Photo by Jolante
“When L moves away, I won’t have any true friends!”
As the move date for S’s best friend speeds toward us, the angst grows by leaps and bounds. My first instinct is to tell S “That’s not true! You have lots of friends,” and then start naming them. “What about so-and-so? And don’t forget about that one, you always have fun together. And that one—you just went to her birthday party and had a great time.”
But I know how important it is, as a parent, to acknowledge and respect how she feels, whether it makes sense to me or not. The way she’s experiencing her life in this moment is not up for debate. It just is what it is.
And anyway, I know what she’d say if I started listing all of her friends: “I know I have lots of friends, but I don’t have any other best friends. There’s no one else who understands me, and who likes to pretend, and who always wants to see me. We never get tired of each other.”
It’s not just a childhood experience
When it gets down to it, the biggest reason I can’t discount how she feeling, because I’m right there with her: I have loads of friends, yet most of the time I feel like I don’t have any friends. Being in that state leads to the most bizarre, circular arguments in my head, with one part of me playing the lonely child and the other playing the all-too-matter-of-fact mother.
Clearly, it’s not an argument that can be brought to a conclusion without a clear definition of “friend,” or at least a clear understanding of the different categories of friends.
For kids, it’s pretty simple: They have Category 4 friends they enjoy seeing and interacting with at school; Category 3 friends they have an occasional playdate with; a small handful of Category 2 friends that they would invite to their birthday party; and then one or maybe two Category 1 friends: True Friends. Best Friends. The sort of friend that fits the description S would use for L.
Breaking it down for grownups
How does it translate for adults? Pretty much the same way.
Category 4 friends are people you say hello to and maybe stop and chat for awhile if you run into them at the cafe or bar. They’re probably friends of yours on Facebook, but if it weren’t for Facebook, they would have almost no clue what’s going on in your day-to-day life.
Category 3 friends encompass a lot of people like co-workers, members of your broader church community, the parents of your kids’ friends, and others you see and talk to regularly but don’t necessarily go out of your way to get together with. Every once in a while, you might decide to call them up and see if they want to meet you for lunch, or you might invite them to a big party you’re having, but the expectations of your relationship are low and the interactions are casual.
Category 2 friends can get more complicated, because the relationship is deeper, but the expectations often aren’t clear. They’re your go-to friends when you feel like getting a group of people together on a Saturday night, or you want to go out to dinner to celebrate a birthday, or you feel like inviting someone over for dinner. These are the friends you spend time with once or twice a month, but I also think we keep ourselves (or hearts?) at a bit of a distance, to protect ourselves from feeling left out, hurt, or disappointed when they don’t come through.
And Category 1 friends? I think I would describe them exactly the way my nine-year-old daughter would: They understand you—they get who you are at your core, which means you can completely be yourself around them, without worrying what they will think. Category 1 friends like to spend time doing the things that you like doing best. And they always want to see you. Whenever you feel the urge to see them, they’re ready and waiting, thrilled to see you if they can possibly make it happen.
When I lay it out like that, it makes more sense to me that I can have SO many friends and yet feel like I don’t have any friends. My first-tier category is empty, at least when it comes to people who live in town that I can regularly spend time with. And that means my heart feels a little bit empty right now, just like my daughter’s.