Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Who to Choose as Friends, Part I

So let's review: So far, we've talked about where to meet compatible single people and how to turn them into friends. But now that you're circulating on the social scene, who do you choose to invest that time, energy, and commitment in?

I'll admit that I'm selective with my friends, and I've gotten some flak for that over the years from people who think it's antisocial or elitist to be choosy. My response is that the friends I make I intend to keep, and the friends I have are people to whom I'd trust my life...or at least my CD collection. ;)

Seriously, though, like relationships, friendships need to be nurtured to grow and thrive. While there are lots of people I'd like to get to know, our 16-hour waking days, eight hours of which are spent at work, two on the road, and at least two on self-maintenance, dictate that I can only play constant gardener to so many friendships. There are singles who stretch themselves thin between dozens of friends, but to extend the garden metaphor, when their social circle gets unwieldy, they cut back each friendship to manageable proportions. So instead of growing a handful of healthy, deeply rooted friendships that can withstand the onslaught of a storm, they sprinkle the occasional phone call or party invitation here and there and are dismayed when their friendships are shallow. Since I prefer friendships rooted like sequoias, I have to conserve my resources of time and attention for friends who are worth the investment.

The question is: How can you predict who will return your investment as a good friend?

Although you'll need to spend time with your potential friend to figure out who he or she is, these are some early signs that point to whether you're investing wisely:

1. You and your friend are rooted in common ground.

In my experience at least, the more I've had in common with my friends, the more likely we've been to stay in touch and grow closer. I've had few friendships with birds of a vastly different feather that have withstood the test of time, and although it may seem like an unfair bias, research supports this tendency to flock together with those who are most like us. Some shared traits to look for are hobbies and interests, ethical values, and what I personally find the most essential, personality type. Some sociologists will cite age, proximity, and background, but while these can be influential factors, I've yet to see them stand in the way of a good friendship.

Obviously, you and your friend won't see eye to eye on everything. Some of my dearest friends are those whom I've debated with most fiercely as well as those who've educated me most thoroughly, exposing me to concepts that might as well have been black holes in my universe for all I knew of their existence. But those friendships worked because we had our roots deep enough in common soil that it didn't matter which way the wind blew our minds on one issue or another. In contrast, I've had other friends who were as fundamentally different from me as mangoes and grapes (sorry, I thought the apple and orange metaphor was getting a bit rotten by now), and every one of those friendships has weakened or died while the others are still in top shape.

For instance, I had a friend a few years ago (I'll call her Lori) who probably sought out my company because she was new in town and I was one of the few friends available to her. We were both single females around the same age and raised in the same belief system, but our current convictions, interests, and personalities were about as similar as milk and tequila. She thought kissing was a sin; my lips (and other erogenous zones) had known the touch of quite a few others over the years. I was at home in high heels under strobe lights; she preferred hiking boots and rocks to climb. I loved to reason through logical arguments step by step and analyze the fallacies; Lori had no stomach for debate and followed her gut instinct. After awhile, it got to the point that every conversation was a showcase for how amazingly different two creatures of the same species can be. Though our friendship eventually unraveled for other reasons, I wonder if it would've survived had there been some common glue to hold us together.

Now, I don't want to discourage anyone from getting to know an interesting person just because he or she didn't grow up speaking your language, never heard of your favorite band, prefers coffee to tea, and voted for Mike Huckabee. (Well, okay, if he voted for Huckabee, forget him. ;) ) Otherwise, you might pass up a wonderful friend based on a few prejudices. If you feel at ease with each other, these differences will fade into the background like evaporating rain.

What you shouldn't do is try to force a friendship that doesn't fit. Lori and I didn't suit each other as friends. There just wasn't enough common ground. But we kept trying because she needed a friend, and I felt obligated to be the friend she needed. These days, if I'm not on the same wavelength with someone, I don't pursue closer ties. We have enough people in life we have to scrape along with even when it chafes--family, bosses, co-workers, drivers who don't signal. Friendships shouldn't be another source of friction.

2. Your friend is a ray of sunshine in your life.

A good friendship grows best in the warmth of positivity, encouragement, laughter, and open-hearted sharing. So your friend should be someone who has a generally upbeat attitude, is supportive of you, has a sense of humor, and wants your friendship to grow. She enjoys her life and wants you to be part of it.

Everyone has lived through some rainy seasons, and so will your friend. It's par for the course that he won't always be smiling brighter than a Whitestrips ad. But be careful when befriending people who are chronically pessimistic or depressed. If you're an optimist, it can be tempting to try to "rescue" a bitter person from himself. Likewise, if you're down yourself, it can feel comforting to wallow in your bad mood with someone else.

But eventually, friends who are deeply unhappy with themselves and their lives will likely insist that you always sit under their rain cloud. Even the sunniest person will feel his smile dampened, and if you already hover on the edge, a depressive person can pull you down into a funnel of despair that can be hard to claw your way out of. What this person needs is a therapist, and if you decide to fill that role, be prepared to do a lot of giving and very little receiving because someone whose hope is crushed doesn't have any to spare for you right now.

Besides a sunny disposition, another promising trait in a good friend is that she wants you to be happy, too. Did you know that we tend to pick friends who are more supportive of us? When you've landed your dream job, bought your first condo, or won a trip to Hawaii, a good friend is genuinely happy for you, not so focused on herself that she constantly resents your success and tears you down. Early on, envious types may show their true colors by trying to compete with and one-up you all the time. Green is a sickly color; avoid it like the plague. :) Instead, look for friends who encourage your goals and rejoice with you when you achieve them.

Another sign that your friend is a keeper is if she can make you laugh and laugh at herself, too. The last thing you need is a friend who turns into Naomi Campbell every time she sees a phone. A good friend can diffuse tension with a joke or shrug of the shoulders and doesn't get off on picking fights, criticizing or humiliating people, or subjecting you to a tirade of obscenities in four languages every time he doesn't get what he wants. He shouldn't take himself so seriously that he can't admit to his flaws and have a chuckle about them, too. After all, what's a good friend for if you can't use him as a verbal punching bag now and then, right?...Err, just joking. ;)

Finally, you want a friend who is open. He returns your calls and invites you out. She shares the tidbits of her life. He or she is interested in the friendship and wants to match your investment. He isn't high on some power trip where he calls all the shots. She doesn't call you as a last resort when her worthier friends have deserted her for their shore houses. They don't shut you out when there's a problem or choose passive-aggressive games over honest communication.

In short, a good friend will be an addition who betters your life, one who waters your friendship with positivity and helps you help it grow in the land of happy little trees. :)

Next time, we'll wrap up the series on choosing friends with a few more qualities to look for in your very own Robin, Tonto, or Boo-boo.

Wait a minute...Did I say Boo-boo???

I guess so. Boo-boo.

Choosing to choose your friends can be controversial. What do you think about this? Are you selective about who you hang out with? What do you think about choosing friends based on the criteria listed here?

Fun Link of the Day


bobbyboy said...

"Choosing to choose your friends can be controversial. What do you think about this?"

Actually, I think most people choose to choose their friends, but then again, I may not understand this part as I'm not the brightest star in the sky sometimes.

"Are you selective about who you hang out with?"

Yes. I am one of those very open and friendly people when I meet someone, but because I've been burnt in the past, I keep a tiny wall up just in case.

"What do you think about choosing friends based on the criteria listed here?"

I like it because it makes sense to me. You know it's funny in a way. I am a social animal, but quite guarded about who I actually keep as a friend.

Wizardry said...

Elsie, this has been really good bit of information for me, with the info on finding and making friends, though I’m not sure I can put it good use. Right now, I’m stuck under my parents rule which is more like a dictatorship. In fact, quite apropos this bit, I was looking through a friend’s AP Psychology book she was carrying around, and I did some skimming. It says, a common cause of depression is something called Learned Helplessness . Check the link for deeper meaning, but essentially it says “Depressed people learned that whatever they did, is futile. During the course of their lives, they apparently learned that they have no control.” When I read these words I was like, ‘what, apropos’ (yes, I talk like that in my head). Then I went on to read some more, “Seligman discovered that a depressed person thought about the bad event in more pessimistic ways than a nondepressed person. He called this thinking, ‘explanatory style,’” I put down the book and shake my head to get my eyes unstuck. The next words flying through my head were ‘Darling, did you just read a book about you? Like, literally how you think all the time?’ It was one of those moments that were surreal. Now then, we’ve all taken those silly online tests and quizzes, and had friends and palm readers make predictions, and most of the time we laugh about it and even try again for a specific response; but sometimes, just sometimes, we get a response so dead set correct, that its veritably impossible. There is no error, what so ever. Its as if this person or test or whatnought knows you and your tendencies better than you know them yourself.

That’s what I felt. I quickly put the book down, I suppose somehow afraid of what other things it could reveal to me. I suppose I had a worried look on my face from crooning around my cello (yes, I’m in the orchestra). The girl who owned the book looked over and asked me what the matter was. ‘oh, nothing’ I replied, my voice shaking as I spoke. I just couldn’t help it. The director looked at me as if expecting an answer to said question. I motioned with my bow for us to continue the rehearsal. But the whole time, I kept playing, thinking ‘that was very strange. Quite so. I never want to see that book again.’ We took a break for the director to work with the second violins. She leaned over. ‘really, what’s up?’ ‘nothing’ I said, ‘I just think psychology could never be the thing for me.’ She smiled, ‘I doubt that. You could do it quite well because of your insight in things’ I nodded, or because of my shaky mannerism twitched a bit and laughed nervously, ‘not really. I cant read about it without thinking too hard.’ We returned to rehearsal, and left it at that.

In conclusion, the only psychology I want to engage in is listening to my Police LP, Synchronicity. But it seems that this book has all the answers to my thought process. But here’s the thing. I always hated psychologists and doctors. For some crazy reason, I’ve always been afraid of mind altering medicine. Like anti-depressants. It makes someone act differently, it alters their natural thoughts, it makes them into SOMEONE ELSE. Creepy, huh? That’s why I never tell anyone how I feel. So I thought, ‘once I get the answers for how I act how I do, I can fix them.’ Wrong. I can’t do a single thing. This isn’t just fixing the habit of, say, chewing pens during tests or test anxiety, this is changing how I think. Learned Helplessness. Between my parents restricting me from everything and my father being a complete Nazi about my grades in school, I became a very well learned pessimist. To fix this, I would have to totally unlearn how I think; literally, become a different person. I may not even write anymore, or play cello, or listen to opera. I could end up being someone else entirely. Thus is why I’m afraid of it.


The reason I give such a back log is because of how I’m not getting along with my friends. Its no ones fault directly, except maybe my parents. First fault, my parents. Every time my friends would invite me to go somewhere my parents would deny me the chance to go 9 out of 10 on the basis of who, where, when, or my grades. (This is where I became a pessimist by learning helplessness). Second fault, myself. I didn’t ever do anything about it. At this point in my life, rebellion wasn’t an option. In all reality, rebellions begin because the people have so little to loose that to fight is to gain everything. In this case, I had nothing, but I still didn’t (and don’t) act. There’s no point. They’ve never backed down before, and they won’t do it any time soon. Third fault, my friends. The odds of me going anywhere or doing anything with any of them has become so unfeasible, that they never even tell me they’re going out. I only hear about it in the days following. They won’t even answer their phones when I call. But I can’t really blame them, it is useless.

So, all of these contributing factors make me into who I am. After reading all of this (as I know you always do Elsie, you being the most truthful person I know), I will offer some good news. This is all there is to know about me. There is nothing else to who I am. Therefore, all other comments will be whole hearted devoted to answering your posts instead of lengthy comments about my personal problems. So, you have that to look forward to. I will once again be your best commenter and actually comment about the post!

The question part: What should I do? Reestablish contact with my fallen out friends? Rebel against my parents even though it would make no difference? Make new friends entirely? Become a recluse? Or anything else you can imagine.

Thanks again Elsie!


P.S. While I couldn’t be a psychologist, you could. Between your ability to read (and, if in person, probably listen) to me ramble on and then give full, really intent response, you would make the best psychologist ever.

P.P.S. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, ‘Victoria Gothic’ isn’t my real name. (Who could have such an apropos last name?) Its to protect my identity, not from you or the other comments on my work, but from a large portion of my ‘friends’ and most of all, from my parents.

Thank you again Love!

Clever Elsie said...

Bobby: I think there are plenty of watts in your bulb. :) I just wasn't clear enough probably. For me personally, actively choosing my friends instead of passively accepting invitations from whoever crosses my path has been somewhat controversial because it's a judgment call, and some people in my life have accused me of being "too picky" about who I spend my time with. But at this stage in life, I've been around too many people whose chronic personal and emotional problems have thrown a wedge into even casual interactions, so now I choose not to hang out with people who might have a negative impact on my life. That was the origin of my statement that being selective could be controversial.

Similarly to you, I believe in being polite and pleasant to everyone I encounter, but I draw the line at encouraging a relationship if there are red flags that indicate someone would not return my investment as a good friend.

Clever Elsie said...

Victoria: First of all, I'm really glad that my thoughts have been useful to you. :) But I want to point out, too, that your friend was right--you're very insightful yourself--and I think you might find psychology really fascinating if you gave it a chance. Sometimes we do see ourselves in something we read about, but the things we see can only help us to address them and, if necessary, work through them. Besides, studying psych can reveal quite a lot about other people you know and your interactions with them!

Full disclosure: Psych was one of my majors in college, and I very nearly went on to grad school, but entrance is very competitive, and I didn't think I had what it took to devote myself to that process when my first love was and always will be writing. So a disclaimer here: I've studied quite a bit about psychology, but I'm not a licensed psychologist or therapist, so keep in mind that I can't give you professional advice. That said, here are my non-professional thoughts:

Learned helplessness is a known cause of depression, but the great thing about it is that it can unlearned. If a psychologist or therapist identifies learned helplessness as a problem for someone, he may guide that person through real-life situations or exercises to teach her how to make a difference in her own life.

If someone is severely depressed or has been depressed for a long time, a mental health professional may suggest that he or she try meds, but the patient doesn't have to take them. Psychiatrists are very aware of the side effects of psychotropic drugs, and a good one will be happy to answer any questions or concerns the patient has. If the patient doesn't like the effects, the doctor will also work with him to change the dose or the med until he's satisfied. For the record, I worked in a psychiatrist's office for five years, and I've never heard of anyone losing interest in their hobbies or disliking things they formerly liked as a result of antidepressants. If anything, people who take antidepressants tend to be more interested in their hobbies because they're not so focused on how sad, worried, or anxious they are anymore. However, antidepressants can have physical side effects and may be hard to quit once you've started, so there are quite a few people who choose not to take them. It's a personal decision.

But back to your question...When you're a teenager, you are in a somewhat helpless position insofar as other people make decisions for you. Usually they have your well-being in mind, but when you're the one being told what to do and you disagree, it sucks. Luckily, this situation is temporary. After next year, if I'm not mistaken, you'll be done with high school, and then you'll have full responsibility for your decisions and their consequences.

For now, though, try sitting down with your parents and talking to them about how you feel. Ask them why it is that they aren't letting you go out with your friends. Do they think your grades will suffer? Are they worried that you might be going someplace dangerous or doing something irresponsible? Or is it that they don't like this particular crowd of friends? Let them know that you want to respect their wishes, but you also really miss your friends and feel lonely a lot of the time.

See if you can't work out a compromise around their concerns. For instance, if your schoolwork is the issue, find out what they think is an acceptable GPA and try to make a deal with them that will permit you to go out as long as you're keeping your grades up to their standard. If you've had a good academic track record for awhile, this would be the time to remind them of that.

On the other hand, if they're fearful that you might be going somewhere for drugs, alcohol, or other illicit activities, give them your word that you'll refuse to accept or participate in anything you're offered. Again, if you've always resisted in the past, remind them how responsible you've been. If you haven't, reassure them that you've learned your lesson and would like the opportunity to prove it to them. You can back up your words by promising to always keep your cell on or to give them the number of any residence you'll be at so they can contact you whenever they want. You might even make a plan to check in with them at certain intervals during the evening.

If the problem is your friends themselves, is this a legitimate concern? Have your friends been involved in activities that your parents find objectionable, or do they just dislike how they dress or the music they listen to? If the latter, stress to your parents that no matter how your friends appear, they've never been in trouble. If the former, then it's more understandable why your parents would be nervous. In that case, it might be worth it to try to branch out and make some friends who haven't been in trouble so much, especially since it sounds like your current friends haven't been returning your efforts to stay in touch.

If, after all this, your parents still won't budge, ask them if you could invite some of your friends over to your place so that your parents could keep an eye on things. Another option they might find palatable would be to drive you and a friend or two to the mall, the movies, or some other public place where they know you'd be safe and return for you at a set time.

Sometimes parents lose sight of how quickly you're maturing and really think you're not aware of the dangers in the world or don't know how to handle them. Hopefully, talking to them about it will demonstrate that you do understand and are willing to take responsibility for yourself.

Good luck, sweetie! Let us know how it goes! :)

P.S. As I'm sure you know, "Clever Elsie" isn't what's on my birth certificate, either. ;) A lot of people like to maintain some anonymity on the Internet. Nothing wrong with that. :)