Is friendship an art?

I read this post about why a “No” friend is the best friend quite some time ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Nina Badzin makes the point that there is value in having friends who will tell you when you’re being ridiculous, when you’ve lost sight of your north, when you’re just plain wrong.

I completely agree. And yet…

Where does the honesty line get drawn? What if you’re convinced your friend is about to marry Mr. or Ms. WRONG? What if you think their anger (or hurt or resentment  or trust) is misplaced? What if you think the dream they’re about to chase is doomed, or (worse) that they’ve forgotten they even had a dream?

I think there’s an art to friendship. Sometimes it’s about being absolutely, unconditionally supportive (despite your own misgivings) and other times it’s about telling the truth even when you feel deeply that something precious is at risk. The art lies in knowing which times are which, of course, something I don’t always get right.

I guess that’s why the question has such a hold of me, because I know that I often misstep. I’ve been quiet when in hind sight I should have spoken up, feigned agreement when I should have voiced opposition. I’ve also been inappropriately tough, not realizing that what had been shared with me was fragile, a tender piece of heart and soul not built to withstand criticism, however constructively delivered.

Even now, looking back with all the clarity that looking back gives, there are times that seem murky to me. I’m unclear if I was right or wrong. For instance, I was relieved when a friend I love dearly broke up with her longtime boyfriend who I’d never liked. She said, “Why didn’t you tell me? Promise me you’ll tell me next time.” I promised, and then when she fell in love with someone who worried me even more, I said nothing. Now, years later, when my misgivings appear to only have been the tip of the iceberg, I still don’t know what the right thing to do was. I do know that I wasn’t willing to risk the friendship by being the “No” friend.

I would like to glibly ascribe to an easy friendship code like, “honesty is the best policy,” but as much as I value honesty, I’m not sure I think that’s always true.

What do you think? Is honesty always best? How do you decide when it isn’t? Should you strive to be the “No” friend? Am I making this harder than it has to be?

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54 Responses to Is friendship an art?

  1. Nina Badzin October 20, 2011 at 6:27 am #

    Oy!! I would NEVER suggest this is a black/white thing where we should ALWAYS tell our best friends our opinion of their choices. My point was that it is rare to find friends who can do that for you at ALL. But “always” would be way over the top. For sure we all need to try new routes, even if they end up being mistakes later . . . those routes make us who we are. I do appreciate how my friend Jenni will help me the other side of things sometimes . . . like if I’m annoyed at my mom. But I don’t expect her to navigate my major life choices.

    Anyway, thanks for linking to my blog! Always love discussing this stuff. :)

    • j October 20, 2011 at 7:20 am #

      I didn’t think you were implying it’s black and white, no worries. Your post really touched me. I envied you your friendship with someone who was unafraid to be your “no” friend (and who sounds like she delivers “no” firmly but lovingly). I am sometimes afraid to do that, even with people I am very, very close to, people I treasure, and even when I’m sure that they need to hear the difficult message. After reading your post, I wondered about hesitance, if I do those friendships a disservice sometimes. I truly don’t know the answer, but exploring the question is worth it, I think.

      So… thank you! It was a GREAT post.

  2. Becky October 20, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    This topic has been on my mind for months now. I keep hearing people say, “I’m brutally honest”, “I was just brutally honest with my friend” — what the hell is that? Why would you ascribe to a position of brutality?
    I think honesty is always best, but knowing how and when is key. I’ve had more honesty thrown at me this past year than I ever wanted to know existed — some of it by friends who I know love me and care about me, some of it by people who were absolutely not my friend and absolutely had one goal of being brutal — and they were and it caused more damage than if they would have just shut the hell up.
    Friendship IS an art form, you have to work at it, you have to be willing to make mistakes, you have to be willing to admit your mistakes, you have to be willing to forgive and move forward and start over and begin again and again and again. That’s not to say you should put yourself in a position of being constantly hurt by someone else’s “complete honesty”.
    I don’t want a friend who only tells me I’m great, because I’m not always great. I don’t want a friend who only tells me I’m screwed up, because I’m not always screwed up. If I love someone, they CAN tell me anything, because I know they say it from a place of love. And if I love someone, I WILL tell them anything, because I say it from a place of love.
    I better stop now, like I said, this very topic has been on my mind and in my journal scribblings for months now — I feel a poem coming on!

    • j October 20, 2011 at 7:50 am #

      In fairness, neither Nina’s post nor mine is about “brutal honesty.” Nina is just saying that it’s important to have friends that will tell you the truth when the truth needs to be told, and my post is about how hard it is for me to recognize and then act on those times.Brutal honesty is a whole different question, I think. That’s about the nature in which we deliver our messages. (Nina’s friend is loving; that is clear.)

      In my experience, friendship hasn’t been about starting over again and again and again… or even really working at it. While missteps and apologies and forgiveness are a part of every close relationship, they’re usually not the defining characteristic (and when they are… the relationship might be worth rethinking). Fodder for another post. (Or poem.) :)

    • Becky October 21, 2011 at 8:16 am #

      That’s not what I was saying. Friendship is a dance, and you don’t dance the same way with every partner.I guess that’s what I was trying to say but clearly didn’t.

  3. Nina Badzin October 20, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    As a total side note, I’m so happy to discover your blog. Just followed you on Twitter. I see your “Michael Chabon” love category on the sidebar. Don’t be jealous, but I had dinner with Ayelet Waldman this year and one other author (my friend Kate Ledger) when Ayelet came to speak in Minneapolis. It was very cool! (Not Michael, but as close as I could hope to get!)

    • j October 20, 2011 at 9:47 am #

      Yay! I followed you back and felt the same way about finding your blog… and I’m not going to let a little thing like proximity to the mad crush of my life get in the way of our new friendship. ;-) (I like and have quoted Ayelet here too!)

  4. Pam October 20, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    I’m sure I’ve been on all sorts of wrong sides of this question, as I’m not the most measured conversationalist when a friend tells me about a problem.

    I do think that a person has to have a certain centeredness or maturity to truly appreciate the “no” friend. Also, the relationship would have to be strong on trust.

    Is honesty always best? I don’t think so. If you’re in your friend’s house & she’s just gotten dressed in a outfit that doesn’t work, maybe suggest a different top. If you meet in the restaurant and she doesn’t look as good as she might, shut up.

    Is friendship an art? Maybe. Maybe it’s more of a skill. *puzzling about that*

    • j October 20, 2011 at 10:06 am #

      Good point, I agree. Nina’s reaction to her friend’s “no” honesty is part of why that magic works. I’m not always the best recipient of difficult messages, which may be part of why I struggle.

      Love your outfit analogy. I’d have gotten that one right! :-)

  5. Tricia October 20, 2011 at 8:49 am #

    I’m not the friend I’d want to have. I’m not as brave to speak up as I’d want someone else to be. However, I do seem to relax a bit if I’m with someone who is outspoken. Seems I can sense when I’m with someone who has a “don’t go there” attitude. And I don’t go there.

    • j October 20, 2011 at 10:07 am #

      That’s a skill. Don’t underestimate. I’m not great at reading “don’t go there” or “go there” signs. I require directness, which makes my struggle all the harder.

  6. Gail October 20, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    This is a hard one. I guess for me it’s about knowing when the other person is ready to hear what I have to say. Sometimes you know something is wrong but you hold back because your hoping that person will just realize on their own…but then they don’t and they are about to get in way over their heads…this is usually when I start gently dropping hints, usually by asking a lot of questions. And if all goes well, they usually come to the same conclusion with very little guidance. Then you switch to the role of supporter. It is definitely a ebb and flow, a dance of sorts. And sometimes it’s frustrating because you can see so clearly how much your friend is hurting and you wish you could just shake them and say, “Stop!” but nothing is ever that simple.

    • j October 20, 2011 at 10:10 am #

      I love your response, especially the part about asking questions. The beauty of asking questions is that (and for some reason, I seem to have to keep relearning it) it not only gives your friend time to safely explore her feelings, it affords you time to more fully understand the situation. I need to tattoo it on my brain: ASK QUESTIONS.

      Thank you for reminding me!

  7. kaleighsomers October 20, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    This is such a true dilemma. For me, I think I draw the line when someone I know chooses to admit whatever it is to themselves, unless of course it’s something that’s hazardous to their health. One of my best friends just got broken up with and I think the rest of us agree she deserves so much better, and it’s too soon to just blurt that out, but sometime those words will be encouraging. I think you walk the line based on who the person is, how much they want to know the truth, and whether it’s about their life or yours. When it’s something like a boyfriend, I stay out of it. But a personal health issue, like an eating disorder or depression or anxiety, I might be more inclined to say something sooner. You have to save them.

    • j October 20, 2011 at 10:15 am #

      It’s so interesting that you feel that same sense of “stay out of it” that I do when the subject is romantic love. I once shared with someone the story I shared here of not having told my friend the truth about my misgivings concerning her fiancee, and the person I was talking to questioned the depth of the friendship. She seemed to think if my friend and I were as close as I thought we were, our relationship could weather my honesty. I didn’t think it was that simple. Love is tricky. Matters of the heart can’t always be analyzed by people outside of the couple in question, but I’ve always wondered if I made the right decision.

  8. Boonies Chick October 20, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    You’re not making it harder than it has to be. Like you, I’ve run the gamut on how I decide (or act on impulse) to handle each situation – and with mixed results.

    Right now I’ve got two situations. One where I’m sticking to the point because I know the person is trying to short-sell herself creatively . . . she’s going on a knee-jerk reaction instead of trying a new approach. We’ll see what she does with my latest email where I argue the case. The other one happened when I asked for help from a friend who has expertise on a subject I was writing about. I spelled out to her exactly what I needed, to save her time because she’s very busy, but she thought I was insulting her. So now I have to find the diplomat’s way of restoring the situation. Even though the pointers I gave helped her deliver what I needed in ten minutes instead of an hour.

    I don’t know the answer. Except that maybe life is made up of learning from our mistakes. And there are no guarantees on anything, even though most of us live on expectations.

    • j October 21, 2011 at 7:43 am #

      Actually that is a hard situation, when you know what you need and you’re trying to make it easy for the expert to help you. I hope that one works itself out for you!

      Life is definitely made up of mistakes. Other stuff too, but lots of mistakes, especially if your inclined toward leaping. The learning part is the tricky thing. ;-)

  9. Michael October 20, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    My short answer is that I think intent makes all the difference. Why we do something can make a huge difference and guide us in decision making. At least it does for me. But that answer is also too easy.

    If I had to default to a position I a time of serious dilemma, i would do so on the side of honesty ahead of anything else. A lot of the time abstaining is a viable choice, but I try to measure my options in terms of what’s easiest for me as opposed to what’s potentially best for a friend. Thee are ways to be honest AND compassionate, and if we share our truth but are rejected, then we can respect our friend’s decision after that.

    I’ve been following all this #occupy stuff feverishly. In the consensus-based process there are several options in a vote: agree, disagree, block, and abstain. Agreeing isn’t the issue here, so forget that one. Abstaining may sometimes be the right option, but probably only after a disagree or two, with reasons to back up the position. The block option is serious. It means that a person is willing to walk away if a proposal they disagree with goes through. Blocks, it is suggested, should be a rare occurrence.

    I guess I’m saying that we can be honest with compassion, and that would be my preferred route every time. Not being honest usually feels like I’m doing it for me, which is a poor basis for a real friendship. But telling someone the truth about how I feel, and respecting whatever they choose to do with that opinion afterwards, seems like a pretty fair starting position.

    I think I just answered a question I’ve been mulling over for a couple weeks now… Thanks j!

    • j October 21, 2011 at 7:58 am #

      Uh-oh. Can I expect a frank and difficult note in my inbox soon?

      I love the way OWS has gone about enacting democracy, and you’re pretty creative to have translated it into personal relationships. The thing about relationships is that the moment of decision is not always as clear as a question being asked and an answer given. Sometimes your facing a body of evidence, and the sense that you need to offer an opinion you haven’t been asked for (as with me and my friend and her fiance).

      One of the dangers in believing that honesty is always best, is the tendency we all have to assume our opinions are right for everyone, as if there’s only one way to have a healthy marriage or raise healthy children or chase a dream. It’s one thing when we’re directly asked for our opinion (then you just have to decide what aftermath you can live with), but it’s another to volunteer it.

      I do think sometimes we need “No” friends to volunteer their thoughts, to help us see things more clearly when we’re too close to a situation. It’s there where I have difficulty – knowing when those times are.

    • Michael October 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

      I get the argument. I wouldn’t advocate rushing around willy-nilly spouting unsolicited opinions in any way. But I do think that, if a person feels so strongly about their concern for a friend, they owe it to themselves and that friend to find a way to express an opinion with respect, and with an understanding that, once offered, the job is done. There’s no sales job to complete. It’s given and then let go, both with love and respect.

      And abstaining is always an option. My biggest concern with silence as a default is that I have and see so many people choosing it because it’s easier than risking sharing an opinion. I guess I’m saying that I think those times when being a “no” friend is most important are the ones that we might find most uncomfortable. Being honest with friends should be about what’s best for both people.

      After that it’s all about offering support (or walking away of it’s that big a deal). Again, I think that this can be done with love and respect.

      It’s when we own our opinions, when we offer them for selfish reasons and won’t let go of the decision making – trusting our friend to make the right choice for them, that we try to force it. That’s not friendship, it’s manipulation.

      And no, I do not foresee and difficult notes in our future at this time. You’re too shiny. :)

    • j October 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

      “I think those times when being a “no” friend is most important are the ones that we might find most uncomfortable.”

      Yes! That’s exactly what I think too and it’s why the question wouldn’t let me go. It’s never been a question about the way the insight is delivered; I’m not advocating for anything but loving communication… .just knowing when is the right time to deliver it despite the discomfort and sense of risk. Maybe the answer for me is to say to myself, “the more uncomfortable you are, j, the more likely you should talk.”

      Gah! :-)

    • Michael October 21, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

      “…the more uncomfortable you are, j, the more likely you should talk.”

      :) That’s the primary criteria I use. Thanks for saying it better than I could. Again. Dammit! :D

  10. Kellie J. Walker (@Yourlifeingear) October 20, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    So love this post!

    I take a similar approach to the one Gail described re: asking questions. Not only does it help slow me down so I can really listen, which I think is important any time I’m discussing something important with a dear friend, it gives them the time and space they need to share and work through whatever it is they’re talking about. Plus, I think people appreciate being asked questions. It expresses a genuine interest & desire to understand (vs. a desire to be understood).

    Often times I ask my friends what they want/need from the discussion before I say anything. Do they want a sympathetic ear? Someone to rage along with them? Advice? Honesty? That question has saved me a lot of angst. Many times when a friend is sharing a problem with me or asking me a question, my instinctive reaction is to ‘fix’ and ‘help’. But, what they really want is someone to say, “That stinks!” “I’m so sorry.” And, or, “Those bastards!”

    When a friend asks my advice and I think my opinion may not be well received, I’ll somehow foreshadow it with them to see if they REALLY want me to be honest. Sometimes that means asking them if they want to know what I really think. Sometimes that means framing it out as what it is – my opinion. Like when friend with children as my advice. I always (ALWAYS) preface what I say with, “Well, I don’t have children, so my perspective may not be valid. But,…” And, now that I think about it, what comes after “But,…” is often a question. Ha!

    As for the times a friend isn’t asking for my opinion, but I’m concerned… Questions help there, too. I was going to give some examples, but my brain just pooped out on me. :-)

    As for your question: Is friendship an art? I think it is. It’s like an on-going dance.

    Hugs & sparkles!

    • j October 21, 2011 at 8:00 am #

      “Often times I ask my friends what they want/need from the discussion before I say anything. Do they want a sympathetic ear? Someone to rage along with them? Advice? Honesty?”

      Love that. I’m going to start doing that. And for the benefit of my friends, I’m going to try to remember to just tell them, because I have been on the receiving end of someone trying to fix a problem I’m not asking to have fixed. Excellent advice, Kellie. Thank you!

    • Kellie J. Walker (@Yourlifeingear) October 21, 2011 at 9:17 am #

      :-)

      So love when I can help the always-fabulous j!

      xoxoxo

  11. terrepruitt October 20, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    Gail is brilliant. That is an awesome course of action.

    I also feel that the best course of action is to follow your heart. If you are afraid you will lose a friend if you tell them the truth and you would rather live with the lie than lose the friend than that is what you should do. If being quiet and not saying anything gets you a clear conscience, then do that. If going along with whatever works then do that. I believe the heart will never lead us wrong and since we have to live with our decisions that is the best thing to follow. So maybe think less and feel more and do that?

    Also sometimes people aren’t even really asking, they just want someone to listen. :-)

    • j October 21, 2011 at 8:07 am #

      i agree, though I think in the moment of truth, it’s not always so clear. When you’re truly worried about a friend, but also truly worried that voicing your concerns could cost you either the friendship or a level of trust, it seems to me your heart may be cleaved a bit. Mine was. No matter which way I jumped, I’d have been following my heart, my intentions were never the question.

      Now, in hind sight, it’s clear that I was right to be concerned. And even now, I’m not sure I would handle it differently, even though I often wish I had. All that being said, I think you’re right. I’m not sure what choice we all have other than to follow our hearts.

    • terrepruitt October 21, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

      Well, I don’t think so, for me, but we are all different and every situation is different, but if I were truly worried about a friend, my feelings and losing a friendship or trust would be second to my friend being safe.

      Not everyone follows their heart. Some people follow their head or the preconcieved idea of what friendship is. For me I have to be able to stand behind my actions and decisions so I go with with I believe. That is not to say I have not made mistakes :-{ I learn as I go.

    • j October 21, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

      I’m not sure what part you disagree with, but I agree with all you’ve said here. Except I think most of us try to follow our heart.

  12. Estrella Azul October 21, 2011 at 3:40 am #

    I’ve been wondering that myself a while ago, I remember you coming over and leaving a comment.
    The questions aren’t the easiest to answer… and truthfully, I’m still looking for the right answers myself. (but have enjoyed reading your post and the comments here, it helps) :)

    • j October 21, 2011 at 8:07 am #

      I have wise and generous commenters.

    • Estrella Azul October 21, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

      Thank you, j!

      Also, I just remembered this quote which is more than applicable here:
      “The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should be treated with caution.” – J.K. Rowling

  13. Meg Sweeney October 21, 2011 at 4:50 am #

    Wowza! This is all interesting to the tipping point. As for me, I lean in to my friend, I listen and listen…when judgement jumps in I make a note of it and stick it in a place in my mind. My intent is just to try to understand and not disturb what is happening to this person for good or ill. Time passes(sometimes decades – I know – I am slow)…feelings arise like, wtf is this friend thinking! Wtf am I listening to all this for again and again…then I finally say…I think that decision is bad for those whom you love…including yourself…and including me. I guess that is where I become the no friend. And it is sometimes met with…a surprised and off-putted friend, and sometimes met with shock, and acceptance. It is usually met with indifference…as the person is more into her or his story than my reaction to it. I guess it is just in the allowing of all these levels of understanding and expression that have me totally taken in… with life’s stories and stirrings.

  14. Meg Sweeney October 21, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    Sorry … again I am drawn here to write. I think that when we move back, and don’t respond perfectly-in-your-face-type honesty – we are in fact, respecting the movement of life, the “wa” of the situation. In Japan, we always are wary of disturbing a flow in process. When we are ready to disturb that, the friendship may end…but it was worth it because we have also chosen to disturb the wa, the flow of someone’s life. That is fine. All of it, from absorbed listener, to helper, to antagonist, we are in fact, true friends.

    • j October 21, 2011 at 8:15 am #

      The “wa” of the situation. That’s actually very beautiful. You act more as witness and confidante, but let the flow move as it will. I like that because it allows me to stay within my comfort zone, but then I think about Nina and her “No” friend and I want someone who isn’t afraid to save me from myself. When I take the path of least resistance, for example, rather than the path of my dreams, I want a friend who’ll say, “Hey… remember your heart and soul? Are you still paying attention?”

      One thing is clear from all the comments… this question is hard. Coming from a place of love, no matter which way we jump, maybe the only sure thing we can do.

  15. lunaJune October 21, 2011 at 6:36 am #

    For me.. here is the thing..we are the commanders of our own lives… and truly no one can tell us what to do until we truly want to, and what is right for you may not be right for me.. . I’ve had friends be ‘brutally’ ( really don’t like that word ) honest about the stupidest things.. hating my purple eye shadow & the way I didn’t brush my hair to the clothes I wore… seriously I didn’t talk to her for a year.. until she came looking for me to apologize … I have had to tell friends who were cheating that they’d better come clean because I will not lie, and if their spouse asks I will tell…
    I like what Kellie says about asking first what our friend is looking for.. because there is nothing sadder than a friend who comes to bitch about their relationship and tell you things that fill you with such sorrow for them only to learn 2 days later they go right back to it… so for me… I always ask first.. do you want honesty.. or just my shoulder.
    As a friend I have your heart….it has a place in mine….even if we fight or I don’t see you for 20 years that place is still there, might need the wind to blow through it LOL

    • j October 21, 2011 at 8:27 am #

      “Brutal” honesty was never my question, just to be clear. I like what Kellie says too. In the case I talked about in my post, there was a “moment of truth” when I felt keenly my concern and didn’t voice it. It was not during a conversation that we were having in which I could have asked what she was looking for. I think there are times when getting straight what a friend wants works, but there are times when the decision about staying quiet or speaking up happens on the fly, without preamble, without a chance to preface.

      In Nina’s example, she was spiraling out of control on a project and her “No” friend just happened to call. It was a moment of clarity in which her friend chose to say something. I’m realizing now though that you could, at that moment, ask a question, Gail-style. Not “Do you want the truth?” but “Have you written today?” or “How’s the book coming?”

      Food for thought…

  16. Jo October 21, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    Great post! I’m going to respond without reading the other comments so please excuse me if I repeat what someone else has said.

    For me friendships are a constant learning experience. Not just with friends but with family as well. One thing that I have learned is the importance of unconditional acceptance as in – “Yes, I still love you even though I don’t like the person you’re in love with. Yes, I care about you even though you do harmful things to yourself. Yes, I want you to stay in touch even if you lie more often than you tell the truth.”

    I handle my friends in the same way my parents handle me and my siblings. Always there as a sounding board, ready to listen and/or give advise in truth as I know it while at the same time conveying the underlying message “you’re beautiful and I love you know matter what”.

    We’re all lovely beings try to navigate through the complex tapestry of our lives. We have to make our own choices that lead us into the hard lessons that will help us grow into hopefully, our full potential. We look to our friends as people who will be there no matter what. To listen, hold our hands, cheer us on or cringe in fear that we’re making a grave decision. Forgiveness is key. Being there with open arms and strong battered heart is the best that I can give to those ones that I love.

    • j October 21, 2011 at 8:30 am #

      You didn’t repeat anyone, you original, you! ;-)

      I agree. In the end, the one thing we can make sure we do is come from a place of love. We’ll make mistakes, that’s the messy nature of relationships, but, as Michael said, the intent becomes important when we misstep.

      Thank you for commenting!

  17. Rita October 21, 2011 at 7:18 am #

    Yeah…I’d agree. It’s not a black/white thing. I have friends I say everything to. I have friends I say nothing to. I have friends who lie and keep secrets and I have friends who share everything. It’s so amazing to read this from you this morning. It’s like you knew what was going on in my head. I think when it comes to friendship, we are bound to say things that aren’t perfect. We are bound to open our mouths and utter words we wish we hadn’t, and I guess to be able to forgive eachother when that happens…means being able to say anything we need to say.

    Honestly, i feel like I don’t know right now. I think I’ll read this again and then come back. I also want to see what others have shared. Perhaps that will open up something for me. xo

    • j October 21, 2011 at 8:34 am #

      For me, the more unsteady ground is speaking up. I find myself inclined to be quiet with my friends if I think there’s a chance my opinion will hurt their feelings. Most of the time, it’s probably best. I don’t have the corner on wisdom by any means. But sometimes I think I’m quiet when what’s needed is exploration – the perspective that comes from sharing, from bringing a situation out into the light…

      I don’t have anyone to whom I say “everything.” That is definitely for the best!

  18. thelittlefluffycat October 21, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    I once told a friend who’d decided to marry a long-time problematic boyfriend (and father of her younger child) “if you’re dumb enough to do it, I’m dumb enough to help you.”

  19. Premganesh Damodaran October 22, 2011 at 6:02 am #

    Yes Honesty pays, but being honest, I reserve my space and also my friend’s space.

    As a friend, I can say him a “NO”, but will not thrust upon him. Here I am Honest/also express my views. Let my friend decide, further course. Thats where both of us value each other’s thoughts.

    • j October 22, 2011 at 9:58 am #

      I think for me the question is less about how to be honest and forthright, but when. I certainly agree that the only way to do it is respectfully.

  20. Tall Pajama Man October 22, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, and I would say there is an art, or delicate balance to the “honest” part of friendship. It’s two sided, though. If the friend is relying on me to set them straight, then something is out of whack. friendship itself means that I can be honest with you without it destroying our relationship, even if the honesty is “i don’t agree with your choice”. The friend appreciates the honesty and the ability to not agree as well, knowing that I have their best interest at heart. It gives an openness, where the friend can hear me, consider what I say, and decide if it has merit for them.

    Of course, this is the perfect world version. the dance is dealing with the pain that comes from the rejection of the friend’s choice, because we always feel that in some degree. It’s when we have to focus on it the friendship that much more, be willing to talk it out, know when to shut up, all of that…

    Seems like art to me.. :-)

    • j October 22, 2011 at 10:05 am #

      I’m wary of saying that the definition of friendship is the ability to withstand honesty in all its forms. In fact, someone I told the story to did question the depth of my friendship if I was afraid to tell my friend that I thought the man she was in love with might not be the right man for her. I struggled with that assessment for a long time, and then again when I read Nina’s post.

      I don’t believe that’s true. I think it’s an oversimplification. In fact I think that people who think in such black and white terms may have trouble developing truly intimate, give-and-take relationships, which are almost always a little messy, a little gray, a little outside the lines…

      I don’t think that’s what you were saying, you just made me come to some conclusions. (Thank you!) I agree that real life not as clear as we’d all like to pretend it is. Seems like art to me too! <3

  21. Gina SuuperG Stark October 22, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    Judy!!! I love that you broach this topic…I’ve recently been shifting my approach to “advice” and feedback in my friendships and all relationships. Forgive me if one of your intuitive and wise readers already contributed my same stance, but here is my take on it:
    When a friend is sharing a problem or concern, or even just sharing anything that I see a red flag in (based on my perspective) I do my best to NOT toss out my opinion or apply my values to their life. Rather, I’ve recently adopted the tac of guiding them to their own intentions for their life…asking them to look at if this decision or person in their life fits with their own ideals. It really seems to help them get clarity and without defenses up. I find that I appreciate it when my friends/counselors lovingly guide me through the same process…of reminding me what I’ve said matters to ME and getting me to ask myself if certain paths or decisions “fit” with my big picture.
    Thank you for opening up this forum. I will read more of your readers’ comments because you have the rockin’ blog community! BIG love. Gina

    • j October 23, 2011 at 8:56 am #

      No one said it like you, but you’re hitting on the best advice I’ve gotten from this post (which makes me very glad I wrote it). I think asking questions is key. It provides space for both of us. I find that while I often have a very strong opinion, I fear not having all the information and that makes me quiet. (Or, I forget to fear I don’t have all the information and I blurt.) Either way, slowing down, asking question feels a) smart and loving and b) doable. (And, of course, “b” is the most important part.) Thank you for weighing in, wise woman.

  22. Patricia MacDonald October 23, 2011 at 6:43 am #

    I have friends that I see every week or two, then I have friends I call sister who I haven’t seen in years that I’ve been close to for 50 years (well two anyways =). I also have grown children. I presume you are speaking about the first class of friends, the ones you can lose, however when your children have grown your friendship with them is a cross between the two class of friends and your question, for some reason, reminded me of my daughter.

    People have to make their own choices; if something goes wrong, or right, in a choice, it is important the person making the choice have no one to blame or credit but themselves. When a child has grown and is making their own decisions, you become their friend, at least I have, and this subject made me think of my daughter when she was pregnant and wanted to marry the man who was the father. I had that choice when I was 16 for far different reasons and in my circumstance I wound up marrying him. In my daughter’s life, the reason why she should was not so obvious. I thought it was a major ‘No!’ but in a long conversation one day I finally just told her she didn’t have to marry him if she wasn’t sure or questioned it at all, that she could stay with him, or come live with me and/or I would help her. I gave her options, you know? She chose to marry him and a year later she was leaving him and came to live with me. (no ‘I told you so’s’ allowed!)

    Friends fall in a number of classes, at least the 3 major classes mentioned above, and a number of subclasses. However in them all I recognize that a persons choices are their own. I can influence them, in offering them other ways to look at something, or other options, but I can’t control them and their choices are theirs, for better or worse. That’s pretty much the end of my contribution here, except to say:

    Your reason for your angst made me think of my experiences. I have married or otherwise co-habited with a number of men who were violent drunks. Obviously this isn’t known about them when you fall in love, no one acts like a violent drunk when you are dating. Still, they were definitely people I should not have been with and I should have had a ‘nose’ that would have told me that, a sense of values that would have not had me entertain the idea of being with them at all. I have lost a number of friends for choosing those men, mostly because our lives changed so much there wasn’t anything to talk about anymore but in a one case I lost a number of people I thought were my friends because they “disapproved”. In that latter case they weren’t really my friends at all. I chose those men because I was following my broken heart, (or ‘nose’, whatever intuition is that tells us bad things are around the corner). Regardless of what anyone had told me I would have chosen them and our friendships would have broken as well. Some friends aren’t meant to be forever.

    • j October 23, 2011 at 9:35 am #

      I have started this response, deleted, and restarted it several times. Let me see if I can just distill my thoughts simply.

      I think your comment shows just how complicated this issue is, how many life factors can play into the way honesty is given and received. For me, I am not inclined to believe that any friendship (or any relationship) is unassailable, while other people in this thread have indicated that they believe there are people to whom they can say “anything” and that there are friendships that should be able to withstand that. Clearly, if we don’t see this the same way, we may not emerge from an “honest” discussion feeling the way we expected each other to feel. Such is the messiness of human interaction.

      Your last line touched me. It’s a little off my main topic here, but “Some friends aren’t meant to be forever” is true, I think, and important. It is possible (maybe even more common than uncommon) to grow out of friendships, or grow apart from people with whom we were once more aligned. It is the nature of evolution that as we change, not everyone in our lives will track to our north. It’s inevitable, and it’s okay.

      I am a strong believer in surrounding myself with people who support and expand me, people who feed my soul, rather than drain it. In the messiness that is our human experience, we are fortunate to find people who open us up, whose presence makes us more somehow, whose energy and love create space for growth. Life is fluid, and being our best loving selves sometimes means connection and sometimes means letting go. Like honesty, the hardest part is recognizing which times are which.

    • Patricia MacDonald October 24, 2011 at 5:54 am #

      I agree with you J, that no friendship is unassailable, and that some are sturdier than others. I thought also, when clicking Post Comment that I hadn’t gotten back around to the question, LOL, Is Friendship an Art? One good thing about art, as you do it you become better at it, and indeed friendship is an art form lady. I too have had to walk away from story lines that weren’t working out, from paintings that didn’t say what I wanted them to say and from more people than I care to remember who were, mostly unconsciously, trying to suck the life out of me to put it bluntly. At 63 years old I can now read those people coming and don’t let them too close so removal is rarely necessary. It is a matter of choice, as all things are I would venture to say: choose wisely. (and while I’m here, I again have forgotten how to post in Reply to your comment, damit. I am not at all certain this will show up under yours. =()

  23. Becky October 23, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    I’m sorry, I had to come back here again. I feel I was misunderstood in my earlier comment and given the fact that this is the ether and who knows who reads all of this and formulates an opinion about the person behind the comment, I thought instead of asking you to delete my comment I would just try to restate my opinion:
    I absolutely believe that not all friendships are forever — 1000%. I have people who have come into my life and who have exited my life for no other reason than we took different paths, our “north’s” (as you say) no longer matched, we just fell “out of love” with each other in that friendship way. But I also know with 1000% accuracy that some people have a hold of my heart and my soul in such a way that they will absolutely be forever a part of my life. As an adult, when I form relationships, I do with far different perspective — I trust very few people. I reveal myself to very few people. But when I do, I’ve given them a piece of my self — just cut it out and handed it to them. I have no control over what is reciprocated, all I can do is love with my full-unselfish-easily-broken-confused-completely-honest heart.
    I met a friend yesterday. I was blubbering and crying and confused and feeling like I wasn’t worthy of love and friendship. She said all the right things but I could see in her tear filled eyes that she needed to say something more so I told her to say it, please, whatever it was. She said she wanted to kick my ass and make me snap out of it — now that’s a friend. :-) To laugh with, to cry with, to kick our ass when needed — because we need a little of all of that to survive.

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