This is a post about friends – the ones who matter and the ones who don’t – i.e. the people who are not really your friends at all.
Brene Brown says that in order to have the courage to Dare Greatly, be vulnerable and go after what we want in life, we need the support of a couple of very good friends who will encourage us, cheer us on and pick us up when we fall.
We then have to stop worrying about what everybody else thinks.
“I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinions of me matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles. You have to love and respect that I’m totally uncool.’
Brene continues: ‘… you have to be what I call a ‘stretchmark friend’ – our connection has been stretched and pulled so much that it’s become part of who we are, a second skin, and there are a few scars to prove it. I don’t think anyone has more than one or two friends who qualify for that list. The important thing is not to discount these friends for the approval of strangers who are mean or nasty or too cool…’
She then quotes my favourite lines from a film ever. It’s from Almost Famous and it goes like this: ‘The only currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.’
This really hits home. I have spent so much of my life trying to win the approval of people who don’t really get me but who I think are cooler than me, better than me, cleverer than me…
I have gone out with these people and come home feeling like crap. I’ve compared myself to them – feeling awkward in my clothes (never cool enough), awkward in my hips (why can’t I be skinnier), awkward in my conversation (everything I say feels wrong, so much that I go home and replay it in my head afterwards.)
I’ve had nights that are good on paper and yet somehow feel totally empty. I’ve spent time with people who have made me feel invisible. I have worried about what these people are thinking of me when, no doubt, they are not even giving me a second of thought.
It’s pretty much like this:
For years I thought it was me that was wrong (if only I could be skinnier, prettier, less ginger, more like other people, fit in more) until I finally did meet people who really got me; they made me laugh, told me the truth, they made me feel beautiful even when I was a hungover mess with greasy hair. For example. Ha!
I AM SO GRATEFUL TO THESE PEOPLE.
They are the kind of friends that Caitlin Moran wrote about in a beautiful letter to her daughter to celebrate her 13th birthday? In it she writes:
‘..choose your friends because you feel most like yourself around them, because the jokes are easy and you feel like you’re in your best outfit when you’re with them, even though you’re just in a T-shirt.’
Isn’t that brilliant? When you find these people – and as Brene says, you only need one or two – you realise that all the rest is a big old waste of time and energy. It’s not that the others are bad people – we just aren’t the right fit.
In self-help land there’s lot of talk about letting go of people who don’t make you feel good and trusting the fact that you’ll meet new people who will be just right for your life right now.
It’s true. As soon as I started to accept who I am – the good and the bad – and let go of the people who don’t make me feel good, it’s amazing how many new people have popped into my life.
Caitlin also writes: ‘the main thing is just to try to be nice … Just resolve to shine, constantly and steadily, like a warm lamp in the corner, and people will want to move towards you in order to feel happy… You will be bright and constant in a world of dark and flux, and this will save you the anxiety of other, ultimately less satisfying things like ‘being cool’, ‘being more successful than everyone else’ and ‘being very thin’.
Indeed. Sod being cool, skinny and successful. Do your best to be happy and nice and see what happens…
And for what it’s worth, this is a list of what I think makes a real friend.
Are interested in you, they ask questions (this is now my benchmark. My mind boggles to think of how many conversations I’ve had with people who don’t even show the slightest interest in me or my life. When that happens now, I walk away.)
Find you funny even when you’re not trying to be.
Make you laugh – you find them funny, even when they’re not trying to be.
Tease you – Maybe this is an Irish thing but I love it when people tease me. Teasing can be done in a way that feels like attack or a put dow but there is also a loving way, a way that shows that they get you, see you and accept you despite all your quirks. When people laugh with you, not at you.
Will tell you the truth – even when it’s not pleasant.
Make you feel good. If you are hanging out with people, even people you like or have known for years – but somehow every time you leave their company you feel a bit unsettled, or not good enough, or too fat, or a bit depressed – then take notice of that feeling. It’s there for a reason.
Inspire you – they make you feel like the whole world is there for the taking and believe that you can do anything you want. Even it’s going around the world on a skateboard or writing a blog about self-help.
Know when you’re having a wobble. Last week, when I posted about going to Hoffman and being single, Sharon phoned me straight away. ‘You ok?’ She knew that sharing all that would have made me feel like a train-wreck and she reassured me: ‘You’re doing great.’ She then had to go because her eight-week-old twins were screaming. So there you go, that’s a real friend, someone who takes the time to call you about your naval gazing blog, even when she’s got screaming newborn twins.
PS – GOING IT ALONE IS NOT AN OPTION
I just remembered something else Brene Brown says – which also rang true. If you haven’t met your people yet, or you’ve been hurt or rejected, it’s tempting to want to sod the lot of them and go it alone.
I have done a LOT of that in the past. I am by nature somebody who needs a lot of time on my own but I’m aware that it’s also a defence mechanism. Don’t get close to people and they can’t hurt you. Let’s face it, it can also be easier to go off on your own than deal with the messy reality of friendships, family and love.
But Bernie says that if we isolate we’re only hurting ourselves because, like it or not, connecting with people is the whole point of life.
‘Connection is why we’re here. We are hard wired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives and without it there is suffering.’
It’s like that film, Into The Wild. The one about the guy who goes off into the wilderness to live on his own. He’s found (spoiler alert) dead with a note scribbled in one of his books which says: ‘Happiness only real when shared.’
The trick is to find the right people to share it with. Which brings me nicely full circle.
OK, I’ll go now. Have a good day. Maybe think about who would be on your list? Who are your one or two?
XxDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead