions to the house and garden. They’ve made it a haven, as gorgeous as anything you’d find in a home magazine. Even so, I bet they wished there was someone close by who could have understood everything they had been through.

And my sisters and I? Well we were always seen as odd. For my sisters, they were frequently seen as exotic, popular, desirable. I wasn’t so lucky. Other kids didn’t understand or trust that I would be open-minded because of the color of my skin, and treated me accordingly. My sisters and I were independent, could run businesses of our own. When I grew up and had my turn for management experience, it was almost as though the other folks thought I was too young to be qualified…little did they know I had been wearing an apron and managing money since before I was in kindergarten. While they were on summer vacation, I was working. I was working in heaven, but hey, it was still hard work.

Our elephant friends, Tai and Dixie, had coloring much like this. We were probably the only kids who returned to school saying things like “Our friend is an elephant and she’s moving to Hollywood,” and have it actually be true. Tai has been in tons of things, and features with Reese Witherspoon in “Water For Elephants.”

A Whole New World

Enter the digital age, and PRAISE GOD, too. For the first time since my childhood, I FINALLY had access to the world again beyond my tiny town. Everything changed for me with my first smartphone. I was able to go to school online and compete with people all around the country instead of the little college in my town, and these people really challenged me and helped me grow.

Even my love life was made possible thanks to the access provided by the digital age. In a chat forum, I could talk with people from other countries. How I had missed getting to talk to people from different countries! I chatted with a lady my age in China who told me about university there. I learned about life in Copenhagen from a man who had just moved to the city. Finally, one day I started up a conversation with a man from Argentina.

Eugene, aka the man of my dreams.

(C) 2019 Margaret Nelson. Do not use without permission.

It was Eugene. I finally met a man who understood what it was like to have a concept of home that travels with you, a man who had a global perspective, who knew how to work hard, who had family values, and knew what it was like to have to leave home and start from scratch. Self-made, could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, could make something from seemingly nothing, who knew the same secrets of this wonderful, colorful world like no one in my town ever could. Plus, he’s also a person who made the best and did his best with everything around him, his entire life. Let me tell you–I knew right away that this was a real man! We started just having friendly conversation, and were very fast very dear friends. But even then, I knew Eugene was someone who would be important to my life.

There are two men in a girl’s life who make all the difference. There’s her father, and there’s The Guy. I knew Eugene was The Guy–the only guy that could possibly have been just right for me in the whole world.

And, I get to be his partner! How amazing is that? I get to add to his life as much as he adds to mine…..*mind blown*….

United as Travelers of Exceptional Variety

Now that I’m grown, and the world is so accessible, I find myself actively seeking out new friends and adventures all the time. I’ve met some truly special people who embody my sense of home–you know, there are just some folks who stay with you through your life, no matter where you wind up going. Experiences are that way, too. I can’t remember the last time I was bored. I can’t remember the last person I met who didn’t have something interesting about him or her. I love people. I love places. I love different cultures. I love being in a country where we get to all be/do/think different things and still come together to stand in favor of the ideas behind one flag, and have a say in developing those ideas, too!

The Obelisk in Buenos Aires.

Don’t Worry, There’s a Happy Ending

My town in the valley has gotten a ton better too. Sure, in with the angels come some unsavory types. But all in all, it’s a wonderland. I could walk down the street and hear English, Spanish, Portugese, Tagalog, Mandarin, Assyrian, Hindi, Korean, and more, all in the same afternoon. There are people of all colors, shapes, and sizes in my town. Churches of all shapes and sizes. Cultures of all these different wonderful varieties.

The world is a bright and beautiful place that always, always rewards the curious.

I remember turning 18 and absolutely praying for a way to get out of my valley. I had become so bitter about being treated as odd for so very long. But the world changed. Technology changed. We are all now in a digital age, and the world is so very accessible to anyone who may have an inclination to be curious about how other folks live and think. I grew up during the birth of the internet, and there were lots of bugs to work out with it, let me tell you. Kids today have inherited a world that is so much more accessible. I want younger generations to celebrate! Where I was limited, nowadays kids are so free! I want to show them this great access they have been born with. I’m happy for them-joyful for them, even! I want them to feel good about themselves, and to understand how joyous and wonderful it is that they have these technological gifts!

More than anything, I want to encourage them and others to utilize the gifts they have been given–to be curious, to see the wonder and magic in the world. It’s there!

I’m so excited to be a teacher and work with the students from all of these communities. I hope I can open a door to the same wonderful world of my childhood, where life seems so vibrant, and the world just endlessly full of new faces and friends to meet, places to explore, and interesting things to do! I hope to show them that we’re all journeying, we are all moving around, discovering, being human. I hope to show them that being diverse makes it MORE possible to come together under one set of ideals in a Constitution, not less–MORE possible to have respect for each other, not less–MORE possible to enjoy peace and community in a beautiful country, not less.

It’s a wonderful world. It really is. Not an easy world, not a perfect world. But it is beautiful.

This song should be way more popular than it is…it’s definitely one of the anthems of my life.
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