As you grow older, you become conscious of a mirage that you have experienced all of your life. You realize that the time you have at your disposal is not an endless ocean. In fact, it is a pond. A small pond that has to satisfy the thirst of many people. You see your partner, your child, your family and your dog lapping away at the water in your pond.
That leaves a small amount of time for your friends.
But just who are your closest friends? Who should you be spending time with?
Here are some of the most obvious candidates:
1. People you’ve known for a long amount of time.
Old friends. They sat on a park bench like bookends. People you’ve known since childhood are the most obvious candidates for close friends.
The problem? Often, these people have a definite image of you from when they first knew you. And they are unwilling to change this image they have of you as a person.
Say you were happy-go-lucky as a child. You’ve grown into an anxiety riddled man, who likes everything planned well in advance. You like to minimize the uncertainties.
You plan a vacation with your friend. Or you tell her/him about a coworker who is driving you nuts with his last minute ways. Your friend laughs it off.
“Since when have you become hyper organized?”, s/he says.
You feel disappointed. Your friend can’t see the person you have become. Should you allow her/him to continue lapping away at your pond of time? I think not.
2. People who are willing to help you in your hour of need.
I’ve seen people spend valuable “pond time” with perfect douchebags. I ask them why.
“Oh well, I was down/in hospital/in need of money,” they say. “She or he helped me out.”
That’s awesome. But imagine this scenario. You are at an airport. You see a person keel over with a heart attack. Would you help the person who is a perfect stranger? Sure. (I assume).
You can be grateful to people who help you in your hour of need. But does that make them pond worthy? A tough call. I would say that you should look beyond those who help you in your hour of need. You should also look at how a person treats you on a day-to-day basis — when things are going well.
3. People who are willing to accept you with your contradictions.
Walt Whitman has this great poem:
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
This is true as you grow older. You have more experiences. Not all of them fit into neatly defined categories. You are overrun with contradictions.
For example, you tell a friend you don’t feel right about Washington legalizing marijuana. But then you go through a stressful time. You feel like a puff. Does your friend judge or ridicule you? Or does s/he accompany you to Uncle Ike’s?
If s/he or he does accompany you without judgment (curiosity is fine), then here is a pond worthy friend.
As we grow older, our opinions get calcified. We think we know what is right. And what is wrong. But the world is a large and complex place. It can show you a new facet which will make what you thought was right wrong, and wrong right (or everything just plain uncertain).
But calcification prevents us from understanding the world. We become set in our opinions. We refuse to budge from our positions. What a tragedy in our older years!
A friend who recognizes the contradictions within you and allows you to exhibit them hinders this process of calcification. This is a person who laps at your pond while reminding you that the world is an ocean. This is a person who accepts you for what you are and as you are.
Spend your time with such a friend.