Friendships: Tried or True?

Scene from the Universal Pictures film "Babe", as the title character pig talks gives direction to a group of sheep.
“Babe” and his friends


“If you ever win a trip to Hawaii, and it rains the whole time, at least one person you know back home will secretly get some satisfaction from that.”

My mom told me this once, when I was young.  I don’t recall the context of the remark, nor do I know why it has stuck with me for so many years.  As kids we lack the guile and emotional baggage of adults, so maybe the concept seemed so crazy I needed a few decades to decide for myself if it was true. Who would be mean-spirited enough to wish someone a crummy vacation?

I’m now a battle-scarred veteran of life, who is still waiting to win that trip to Hawaii. In the meantime I’ve had opportunities to test my mom’s theory in other ways, and I must admit: she had a point. Of course, our true friends want us to succeed and be happy no matter what. (If you doubt this for yourself, now is probably a good time to reassess your definition of friendship.) Facebook got it right, though; relationships are complicated.

I’m talking to all you single ladies out there.  How often have you seen BFF’s fall out, because one of them starts dating a new guy? Sometimes, she blows off her female friends for the sake of being a “good girlfriend”, which is hurtful and lame, and her friends have every right to be resentful. But often, it’s just a matter of the dynamic changing. What happens when your best single friend — your go-to weekend brunch and movie date — isn’t single anymore? It can feel like you’ve been left behind, and being left behind hurts.

Clasped hands and forearms signifying supportChanges to dynamics at the office can have similar impacts. At my company, employees take a yearly survey to measure our engagement, with the recurring question, “Do you have a best friend at work?” It was confusing at first, but it’s not a suggestion that everyone’s best friend SHOULD BE a colleague. Rather, it’s intended to measure the depth of our workplace relationships, and how many of us has a teammate we believe really has our back.

I’ve blogged quite a few times about my job change last October. Reactions to my seizing a new opportunity were mixed, with good work friends – the ones I often socialize with outside the office – of course being the most enthusiastic and supportive. Other colleagues who had spent much of their careers in the group I was leaving were a bit more… reserved. While warmer wishes would have been welcomed, I didn’t much worry about what those folks thought.  I figure we’re just cut from different cloth. They were not my BFFs at work.

What DID worry me was the impact on relationships with friends at work who had been company in my previous misery. How much enthusiasm could I show for my new job without alienating one of them?  A few years ago, a close friend/colleague and I went through rough patches at work together, and spent many lunches and happy hours commiserating. But when I emerged from my funk before she did, our friendship went south. I’ve often wondered if I seemed insensitive or boastful. If I did, it wasn’t intentional.  I suspect in fact, we just weren’t as close friends as I’d thought we were.

Last week, I joined a particularly happy happy hour, with a group of colleagues who stood by and supported me in last year’s gloomiest days. We were five tipsy ladies, celebrating recent career changes that, without exception, had been positive. We high-fived and congratulated one another, and laughed a little harder and louder than we’d done in the past. Our work war stories lacked the bitter edge they’d sometimes had.

It wasn’t a true test of my mom’s theory because everyone at the table was in a good space personally and professionally – but even if that weren’t the case, I hope those who had found their happy place could have offered encouragement to the ones still struggling, even while celebrating their own good fortune without self-consciousness.  By doing so, they’d be showing there’s light at the end of the tunnel, if nothing else.

After all, isn’t that what friends are for?

Four kids who are friends, sit on a dock with their arms around each others'' shoulders.

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