“If I were a good man I understand the spaces between friends.” — Roger Waters
We take a bit of a break from the political today for something else. At least we take a break from the overtly political to something that’s definitely hard. Our daughter is getting to an age when friendships become hard. As parents you always worry no matter what’s going on. You worry about whether your child has friends. You worry about whether they have the right friends. You obviously worry about whether your child will eventually gain the perspective that we have on life.
As children, our friendships were usually built on proximity. We were closest to those that were closest to us. So, those were the kids we also knew on our street or in our neighborhood. If you are fortunate then you go to a school that is in your neighborhood. Therefore, you theoretically know everyone there.
As we get older, those friendships either evolve or they go by the wayside. Our friendships become built on something else. Typically, they are built on different interests. Maybe we are in scouts together or maybe we play on the same team in school. These friendships probably sustain us all the way through the end of high school.
What’s hard and where kids need some guidance is in what happens after that. Friendships naturally evolve from sharing a common set of activities to sharing common interests and a common temperament. Obviously, a combination of these is usually involved. Do we go to the same college? Do we have similar career paths? Do we have similar attitudes about things?
The last one is where politics can enter into the equation. It never used to before, but these are trying times. Essentially, everyone has to come up with a short list of non-negotiables. This is a list of core values we have that if someone doesn’t share then it will be difficult for them to be my friend. It is the act of limiting our circle that ultimately becomes the most difficult and most tricky thing we teach our children.
Our daughter is generally a loving person. She has always been a people pleaser and has always had a gregarious personality. It’s to the point where we aren’t sure where she got it from. It isn’t so much that she doesn’t have those same feelings we had as children. She has all of those and more, but she is somehow able to overcome the fear that occupied us and slowed us down.
Yet, she struggles to understand why some people don’t want to be her friend. She also struggles to see the people that she probably should keep at arm’s length. Some people aren’t good for us for one reason or another. It isn’t even so much that they are bad people, but that they are different people with different goals and different interests.
Striking the balance between being civil and friendly without bending over backwards to remain friends is a difficult lesson to learn. Before social media this was actually relatively easy. We naturally lost contact with people that we didn’t share common values or common interests with. We found new friends that we shared more with and had a deeper relationship with. Social media has made it possible to reconnect with everyone, but in the process we have to negotiate those same dilemmas we had to negotiate earlier in our lives.
Negotiating these things is new for us, so passing on wisdom to our children is a daunting task. What happens when a friend becomes radicalized? What happens if we are the ones that become radicalized? Suddenly, we have to consider how much effort we want to invest in a relationship that might have become toxic. As John Oliver said on his show, the Facebook phenomenon makes us utter things like, “Oh geez, that’s too bad. I guess John is an asshole now.” Without that access we never would have known, but we also never would have been able to engage or even felt the desire to engage.
Friendship should ultimately be a benefit to our mental health. It should happen between people that look forward to their time together. It should be with people we laugh with, people we can cry with, and people that can lean on each other during good times and bad. No friendship is perfect and yet we should monitor our relationships to see if we can do any of these things. If our relationships are lacking one or more of those key traits then it might be time to trade it in for a newer model. It doesn’t mean the other person is bad or beneath us, but that we are moving in different directions. That’s life sometimes.