I don’t have a lot of friends – acquaintances, yes, friends, no. Oh, I can put on my game face, make small talk and navigate a party when necessary, but I much prefer quiet solitude to forcing chatter with an obvious round hole to my square peg. I can count my close friends on two hands, just barely. To my friends reading this, you are of course in that count.
The first blush of a friendship is a little like falling in love for me. There’s an undeniable, immediate attraction. We click. I’m fascinated and want to know more. I invest, but make sure to stay this side of “overly eager”. I pay special attention. I miss them in between visits. Secretly, I hope that they feel the same way about me.
My closest friends, most of whom could populate the human version of the Island of Misfit Toys (yeah, yeah, I’d be there too), are generally an appealing combination of somewhat damaged, vulnerable and open as a result, scrappy and intuitive, and genuinely trying to make the world and themselves better. They are nice people with an edge. Unflinching honesty delivered with a velvet glove, plus the ability to discern when that’s necessary (a skill typically honed by having swallowed wounds and slights, but not the accompanying bitterness) goes a long way with me.
Were they clothes, they would be like the Mad Hatter’s ensemble in Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland – comfortable with a cozy fit, well-constructed and tough, slightly frayed around the edges because of wear but holding up well otherwise, and always containing some slightly kooky, delightful flair. Few things thrill me like discovering that some sweetly-exteriored person has a bite to her inner self. Unwrapping a beautiful package and discovering grit and dirt inside only makes me want to know the back story that much more, and those unanticipated revelations keep me wondering what else this person is going to show me. I love a friend who will go to the raw places with me, but who also has figured out how to filter her crude internal self just enough to function in polite society.
I would like to think that, as a friend myself, I am a satisfying combination of “what you see is what you get” and “what you get is doled out in a slightly surprising way”, because while my brain knows that I fit more neatly into a demographic than I wish I did (as evidenced by the number of times iTunes’ Genius nails my song recommendations), the “you’re the only snowflake like you in the whole wide world” part of me hopes I’m not completely predictable.
I’m low profile and laid back, and I appreciate the same in others. A few of my friendships died premature deaths when I just couldn’t take anymore of the unceasing “Me” show. Turns out that the “Look at me. No, really, look at me” personality is only interesting for about the ten minutes it takes to realize that’s all there ever will be there. The older I get, the less willing I am to waste time with the energy vampires. I’ve taken a lot of steps to live consciously and to let people see me as I really am, and I’m glad I’ve made the effort to purge relationships from my life that don’t work for me. At the same time, I’ve managed to hold onto people who on the surface may appear ordinary, but contain within them incredibly beautiful and valuable qualities. Sometimes I can scarcely believe I had the good fortune to stumble upon them at all, and even more so that they’ve allowed me to stake a claim in them.
I have this one friend, for example, who is seriously one of my favorite people in the whole world. Aside from being quirky, funny, and very clever, he has this oh-so-refreshing habit of always telling the truth, to everyone. He’s just so utterly charming while doing it that it’s easy to swallow even the bitterest pill when it comes from him. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t feel the need to bludgeon with the truth. Even so, not everyone is interested in being friends with someone who is globally honest. It definitely takes some getting used to, but once you do it’s liberating. It works for me because I have discovered that I have no patience for trying to interpret a message, and really, I’m just not very good at it. Whether I like what he’s saying to me or not, at least I always know where I stand with him.
The common theme here is that every single one of my close friends brings something to the table that I admire and want to emulate – unwavering honesty, incredible courage and a willingness to walk right up to and confront very uncomfortable situations, wide open minds, the deepest wells of integrity and goodness so pure they couldn’t be faked by even the best actor, a hardcore sense of adventure and desire to soak up everything life has to offer. The people dearest to me make me want to dig deep and find the best version of myself, pull it out, breathe life into it, and head off down the path with them to see what lies around the next bend.