Those seem like simple questions, but at one point in my life, I found that what I accepted as care and friendship, were in fact something far less than what I gave as care and friendship.
A lesson in friendship (or how to be a bad friend)
At the time I had recently moved and was in the final stages of getting over a very bad relationship. I was living on my own for the very first time, and loving the ability to come and go as I pleased, decorate rooms as I pleased, and invite friends over for dinner or a weekend pajama party and not have to worry about whether or not my mother was going to feel comfortable or not. But I was also discovering what happens when you leave a relationship and also end up leaving a circle of friends without knowing it. Working through all this in therapy (because yes, everyone can benefit from a little therapy, or in my case, 5 years of it!) I started talking about how different my friends seemed to be, now that I had the freedom to get out and explore all the new possibilities that had opened up.
When is a friend not a friend?
I’m still haunted by an afternoon from my tween years. Back when chain letters were a thing, and slam books could hurt and usually did. My close friends were all involved in a long chain of chain letters. And I recall that day when I sat at my kitchen table, typing up six chain letters to send along to my friends. I also had a few friends over at the time, and they were wandering in and out of the kitchen, playing with my little brothers, and my sister. In fact, we were all one big circle of friends at that point and hadn’t yet divided up into cliques and age groups. And as I typed I was talking through which of my six friends I’d send a letter. My typing skills weren’t great and as I typed and backspaced over errors, I commented to my friend Donna,
“oops, another typo, that’s okay, that’s one’s going to you!”
“Oh, I left out that sentence, but you’re going to get it, so it shouldn’t be a big deal.”
All the while making certain that a few girls who were considered more popular back then got the letters without errors. When I’d finished typing the letter, I pulled it out of the machine and the bottom corner tore as it got stuck on behind the roller.
“Well, this one’s yours, I’ll just fold it up and give it to you now. No need to spend money on a stamp.”
My friend Donna started crying and said she had to go home. I was shocked. She lived just down the street and we’d spent many days together dreaming about TV moms we wanted to have. I chose Samantha from Bewitched, and she chose Marlo Thomas from That Girl. Her older sister Marcia babysat us once in a while, and I’d been to slumber parties at Donna’s house. After she left, I asked my mother why she was crying because it seemed so sudden to me. My mother sat me down and explained, “Donna is your friend, and spends a lot more time with you than those other girls you’re sending letters to. Making all those comments about how her letter can have errors, and be torn, made Donna feel like you didn’t value her as much as everyone else. That could hurt someone’s feelings. If you care about someone, don’t treat them like you don’t.”
It was a lesson for a lifetime on friendship and how to show someone you care. Eventually, we all went to Junior High and friendship circles changed. I didn’t remain friends with Donna, but there are a few friends I have kept from those days so long ago, and I hope they know that I’ve stayed friends with them because I care. Even if I no longer send chain letters, and we only interact occasionally on Facebook, or when we get together for a milestone birthday, or when we happen to cross paths in a mall.
What kind of friend are you?
That was the big question my therapist asked during one session after I’d expressed disappointment over a planned outing with friends turning into them asking me if I’d like to go along while they grocery shopped. What??? Exactly, I was suddenly not the friend they had looked forward to having dinner out with and then going to a movie. Instead, they had decided to do some grocery shopping (last minute) and let me know that I could still come along with them if I liked. In my mind, I’m thinking, “Yeah, like some three-year-old standing on the back of the cart as they push it through the store.” I politely declined and now here I sat, sharing this most recent event to my therapist. Her response?
“How about I give you some homework for our next session? I want you to sit down and write some notes about what makes YOU a good friend? What are the traits you feel you have that would make someone want to be your friend?’ I’ve always liked homework so I dug right in, writing on a corner of an envelope in teeny-tiny print, at least 5 bullets on why I’m a good friend. I don’t know where that little piece of paper went, but I’m sure I’ve kept it somewhere and I’m sure it contained reasons like the following:
- I’m flexible and open to doing what others want to do
- I listen and care about what people are experiencing
- I have a good sense of humor
- I take the time to do special things for people when they’re having a bad day
- I like to help people
Whether those are the actual bullets or not, when I brought that teeny tiny corner of an envelope into my next session, my therapist laughed out loud at how small my homework was. She commented that it may be a reflection of how much I think of myself. But when I read the points out loud she asked me, “Can you say those things about your friends?” I gave it some thought and other than the good sense of humor, I had to say no. Then she told me something I’ve remembered ever since,
“Those bullets are what defines a good friend to you, perhaps not to them. So find people who match those bullets, and you will have good friends.”
Friendship is different for everyone. Caring looks different depending on the individual doing the caring. I remember a couple years after I started dating Beth, she got her hand stuck under my SUV when the jack slipped and she was trapped between the car frame and the wheel. It took three of us (after me trying by myself and only succeeding in bouncing the car up and down on her hand) to lift the car off. Thankfully I’d set a tourniquet around her wrist, so there wasn’t much blood, but the ambulance ride was a long slow one for sure. The next day she was settled in at my house, and my mother, knowing Beth was on her own, and pretty much disabled when it came to caring for herself, made a batch of homemade chicken soup and drove over to my condo to deliver it for Beth’s lunch.
That’s how my mother showed she cared. She didn’t know Beth real well at that point, but as my girlfriend, and after spending a few holidays and dinners together, she wanted Beth to know she was there for her, if needed. She unlocked the door, and came up the stairs quietly, just letting Beth know she was there and that lunch was ready. Sometimes friendship and caring are as simple as a bowl of hot soup or a letter written and sent with love. I’m including a recipe for a simple soup that will definitely show someone you care about. Or perhaps, on a snowy cold day, you may feel the need to give yourself some care, and this soup may be the perfect recipe for that!
Avgolemono Soup with Couscous
- 3 TB butter
- 3 carrots chopped
- 3 tsp minced garlic
- 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 4 chicken thighs cooked and shredded
- 4 large eggs
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 1 TB lemon zest
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 3/4 cup couscous
- salt and pepper to taste
- parsley for garnish
- In a large pot melt the butter over medium heat.
- Add carrots, garlic, and onion powder and cook, stirring occasionally until carrots are tender. 6 – 8 minutes
- Add stock and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer.
- In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, lemon juice and zest until frothy. Carefully remove 1 cup of hot broth from the pot and slowly pour into your eggs mixture whisking constantly. This is called tempering the eggs. You need to whisk quickly and constantly to prevent the eggs from cooking. If that happens you’ll end up with scrambled eggs floating in broth, so keep that whisk going!
- Pour the egg mixture into the soup and add in the chicken, oregano and couscous. Simmer for another 5 – 7 minutes until the couscous is cooked. Taste and add salt or pepper as needed.
- Serve hot with a garnish of parsley (you can use dill, thyme or oregano as well)
A simple, bright and satisfying soup!
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