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What makes a friend? (10/16/2011)
By Frances Edstrom

My husband has good friends. They’ve got his back. One of them, a Rotary member, recently delivered a dozen red roses to my desk, saying, “Here, Frances, these beautiful roses are from your loving husband!” So I immediately went to John’s office, and thanked him. He absent-mindedly said, “Oh, sure, you’re welcome.”

John, of course, had already forgotten that Patrick had said to him a few weeks ago, “Hey, it’s time for Rotary Roses. Do you want to buy some for Fran?” And John would have said, “Sure.” It’s a win-win-win. Patrick makes the sale, I get the roses, and John gets the credit.

But isn’t that what friends are for? It’s one of the ways we define “friend.” I wonder what it is that makes some people in our lives friends, and others just acquaintances. I wonder why some friends last a lifetime, and others stay in the past.

I’m not a very good letter writer, but I do try to keep up by phone and e-mail with family.

My mother and grandmother were voluminous letter writers. My aunt came last summer and brought a box of letters from my mother to her mother. She wrote often and much. Nothing was too mundane. She’d write about the kids’ bowel habits if that was the topic of the moment. She would have loved texting and Facebook.

One of my college roommates had a mother like that, too. She wrote to her every day, typing the letter during her break at work. “What does she write about?” I asked once. “Everything,” was the reply. What did they have for supper last night, did the neighbor up the street get over her cold, who she saw at the grocery store, how Dad’s stomach was lately. I couldn’t imagine it.

I have had various correspondents in my life. The only one I really kept up with was John’s college art professor, just because he wrote such amazing letters I wanted to see what he would write next. But usually, I’d meet a girl at camp, or on a trip, and we’d vow to write, and invariably I would be the one who missed responding and the whole thing would fade away. There was a girl at Camp Virginia, Andrea Granitsas, whose father owned a pizza parlor, and a girl from India, Najua Adra, I met when my dad was a visiting professor. But they’re now just names, off in my past still being twelve or fourteen years old.

Then there are others, like a few people from high school, and more from college, who seem close even when we don’t keep up a regular correspondence. And there were friends I had who weren’t friends with any of my other friends, so the friendship drifted away. And there were the friends who were only friends because they were part of our group, and they are gone, too.

What exactly is it that makes a lasting friendship? Certainly you need to have something in common.

After that, a good friend has to listen. A good friend won’t be judgmental, but will offer kind advice when asked, or when it is badly needed. A good friend has to be able to keep secrets. A good friend has to be able to forgive. You should be able to sit quietly with a friend and not talk, or talk your heads off if you are both in the mood. A good friend will be generous with her time, and respect and value your time. A good friend will accept your way of dealing with adversity, and will allow you to grieve the way you need to, but not become obsessive.

Good friends can call you at the last minute, but not be insulted if you have other plans. Good friends don’t disparage you to other people in public or private.

In fact, a good friend has all the qualities that in your heart of hearts you would like to possess yourself. 


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