how to be my friend

thinking about my life-long spell of friend disappointments made me start wondering what exactly i look for in a friend, in an effort to determine how things so often go off the rails. i have compiled this handy cheat sheet for the teeming multitudes that have surely woken up one morning & thought, “ciara xyerra. now that is a lady with whom i would like to be friends.”

1) good grammar. just kidding. i am just making fun of myself for employing hilariously perfect grammar in the final sentence of the above paragraph. but i won’t lie–consistently terrible grammar & an inability to spell does grate on my nerves a little bit sometimes. but this is why it’s helpful for people who struggle with these issues to seek out my friendship. i have a gift & that gift is excellent grammar. (& just for the record, i am more than capable of capitalizing things properly. i do it when i write by hand. this lower-case business is but a mid-90s affectation from which i’ve yet to free myself.)

2) please no addiction issues. i know, i know, addiction is a disease, & people who are struggling with addiction need the love & support of their friends & families if they ever hope to overcome their troubles. there’s a long list of things that i know, morally & intellectually, are the “right” things to do, but i just don’t want to do them.

here’s my deal: both of my parents were alcoholic drug addicts. i spent my entire childhood retrieving beers for my dad, rolling joints, & having to re-wash my school clothes after mom spilled bong water all over them. while other people at my father’s place of employ used their wages to start college funds for their children & remodel their lovely homes, my parents bought harleys, tequila, & bail. for a long time, i refused to socialize in even the most glancing way with anyone who had had a sip of booze. i kept a dry collective house (people were allowed to keep alcohol in their rooms as long as they did not imbibe in common areas or hang out in common areas while under the influence) & all drugs were strictly verboten. i once had a roommate who let her sister stay in our spare room while she was getting off coke & we had a massive argument about it. she was all, “she needs our support!” & i was all, “i am not a drug & alcohol counselor! get her out!” guess which one of us was surprised when the sister robbed us blind & split in the middle of the night? hint: not me.

i have chilled out a lot as i have gotten older. i even drink on occasion myself. it dawned on me one day that not everyone who drinks a beer is actually an alcoholic, & i guess not everyone who dabbles in (some) drugs is an addict. but i do feel weird when all my hang-outs with someone involve alcohol or other substances, or when people say they “need” a drink to deal with some everyday life issue, or when someone becomes so indifferent to their own well-being while drunk/high that they endanger themselves or the people around them. my instinct in such situations is to retreat. & yes, i am totally including weed in this. i spent twenty years of my life being abused & neglected by people who cared more about their bong hits than their kids. i guess i just don’t think it’s cute or harmless.

3) be honest. i am pretty good at recognizing when someone is lying to me. i might not always call a person on it, but that doesn’t mean i don’t know. i know people lie for all kinds of reasons, including self-protection, which might seem like a really great excuse. but i like to think that i am a halfways reasonable person who will try to see a friend’s point of view & adjust my game plan to avoid causing my friends needless discomfort. so just be honest. maybe this is just my own weird neurotic hang-up, but when people lie to me, even about inconsequential things, i feel like it’s enormously disrespectful. like they think i am too fucking dumb to know what they’re up to. um, i know. & now i know that you think you’re ten times smarter than me. it doesn’t make me want to be a friend.

4) make me laugh. this probably tops the list because it’s that important. being funny can make up for a multitude of sins in my book. my favorite kind of humor is a perfect blend of acerbic & goofy, with enough self-deprecation to illustrate self-awareness but not so much that it verges into self-pity.

5) give a shit about the world. i often find myself in the position of being a “teacher” to people who want to know more about politics or current events. up to a certain degree, i don’t mind this, because i spend most of my time thinking about politics & current events & it’s always a treat to actually get to discuss those thoughts with people i value. but there comes a point when it gets awkward, when someone just really doesn’t grasp the basics, or worse, doesn’t care. i like for my friends to be peers, & hopefully this means that sometimes i’ll know something they don’t, & sometimes they’ll know something i don’t. constantly being hounded for explanations makes me feel like i’m hanging out with a toddler who won’t stop asking “why”. & at the same time, condescending know-it-alls wear me out too. it’s a fine line, people. a line paved with mutual respect.

6) cultivate self-awareness. basically, have some perspective on how you are coming across to people, change what you don’t like, & own the rest. this is a life-long process, but i appreciate it when people are clearly making the effort. if you realize that you talk too much & your mouth gets you in trouble, work on listening more. listening doesn’t mean that you’re not engaged in a conversation, & other people will appreciate the opportunity to express themselves. if you realize you talk too little & no one pays attention to you, try to pipe up a little more assertively when you have something to contribute. it will make people notice you. feel free to gossip & shit talk (two of my favorite activities), but be intentional about it & always try to get a read on the room before saying something that might come back to haunt you. never say anything you would feel compelled to disavow or pretend not to remember if later confronted. think about the difference between doing what you want to do & doing what you think you should do. don’t make excuses.

this got a little prescriptive, to be sure. & i still don’t know why i have so many weird friend issues. i seem to be especially interesting to liars, addicts, & people that are almost comically unaware of themselves. & because i am so cognizant of my own judgmental neuroses, i often give people passes they don’t deserve as a counter-balance. i guess it keeps life interesting, right? what do other people look for in friends?

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Coco Negro says:

    Self-awareness is HUUGGGE, & being able to admit when you’re wrong. For instance, I’m someone that’s prone to taking up lots of space when I speak, what with my loud voice & tendency towards excitement & big gestures, & often throughout a conversation I’ll check myself & tone it down. I also let people know that I’m aware that I do this & that they can totally tell me when I’m maybe cramping the space with said excitement. I also like people that can hold their own in a conversation. I am highly opinionated person with super strong beliefs, but I love when people recognize that my strong opinions aren’t necessarily definitive, even within myself, & that I’m open to & (mostly, if they’re not offensive) respect opposing values, perspectives, & opinions.

    Speaking ones’ mind with informed opinions & well-thought-out values & holding a solid, self-assured space gets you points in my book!

    1. ciara says:

      i mostly feel the same but when i was writing this, i got to thinking about all the times i have dealt with someone who had informed opinions, well thought-out values, & was able to hold solid, self-assured space, & how they annoyed the shit out of me anyway. i am just a person who gets annoyed really easily, maybe? or maybe it’s just that people like that sometimes suffer from a lack of respect for the people they’re talking to, & i pick up on that. (think: dudes. a lot of dudes at least like to think they have informed opinions, & many suffer from a surfeit of confidence that is actually a detriment to good convos. not all dudes. but plenty.)

      1. Coco Negro says:

        Yeah, I agree that that’s a risk you run when talking with such self-assured people, which is why I also value the ability & desire to listen, & to admit when one is wrong. You’re right about cis-dudes in particular taking up way more space than I am often comfortable with. So by extension, something else that is really important that I value in friends is their ability to recognize their relative package of privileges & be very mindful of how much space they take up as opposed to how much space they are making room for with other people, especially those with less privilege than them.

        I also agree with both Maranda Elizabeth & Ciara, that being able to have sober, intimate, one-on-one conversations is amongst the most important with friends.

  2. I think what I most look for in friendship is folks who are okay (and enthusiastic!) about just hanging around and doing nothing, whether that’s at my place or theirs or outside, whatever. Just talking. I find that if we go out and about, I feel an obligation to spend money, even if it’s just on a coffee, which is fun sometimes, but I don’t like feeling like I need to have cash on hand to have a good conversation with a pal. I’m cool with porch-sittin’, or hanging out under a tree. I tend to be ridiculously honest and spill personal information all over the place, so I like people who aren’t weirded out by that. I also make jokes about death and suicide and my goth years, that can be kinda iffy, but I like self-deprecation in reasonable doses. And of course, I like having friends who don’t have to get fucked up to have fun. I don’t like being around alcohol (most times) anymore, and never liked being around drugs, so.

    I like your list, I guess it’s pretty close to the kind of friendships I imagine (but don’t always have, ha).

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