If you're lucky, you have a lot of friends. If you're very lucky, you have a small group of friends who are more like family than anything else.
I "found my people" officially last year, through my friendship with my birthday twin Sarah (my sister from another mister), and laughs and love fill my heart every time we get together. My family by blood is several hours away, so when I can't be with them, like on Thanksgiving, I know I have family by choice close by where I can go for great food and lots of joy. That they put up with my weirdness, and even encourage it at times, is amazing, and I hate that I didn't have this group earlier in my life.
We all need something like that, even hermits/introverts like me. Even though I've always had friends, things have changed since I was in school, and making friends as an adult can be difficult (heck, being an adult is difficult, period). Had I not accepted an offer several years back for breakfast from a reader I'd gotten to know online through my blog and through this column, I might not be as fortunate to have the group of friends I have now (nor some adorable fur-kin like Charlie, Spike and Baxter the Boo).
Even the Mayo Clinic touts the importance of friendship on its website: "Good friends are good for your health. Friends can help you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times. Friends prevent isolation and loneliness and give you a chance to offer needed companionship, too.
"Friends can also increase your sense of belonging and purpose; boost your happiness and reduce your stress; improve your self-confidence and self-worth; help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one; and encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise."
They could also probably encourage you to step away from an unhealthy obsession, like, oh, I dunno, trolling people online just to make them miserable. An emotionally healthy person doesn't spend so much of their time disparaging or hurting others.
Robert Puff, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today: "As we move through life, we find that there are many things out of our control. We can't choose our parents, our genetics, or control the things that happen in the world around us. One thing that we can control is who our friends are, and this decision can either make our lives so much richer and beautiful, or more stressful and disappointing."
I think we've probably all had some friendships that were more trouble than they were worth, for example with people who are endlessly negative, like to play the perpetual victim, and put down others (even friends) to feel better about themselves. I've had to shed myself of a few of those friendships in recent years, one of them a relationship of two decades with someone who became more angry and bitter by the day and refused to acknowledge her role in her situation. I couldn't help her, and she didn't really want help. I still care about that friend, but I care about my mental health more (plus all that stress was doing a number on my blood pressure).
As Puff notes, "[I]f you're putting your time and energy into someone who isn't enriching your life and giving you the support you need, it may be time to re-evaluate that friendship."
Cutting ties with that former friend might have even led to the much healthier situation I now have, as Sarah, and then Kathy, stepped up to help when I needed rides to the hospital for procedures, which was one of the things my former friend did. Sarah even insisted that I spend time recuperating at her house after major surgery last year, which eased my mind greatly; plus, I got to hang out with the now dearly departed Josie as well as Charlie and Spike. From there, I've met many other friends, but most notably Rose and Sophie, whose "deck therapy" is always fun and the food always delicious. The friendship is easy, with the only expectation treating others as we want to be treated.
Without friends like them, I'd probably be more than a bit insufferable, and a lot sadder. Instead, I have friends who take me as I am, with all my quirks, food intolerances, occasional anxiety, vertigo, etc.--as I do them--and furry critters I can cover in skritches and smooches (Charlie gets the bulk of that; he's taking one for the team). If I act a fool (not the fun kind), they'll tell me; if I offend in some way, they'll take me aside. We can respectfully disagree and still feel like family.
More people could do with friends like that.
I'm interested in hearing from those of you in customer service, whether that's wait staff, retail sales, front desk or any other position where you have to deal with customers. What are your horror stories, especially when dealing with those who think abusing staff is part of their purchase price? (My brother Corey had some doozies.) Tell me your good experiences too, the ones that told you the job wasn't so bad after all.
Drop me a line at the email address below, and I may use your comments in a future column.
Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at [email protected] Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.