A good friend can soften a day with hard edges. A good friend can show you how to laugh about your tragedies. A good friend can be angry with you; a good friend can handle it when you are angry with her. But a good friend is a pain in the ass. Because to be a good friend is to inconvenience yourself over and over and over again.
I have only a handful of good friends. I don’t think I could handle many more than that. It is too inconvenient as is to make time for five or six people and I wouldn’t want to spread my tolerance for inconvenience any thinner. Not that I begrudge the inconvenience. Nor do I glorify it. What astonishes me is how frequently I see people mystified by the inconvenience in their friendships. Folding other people into your life is a logistical train wreck. It doesn’t happen smoothly or magically.
I have a midterm. I already have plans. Can we raincheck? I need some time for myself. All valid excuses, but excuses nonetheless. I would hold my friends to too high a standard if I expected them to drop their commitments, cancel their plans, and forego precious personal time just to grab coffee with me. Yet as crazy as it sounds, I do expect my good friends to drop everything for me on occasion. I expect the same of myself. What’s more, if you accept the fact that friendship is inherently inconvenient, you can begin to shape your schedule in such a way that you can juggle your commitments with your relationships, instead of dropping one or the other.
Keep a planner. Open your iCal. Do whatever it takes to find the pockets in your schedule where you can fit in time for the people you love. Then do something radical. Schedule your friends in first and then fit the gym, your problem set, your PWR paper into the pockets around those times. I am not advocating that you skip class or delay assignments to go out and party. I simply suggest that outside of your stricter commitments like showing up to lecture, you take the trouble to make time for your friends instead of expecting them to make time for you. You don’t want to make a friend feel squeezed in behind a long list of “important things.” You want to show your good friends that those same important things take the back seat to your friendship.
I’m trying to consider this behavior my default position, not some epic accomplishment. I don’t want to act a martyr. Because a good friend is worth it. Yes, friendship is inconvenient. It can feel like trudging through knee-high mud against a headwind. It can feel like pulling teeth. And it can keep you afloat. The mud, the slog, the ache, the work. That’s why they call it a labor of love.
Amused? Confused? Outraged? Share your thoughts with Renée at firstname.lastname@example.org.