Our culture pretty much worships the romantic relationship. It is topic of millions of hit songs, movies, books. The dating industry is bigger than the economies of some small countries. Weddings are billed as the pinnacle of life.
(However, Dateline NBC almost exclusively tells stories of people murdered by their romantic partners, and the podcast tops the Apple charts consistently, so you can’t say we don’t know better).
But more and more research indicates it’s actually friendship that makes a life happy, and friendships are truly our most significant relationships. Even in marriage, it’s friendship that is the key ingredient for success.
And the best news, as we will discuss, is that friendship is accessible to anyone. Maybe not equally for everyone in all circumstances, but each of us has the power to be a better friend and thus have better friends.
(Also, there are few Dateline NBC episodes detailing friend-based murders. Not none, just very few, and I hesitate to tell you how I would know. We also won’t talk about my ongoing fantasy world in which I am a small-town New England retiree who solves murders on the side).
When you go to boarding school from age 10 onward like I did, the importance of friendship is no big revelation. (Although the lack of friendship murders thing is slightly surprisingly coming from a boarding school background). Friends meant emotional survival there. The first year, I had very few, and it was an incredibly traumatic year. At that young age, all of us lacked the maturity and skills to have the kind of deep friendships one needs in the absence of family. The kind of 24-hour-7-days-a-week friendships. I lacked all but the most superficial ones and probably had as many bullies as friends. But by the time I graduated high school, I had learned, the hard way. And so had many of my cohorts. And we formed deep friendships that sustain me to this day.
One of those friends is Christina, or Staun as I call her (just go with it, too hard to explain…) I met Staun in 7th grade, when we were both awkward pre-teens. She wore overalls, braids, and massive glasses. I had a winged mullet, which I’m not sure was actually a style but it is the only term I can think of to describe what was on my head. We first became nerd-friends–the smart kids that helped each other with homework (OK, she helped me. I helped her maybe finish her cookies or something) and maybe were a little competitive academically (really a waste of energy on my part). And at times we were evil co-conspirators, like the time in 8th grade when we put baby oil in our roommate’s shampoo. Which is NOT nice, I am NOT endorsing this behavior. However, objectively speaking, in a comprehensive analysis of evil pranks, you would have to put this one pretty high up there, based on its subtle-yet-catastrophic impact. The roommate never did figure out why her hair was so greasy nor why more frequent washing did not help. I REPEAT, DO NOT DO THIS UNLESS YOU WANT TO GO TO HELL. Or unless you find yourself rooming with like a fascist dictator or a Sith Lord or something.
By the time we were seniors, she was my bestie forever. I loved her sharp wit and comforting voice and whip smarts. We then went to college together, where I stupidly ignored her for a few years while I immersed myself in a pretty obviously ill-advised eventual marriage that I somehow thought would be all I would ever need. I was wrong on two counts: first, that even a wonderful marriage could meet all one’s needs; and second, that this particular one could meet even my most basic needs for companionship. I was desperately lonely and miserable, and soon Staun was there to carry me through. She never once judged or accused or said she told me so. She just showed up, like she’s been doing now for an astonishing 36 years.
Now, I suppose I’m a fine friend, an adequate friend, a somewhat skilled friend, based on forced practice. I know what to do, anyway, even if I don’t always, or even usually, do it. But Staun–This woman is a FORCE of friendship. She is like the Star Wars Force kind of friend, who holds you up and together whether you see it or not. She has multiple, deep, meaningful, long-term friendships, and an additional sturdy ring of friend-based community around that. And the thing about her that is most remarkable is that, by various measures, none of it should come naturally to her. She not an extrovert who is easily outgoing and indefatigable in her interactions. She’s not a military-level logistician who puts together schedules and events and organizes everyone (although she has acquired a lot of skill in this area over time).
And most crucially, related to an article I read recently, Staun did not have the kind of securely attached childhood that psychologists have determined creates “super friends,” those people who are particularly good at friendship. I won’t go into the details of Staun’s childhood–you already know she ended up at boarding school with me at a fairly young age–but suffice it to say, psychologists would probably find it surprising that Staun is indeed a Super Friend. In fact, I may have to get her an outfit for Christmas.
Staun is a very humble person who, unlike some narcissists out there, doesn’t have a blog (or two…) on which to share her immense wisdom with the entire universe of maybe a dozen readers. So I thought to myself, You know what? People need to hear from Staun! So I will interview her and put it on my blog.
So that is what I did. I asked Staun how she became a Super Friend and what she might be able to share with the rest of us. She obliged, because she always does, like the time she came for a visit and I made her cover some pillars in my house with stone tile.
Or that other time when I made her wear a really ugly bridesmaid dress AND make a wedding cake so I could marry a man she 100% knew could not make me happy. Or that other time when I made her wear another, slightly less ugly dress, in my second, and thankfully last, wedding to a much better match.
Or that time I drug her to a pep rally when my Oklahoma Sooners won the National Championship even though she doesn’t give a flying flip about football or Oklahoma or large peppy events. Or the other million times when she put up with my nonsense.
As this was a much longer introduction than I anticipated, we’ll keep you in suspense a little longer. But STAY TUNED! Trust me, you will want to hear from Staun.