Flaws and friendships

I had a wonderful, cathartic time over coffee this morning with a friend. We live close to each other but were both away most of the summer. In the intervening weeks I had met up with old friends and caught up with others on line, friends of different intimacy levels, friends who satisfy different needs. There is the friend with whom I can be freely neurotic about my child’s future, the friends who can relate on the the cross-cultural issues, the friend who has known me since I was Fred’s age and before I became the person that all my other friends know, the friend around whom I feel some pressure to show my best (most intelligent, put-together) side, the friends who don’t care if they see my worst.

Few people fit like a glove, and in any friendship there is a getting-to-know-you, a checking out of style and expectation that we try and adjust to and work with in order to ensure the growth of friendship. We don’t always fit like a glove but we try to make a good fit. It means that sometimes we learn to be friends with someone who goes against our grain, a little, or we temper something in ourselves in order to make us a little easier for our friend to take.

We give and take, and ask ourselves what we can live with and what we cannot. In doing so, I’ve come to learn that the quality I appreciate and need the most in a friend is acceptance. It’s the ability to confess that I’d been depressed, or that I’ve been feeling incompetent, or that I’d just had this horrible fight with my husband. And that is all I need – just the ability to do all of this. It means that this friend has, long before, created an environment in which I can go to her and do this – pour it, myself – out to her, and feel absolutely safe.

When it comes to friendships, our animal instincts kick in; somehow we know whom we can go to and whom we cannot. But sometimes I test the waters. I do that by seeing how much that friend tells me about herself, how she reacts when I confess something personal. It does sting when I realize, or imagine, that I am being judged. A non-reaction when you expect one, a look that says nothing, a barely traceable scowl or raising of an eyebrow. Women often avoid conflict, prefer not to say anything if they can’t say anything nice at all. Is the quiet look at the period of my sentence a look of criticism? I wish I could tell; I wish I were daring enough to ask, “What are you really thinking of me?” But that silent exchange of assumptions has just placed a solid barrier between us.

We also want to give, as friends. That a friend is willing to take from me means that I’ve earned her trust. As much as I appreciate her listening to whatever issue it is that is going on with me, it would only feel like a true friendship if she felt the same trust toward me. I have to earn this, I know, although sometimes it doesn’t come, no matter how hard you believe you’ve tried. It is difficult for some people to say, to show, too much. I don’t know if it is a matter of trust or a matter of shame, a wall that no one, no matter how well-intentioned and trusted, can bring down. I’ve been saddened by the drifting away of one friend, who’d gone from chatting with me regularly to barely responding to e-mails ever since her husband had gone from a prestigious position to something humbler. You let her know that you want to be there in the hard times, but she only wants to be seen during the good.

These may be the friends who make you think twice before you continue to confess you are merely human. If she is too ashamed to admit that she has flaws or doubts or bad days, how will she feel about yours?

I started this blog anonymously, and in many ways it still is fairly anonymous. I don’t use real names, except for my given name. I don’t post personal photos. But slowly, over the years, as I’ve tested the waters and developed thicker writer’s skin, I’ve released my blog to more and more “real life” friends, a big step because unlike in the on-line world of personal and confessional blogging, acceptance is not necessarily the modus operandi of relationships made in the larger world. But several old friendships of mine have been rekindled through my blog, and I have been heartened and grateful for that. I don’t believe that masking flaws makes us any more perfect on the outside, or any more admired, and I hope that in readily admitting mine, I am offering the kind of acceptance to my friends and readers that can make real connection and friendship possible.

11 thoughts on “Flaws and friendships

  1. I started my blog with no desire to include my real life friends in the process. I said, at the time, that I did this because it was easier, confessing to an audience of strangers and not having to deal with any real life consequences seemed natural for this genre. But then, I changed. When I started my new blog, I invited real life friends to “like” my Facebook page. I included my blog’s url in places where they could find it. And the reaction of all of my friends has been positive. I feel more free now. I still do share and say things on my blog that are, at times, uncomfortable or personal, but I don’t live in fear that some one will find out anymore. This, or what I share, after all, is me, and I’m no longer ashamed of that. And I’d rather have friendships built upon that, or built upon the sharing and acceptance of the real me.

    • That’s wonderful, Jessica. I think that when you are being honest, you are expressing feelings that a lot of people feel as well, but perhaps don’t articulate, and this is validating. And I really agree with you on this: “I’d rather have friendships built upon that, or built upon the sharing and acceptance of the real me.” Yes, we should never need to pretend in order to preserve our friendships.

      Cecilia

  2. It took me quite a while before I told some of my in-person friends about my blog and many more still have no idea. But, like you, I feel like my blog – where I’m often more forthright about my challenges and preoccupations than I am face-to-face – has deepened some of my relationships. And I’ve also been very lucky to turn a handful of blogging friends into very good face-to-face friends. (I hope to add you to that list some day!) xo

    • Likewise, Kristen! I hope we have the chance to meet someday 🙂 It looks like we are very similar in terms of how we have shared our blog. I’m glad to hear that the friends you have shared it with have been supportive. I’m now trying to encourage some of my face-to-face friends to start blogs themselves!

      Cecilia

  3. I feel like I could’ve written this, because that’s how I feel too. So many elements in making and maintaining friends that sometimes, I just prefer solitude. I see women chatting easily at parks or gathering socially like it’s the air they breathe and sometimes I do envy them. I often keep to myself and just mind my own kids, instead of looking around for someone to whom I can have a conversation, not that it’s a bad thing. It just doesn’t come naturally to me.

    I have a handful of close friends but they’re mostly beyond easy reach, and the “mom friends” I’ve met so far already belong to a clique and I just feel uncomfortable trying to fit in. At my age, you’d think I would’ve figured it all out and that I’d have this great, solid network, but with the good friends I’ve made slowly moving away this year, I find this network dwindling and myself unwilling to make the effort to find a new one…Maybe it’s just me…

    • I don’t think it’s just you. I think we enter a new kind of friendship territory once we become moms, and it’s different from high school, college, post-college and work. Especially at the age of your daughters, there’s almost this unspoken pressure to have a group of “mom friends” or to get along with the moms of your children. I was overseas when my son was that age and I remember the self-consciousness I would feel in any public kids’ place – that I was the only one without a “group” to hang out with. Now my kid is 9, and again we move on. There are no shared spaces like the playground now. I have one close girlfriend here but otherwise my best friends are scattered as well, and it’s a lot of emailing and FB time for us. So I hear you, Justine, and you are definitely not alone.

  4. I’ve always kept my blog public. Because I post my links on FB, I am not certain who is reading. As you know, unless you get a comment or the person mentions something to you off-line about your blog, there is no way to determine who exactly reads your blog. With some of my more peripheral acquaintances, the thought that they are trying to reconcile my blog and me does cross my mind.

    I’ve always found friendship fullfilling, but complicated. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve let go of some friends that didn’t really understand who I was at the core. In the past, I would blame myself for this break, but now, I understand that sometimes certain people are meant to be in your life for a short time. I am definitely more comfortable embracing my own authenticity rather than engage in some superficial charade.

    Good post, Cecilia. I enjoyed reading about your views on friendship. Hope that have a chance to meet some day, too!

    • I agree with you about how we evolve in dealing with friendships as we get older – I find that I am much less patient and willing to expend time and energy on relationships that aren’t truly meaningful or real…there’s less of a need to please or to accommodate now.

      I hope we can meet in person someday as well! Thanks as always for your thoughtful comments, Rudri.

  5. I’m relatively new to blogging and it’s been a bit difficult for me to expose my blog to people who actually “know” me. I wonder why it’s easy to open up to the internet that to your own friends. This is what friendship was supposed to be about, right?

    • It’s really an excellent question. It really doesn’t make sense that we would feel uncomfortable or unsafe if our friends read our words or our innermost thoughts. I wonder if, on some level, we are rarely truly open to the people we interact with in person; we might nod and agree because we don’t like conflict, and we might keep a lot of opinions to ourselves for fear of how our friends would react. Writing feels so vulnerable because we are exposing parts of ourselves that even our closest friends don’t know about? Just venturing a guess…it’s a mystery!

      • “I wonder if, on some level, we are rarely truly open to the people we interact with in person” This is exactly what I have been thinking too. Writing definitely makes us vulnerable but it’s also, at some level, making us honest. I think that’s the best part about it; that we are being true to ourselves at that moment when we write.

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