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  • Writer's picturePaloma Gaskin

What is a True Friend?

The last quarter of the year is rather magical in my memory, with the seasonal holidays and social gatherings that are imbued with a vintage aesthetic, reminiscent of childhood. This is a period in which we fight against our natural instinct to go into hibernation mode, because it can be the busiest in terms of revisiting our connections with family as well as friends. Commercialism aside, there is no greater gift than the precious gift of our time, and quality time at that. It seems to me, friendship was easier and less entangled pre-adulthood. Maybe it was because our responsibilities and commitments were not as pressing or urgent. Our family and friends were almost our everything, our nurturing foundation while growing up. The friendships we kept appeared to be an expression of our identity, as it was forming.

At my 15th birthday party, I remember realising the error of trying to combine my different friendships. I figured if they liked me, surely they’d like each other, but that was a huge miscalculation on my part. I couldn’t get the various small groups of friends to mix, which was a little awkward, although also quite amusing. I’m hardly the ‘social butterfly’ sort, but flutter I did, between my diverse friends. As an adult, that memory stayed with me to the extent that I never tried to mix my ‘friend groups’ again. Although it’s unintentional, I am different with different people, in response to who they are and their likes or dislikes. I simply permit myself to nourish different aspects of myself (who I am) with different types of people, rather than limit myself to a particular grouping. At university, my goth-like uniform was doc marten boots, black mini-skirt, thick black tights, and non-revealing black tops. I loved indie music, and my best friend was a posh hippie chick. But, I was friends with the heavy metal group, the rock and pop group, as well as the soul and hip-hop group. They didn’t mix.

As I’ve aged I’m aware I prefer one-to-one interactions or very small groups like a handful of people, but no more, because I get lost in the numbers. I’m sure other introverts will relate to this. In any case, I suspect most people can relate to having certain friends they tend to go to the cinema with, or take a dance class with, or meet up for lunch, or join a book club with or meet up for drinks, or go to a party with. What I mean is, it’s not necessarily the same friend you’d do all of these things with, though that’s possible with one friend of course. I’m trying to explain the difference. The real difference between a friend and a ‘true friend’, because it’s been important to reflect on this in recent times. Over the years, I realised that I can laugh and have fun or even meaningful discussion with anyone. And I can consider anyone a friend on those terms. It might be more accurate to consider them acquaintances.

So, what is a true friend? They are someone who has earned your trust, and deserve to share your joys because they have truly been there for your sorrows and know your vulnerabilities. On the other hand, a friend may walk away when you hit rock bottom, because you were only someone they had fun with in social situations. A true friend is someone you are comfortable enough with to be yourself, and not feel judged for your faults, nor exalted for your skills or achievements. They keep you grounded, reminding you of who you are, even if others think you’re special in some way. Does that make sense? It’s about as far as I’ve gone in reviewing my part in friendship. The commonality amongst my various groups of friends has been qualities I value like a sense of humour, a kind heart, open-mindedness, honesty, learning, compassion, soul searching and loyalty. I know there’s no guarantee anyone will stay by my side for the rest of my life, and it’s freed me up. It certainly wasn’t an expectation, but I never could conceive of a reason to end a friendship. Then, life inevitably parades a multitude of possibilities for endings, some inexplicable and some inevitable. I release the past, to make way for beginnings. I look forward to meeting new friends. There’s a whole world of them.

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