Our tween-age son and daughter are beginning to encounter the tricky and treacherous turmoil of relationship trauma. Friends can change allegiances and alliances; coveted party invitations may not arrive; choices must be made on who to invite for special events; there's unhappiness with mom and dad's play date recommendations; there's 'he said, she said' tears shed...
You get the picture. Sensitive souls are trying to make sense of their own and others' not-always-considerate actions. Kinda like all of us at any age, isn't it?
I pondered how to help guide my children through this emerging minefield while flying home from a recent gathering of old friends, most of whom I've known since my pre-kindergarten days. Seven of us met in Cleveland for a Buffalo Bills vs. Browns football game, jetting and driving in from all over the country. I hadn't seen most of them for many years, and since cold Great Lakes rain pelted us throughout the game, it was truly another chapter in our ongoing version of The Big Chill.
It hit me like the sunburst above the cloud layer over Cleveland. The lessons I've learned over the decades from my relationships with these boyhood buddies might just help my kids as they navigate the bumpy and bruising paths of friendships. Now, I know passing along advice is not as easy as passing on genes or bad habits, but here's what I'm telling my children about Best Friends Forever.
When in Doubt, Be Yourself
You are not what you think others think of you. You are a unique, wondrous individual with your own mind and your own ideas about how to spend your energies on this planet. Friends are important, but they are not as important as being true to yourself... being your own best friend... treating yourself with healthy respect. It doesn't matter a hoot what your friends say when you make your own determination that certain actions are not for you. You do not have to step on the gas, chugalug, hit the bong or bang the gong just because your posse pack pressures you. Go your own way. Do what you know is right for you. Good friends will reveal themselves when you're on your own correct journey... your sacred path. You are worthy of good friends. You are worthy of love. And nothing any silly bunch of immature fools might do or say can take that away from you.
The Wheel Turns... and Churns Back Around
Our Big Chill gang was scattered to the winds for decades. People and circumstances change. Everyone pursues their own self-interests. It's natural for friends to grow estranged as they seek their own adventures, develop new skills and discover new pals. But months and even years later, you may find yourselves on the same sports team, partnering on a school project or intrigued by the same music, math or Matisse. Changes can swing you far away from close friends... and later, swing you right back together. You must learn to allow friends, and yourself, to change. Change is natural. Embrace it. Give everyone their space to grow.
Forgive, Forget, Forge Forward
We get hurt by, and hurt, those closest to us. Ancients, such as the Everly Brothers, taught us that everyone gets made blue and lied to, turned down and pushed 'round, cheated and mistreated. It's the way of the world. Misunderstandings are magnified among close friends. Perhaps the insult you think you heard was not really meant that way. Give your friends the benefit of the doubt. Practice biting your own tongue instead of using it to criticize. It's taken years, but our "Return of the Secaucus 7" gang seems finally ready to let old wounds heal and not pick at the scabs. Roll with the punches and hesitate to throw your own. Remember the wise saying: "Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." And as you trek forward toward your own goals and dreams, you may look over to find a friend's smiling face marching in the same direction right beside you.
Never Give Up on Your Friends
If you want a friend, be a friend. Support your pals, even as they grow out of your life. Don't write them off. Stay in touch. You may never know what hidden factors might be influencing their behavior. Keep reaching out to them. Some will pleasantly surprise you. Our gang of comrades had many more reunion invitation ideas rejected than accepted. But if we'd stopped after the first 10 failures, we'd never have gotten the opportunity to get soaked to the skin together in nose bleed seats at Cleveland Stadium. Okay, that may not be the best example, but you get the notion. Shared history is never forgotten, and the friends you now have may be the same ones who'll reach out to you when you're alone at a school dance, lend a sympathetic ear to your silent scream for understanding or warn you of a dead end down the road. Don't give up on your buddies, and you might even see some of them when you reach my fossilized age... with impressions of lifelong friendships deeply embedded into your heart.