Friend – a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.

That definition seems simple.
But making and keeping and growing and ending friendships is complicated.

This begins a series of reflections on friendship.

Friendship has broad agreeable themes – similar interests, enjoyment, connection.
But all of us have different expectations and energy.

Rebecca Bloom the main character of Crazy Ex Girlfriend sings
I have friends, I definitely have friends
No one can say that I do not have friends

I have friends, I definitely have friends, friends, friends,
friendly friends, time to meet my friends

[Disclaimer: I do not endorse Crazy Ez Girlfriend, much of the song list is catchy but dodgy.]

My current situation has me questioning my friendships.

I am in both
– an oasis of tight connection (the fruit of previous overlapping circles of writers group & gin club)
– and an isolation with lack of contact.

How did the oasis form?
What drove my friendships?
What weakened past friendships?
Will they continue?

My mum celebrated her 60th birthday this year, attended by friends from every stage of her life.
I’m not like that. I have so many friends whom I loved dearly but let slide because of my sickness or Stephen’s or both, because of changes in work, study, location, busyness.

I have so many friendships that I initiated – do they want it to continue?
Were we only close because of the structured nature of my mentoring?

Like Rebecca, I need to remind myself I do have friends.
People with whom I have regular contact, whose company I enjoy and seem to have a level of reciprocity.

Thus begins the reflections – I promise they are not all so melancholy.

I’m aiming for clearer definition of friendship by the end.
I’m aiming for steps to make and grow friendships.
I’m aiming for healthy ways to change and end friendships.

Why be another online voice?

Not every day, but every few days I wonder why I blog.
Most of what I say other people know, most of what I say is said elsewhere (probably more coherently).

But then I hear of situations like this:

Felicity was speaking with a small group of women, women she’d been chatting with for a few months.

In conversation she said
” I was just so depressed, it’s got to get better than this.”
Cue pause.
Cue long pause.
Then they changed the subject.
Poor Felicity!

Here are three things you could have said:
1. Yes, it’s hard to see out of the deep.
2.Do you want to talk about it?
3. What support do you have?

Three reasons you might be silent.
1. You have no experience and no idea what to say.
2. You worry about being lumped with a large emotional burden.
3. You are also in the deep and have no capacity.

Three reasons to speak to Felicity.
1. The moment of being heard is incredibly valuable to Felicity.
2. You could spark the next steps for her to receive encouragement and support (you don’t need to be this encouragement and support).
3. You will/have felt this way, being able to mention the struggle in conversation is beneficial for the whole group.

So I’ll keep writing.
Because we are all still learning how to love people deeply.
What to do or say.
Where to put the boundaries.
When to care for ourselves.

Philosophy of Confidentiality

As we love people, they share and disclose themselves and their lives. How should we act in light of our received knowledge? There are three levels of consideration.

First do not share these details.

Be aware of the trust you have been given. Be reliably discrete; make it clear you will keep confidences.

Listening to someone talk is about helping them become a new person. Part of that is leaving stuff behind, or only bringing it up when it is supportive and builds maturity.

I’m part of many spheres of influence, in contact with many different people in different stages. In an average week I will have communicated in a meaningful way with twenty people. So I’ll often refer to someone broadly – by mentioning I’ve had a recent conversation on a particular topic, without identifying the person the conversation was with. It is also why I’ve chosen to use fake names here. With Felicity and Jonathan, with Agnes and Bernard we consider the broad implications of situations and how to love, rather than stick with personal details.
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How to ask an engaged friend – Are you sure?

Recently I was requested to give some advice on raising questions about your friend’s partner or fiancé. This can be a really important and loving thing to do. But even when your motives are good and you have real concerns, not all approaches are equal.

You love them
Because I love you I want to check in.
Make sure that you’re concerned about your friend and their well being. It doesn’t matter if you personally dislike their fiancé or partner – you need to have objective concerns about this person.

What about this?
Bring up any specific concerns you have. Don’t say, this is a really bad thing about your partner. Just raise the topic and ask them what they think about it, or how they are handling it.
Describe why you fear your friend is settling.

Do you just want a solid relationship and children?
Are you settling for a decent partner, as opposed to a good one?

What about their/or your chronic health condition?
What about their temper?
What about their gambling?
What about their dislike of your family?
What about their habit of criticising you?
What about her spending all your money?
What about your lack of similar interests?
What about your desire to move overseas?
What about different opinions on children?

Support for relationship
If you decide this is what you want, I will love and support you and your partner.
It’s not real love unless you’re willing to stick with your friend when they make choices with which you disagree. This may mean helping them work through the aftermath of problems that you 100% saw coming. Or it could mean apologising and admitting that your concerns were incorrect (though well-meant).

Also How to get married: by me, the Bride helpfully points out
Once you have found your One True Love, you need still permission.
Will you marry me? Yes.

Five things: to end a conversation

  1. I need to go to the bathroom.
  2. I need to go help pack up/wash up.
  3. I need to catch Felicity to ask her about…
  4. I have run out of energy now, could we stand here quietly for a couple of minutes?
  5. I need to go now.

    Bonus action: I was recently at a beach wedding. Perfect location for my introverted self. Too many people around? walk into the water.

Conversation skills in practise and practice

Strawberry Bliss – frozen banana, frozen strawberry and coconut water whipped together, topped with chocolate sauce. Yum.

Yesterday I was hot and tired and sad. So I snuck Charlie’s Raw Squeeze to enjoy a Strawberry Bliss treat. Whilst there I bumped into Felicity, who I hadn’t seen for over a year, and her friend.

Stages of my conversation

Hello – will this chat be more than smiles and greetings?
When Felicity asked about my life I paused and thought for a few moments. I wanted to be fairly open but didn’t want my bipolar to dominate the conversation. So I said ‘There’s no way to answer this in one sentence but I’ll try.  Last year I fell into a horrible season of depression where my bipolar was unstable. I’ve withdrawn from study and resigned from work. This semester I am recovering, reconnecting at church, writing a blog and caring for my sister’s kids whilst she studies.”

Bam honesty – time to lift the mood
To Felicity’s credit, there was only a slight expression of shock. I ventured a question about her old work, but was quickly shut down ‘I don’t work there anymore’. Then we chatted about the joys of Charlie’s Nice Cream and the blessings of air conditioning. I asked Felicity something fun she had done recently – she went to an Australia Day free theatre show.
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Five things: to continue a conversation (without family or work)

  1. What have you read this week?
    (Clarify for Christians you aren’t asking for some godly Bible answer)
  2. What’s the best dog trick you’ve seen?
  3. What’s your favourite pair of shoes?
  4. Which famous person would you like to buy a coffee?
  5. Which bridge is the ugliest in Brisbane?

You will notice some of these seem to overlap with my unusual question post – I think in circles, not really sorry about that.

There are also good recommendations from Kamina on how to stop asking about what people ‘do’.

But I want to fix it!

I stood on a bone in the creek. Ouch! I delicately squealed, clung to nearest person, pulled it out and swished my foot in the salt water. A whole centimetre of spike had penetrated.

Skip forward two weeks, I rang my friend Felicity.

M- Hey, how are you going?
F – polite response.
M – do you have a few minutes? I want to whine.
F – Sure. What’s the matter?
M – My foot still hurts.
F- Oh, where you stood on the bone.
M – Yes, it still hurts and it’s so annoying. Grr. Every step I take pushes on it.
F – Well, if it’s still sore now, you probably have an infection.
M – No, I don’t think so. It’s  just a bit painful.
F – It’s probably an internal infection. You should see a GP, they may give you antibiotics or lance it.
M – No, I was just calling to whinge. No need to make plans.
F – Right, yes. Sorry it hurts.
M – Thank you.

Sure, they reminded me to be an adult and see a doctor. But I really just wanted her to listen to me complain. She offered advice and tried to solve my problem.       ANNOYING!

I notice it in her because it is my default.
I love you, I care about you, I want to fix whatever hard or sad thing you bring to me. You offhandedly mention glass blowing – bam! here are three places in Brisbane that do it.

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The Unusual Question

Good Manners are social scripts, which show an awareness of people and gives structure to low intensity interaction. They are particularly helpful in complex social situations.

Greeting – Hello, how are you?
Please and Thank you
Not oversharing
Not asking personal questions

But it’s sometimes boring and rarely allows me to know someone or for them to be known.

Pause.

So I ask a deeper question every now and then. What have you read lately? What TV/movie do you recommend? If you were creating art, what medium would you use? What would be the title of your biography?

I like the unusual question because
– it gives expectation for the conversation to pause in order to respond thoughtfully
– it shows a desire for genuine connection
– it is not boring
– it puts all the awkwardness on me, I deviated from the script.

Of course, the flip side of the unusual question is surprising information. I have been at birthday parties and suddenly found myself discussing the recent end of a destructive relationship or an immediate unemployment.

Sometimes I may ask two trivial questions and then a more serious one.
Sometimes the conversation stops awkwardly and the pause/silence extends.

But I’ll keep doing it, because
I like pushing surface interactions a little deeper,
I like learning more about the person,
I like having interesting chats.

Transfer your work skills

Some people function well in a work context but do not transfer their skills into personal life. (cough, Mum, cough).

Why? Do we worry about treating people in our personal lives like colleagues or employees? Do we worry our relationship will not be genuine?
That’s silly. It is our attitude and care for people that will be shown.
Use the skills we develop at work to provide intentional trellis for good communication and care for people. I worked in office administration for small businesses once upon a time. Here are 4 transferable skills.

Phone call planning
Before you call, think about what to say. Most importantly prepare the two sentences summary if I had to leave a voicemail message.

          “Hi Felicity, just calling to say Happy Birthday. We haven’t seen you for a while, are you free next Friday for gelato?”

Agenda and action points
Meetings require agendas, to focus the meeting, allow members preparatory thoughts and to direct outcomes.
So before you see meet someone – Think.
Know the three things you want to discuss. Should you give the person your intended topics before you meet or at the start of the chat?

“Hi Felicity, when we have coffee next week let’s talk through your goals for the summer.”
“Hi GP, There’s three things I wanted to raise with you. My prescription has run out, I have this strange mole on my arm and           what over the counter medication should I be using for my hayfever?”

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