The four of us are sitting in the Cheesecake Factory (yes, yes, I know), dressed to the nines, and just destroying a bowl of spinach cheese dip. I'm a little preoccupied and my stress is keeping me from enjoying the experience to its fullest potential. Lily and Helene were spending the week in Chicago with Maura and I and it had so far been an amazing time full of good shopping, good food, and meandering conversations while sitting on my kitchen floor at two in the morning. So why was I so distressed? There were problems on my mind. They were relationship and school issues and not things I wanted to bore my friends with. Maura looked at me from across the table.
"Hill? You okay?"
I nodded and took a sip of my Lemon Drop, then focused intently on the new appetizer that had just arrived at the table, guacamole. The other three chatted animatedly about the rest of the day's plans and I shot them all bitchy little glances, taking my frustration out on them, all passive-aggressive like.
"You guys are being soo loud," I snapped. They all looked at me, the party pooper.
"We're just having a good time."
"Yeah. What's eating you?"
"Seriously. What's wrong?"
I took a deep breath. "Just stuff, you know. I don't want to ruin this. You guys are having a nice time. You don't want to hear about my issues." I was being so darn pathetic. But those girls never judge. Then Helene said something that would make the rest of my day, and indeed, the rest of my life, that much brighter.
"Of course we want to hear about what's going on. That's what friends are for."
It sounds so obvious, and so cheesy, but she was right. She was absolutely the most right I've ever heard anyone be. A real friend, a true friend, is there for the bad in addition to the good. When I was in middle school and high school, my friends were cruel. They weren't friends. When I opened my mouth, the things I said were ignored, rushed over like it wasn't important. That sort of treatment hurt me and made me the kind of person who stores it all up. It effects me on the outside still today, makes me quiet and grumpy when I have something making me sad or stressed on the inside. But with a good friend, you should never have to be like that. A good friend cares about you and will listen to you, and do everything within their power to help you through the pain.
I'm so lucky now, and you should be, too. We should be surrounded with people who not only challenge us to be the best person we can be, but help us when we flounder. In those moments when we're at our darkest or most absurd, good friends never judge. They listen to you, they encourage you, and advise you while still making sure you're thinking for yourself. They're loyal and keep your secrets and ignore rumors. If you look around and find yourself surrounded by people who aren't doing these things, it's time to make some big cuts to your social circle.
Look at yourself a little bit, too. I find that I sometimes get lazy when my friends come to me with problems. I break out some stock comfort and don't give them what they need. But that's awful and after Helene's comment that day, I've been doing my best to really listen and show that I care. Because I do. A friend, by definition, is someone you care about. So, by some rather fluid logic, a friendship can hardly function unless that caring is made clear and put at the forefront of your relationship. Is this how you're treating your friends? No? Well then it's time to start.
"Shall we order dessert?" We're still all sitting at our table in the restaurant. The appetizers have been cleaned up and my drink has long since been drained. The waiter walks by and we order a slice of cheesecake. To share. We had been able to talk through my issues and more than anything else, I was comforted by the presence of my caring and genuine friends.
I sound like a broken record, but we all deserve this. I was without it for far too long and often find myself looking back on everything that happened during that time with bitterness and anger. Bad friends are toxic; they poison your past and make you doubt your future. Be strong (you absolutely have it in you) and get rid of those jerks.