Beefs, frenemies and BFFs – the ever evolving challenges of friendship (guest post)

For the record (and in case I haven't mentioned it eleventy thousand times), I love smart people. People who can communicate, engage and be witty (without malice). This week you will get to meet some of those people. Yes indeed, it's Smart Guest Post Week on BnB. Because I want to hear other voices, I appreciate the brainpower and I have a deadline in nine days. Today, I bring the always vibrant and verbose A.Smith of Diamond Dust. Enjoy and show some comment love…

What's the old saying? "People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime." It's really a feel good statement. It helps us recognize that not everyone is supposed to be in our lives forever. It can keep us on the lookout for those people who, if we let them stick around for awhile, might drain us of all the goodness we can muster in a sometimes not so good world. I mean this is a really good saying, full of all kinds of...uhh... well... stuff that makes clichés good. The only problem with it is it doesn't do the best job of explaining how you know which person fits into which category.

I actually believe we had it right as kids. Do you remember when you were younger and another kid would walk up to you and ask to play with the toy you were playing with and ended their request (which, now that I think about it, was more often a demand) with "I'll be your friend..."? I do. I think we had it right back then. Simple. Very simple. You give me that toy, we'll be friends. You don't give me that toy and we won't be friends. As adults we can hear all the nuances in that. The manipulation, the suggested temporary time limit, etc... but as kids, it was straightforward. When the toy was done with, the friendship had run its course -- unless the two of you found something else you both liked -- then the friendship kept going and if you realized that you seemed to always like doing the same things, well, eureka! Lifelong friend. No muss, no fuss.

Sometime during middle and high school, though, we learned that there's nothing simple about friendships. Your BFF today might be your greatest enemy tomorrow. Your enemy from yesterday? Oh, we like her now. Makes me think of a time in high school...

My Senior year in high school my then BFF had some serious beef with another girl in our class, Amanda. The specific details are lost but it had something to do with the fact that rumor had it Amanda was trying to push up on the then-BFF's ex. One random afternoon I was at her house, as usual, lying across her bed. We'd played the "what will we do tonight?" game ad nauseum and I was about to give up and go home. Out of nowhere then-BFF whirls around in her chair and says, "do you have Amanda's number?" I scrunched up my face and slowly nodded yes. "Well, call her and see if she wants to hang out with us tonight."

Flabbergasted is not the word for what I was feeling. I just knew she had some sort of really bad plan in mind that involved humiliation on a level that only a high school girl can create. I asked, "why do you want to hang out with her? I thought you didn't like her." Then-BFF just laughed, like I'd told a really funny joke, and responded, "Oh. That was last year! We've moved on from that." That night was the first night of many that Amanda kicked it with the then-BFF and I, as if we'd all been lifelong buddies. There was never an explanation, never a conversation. Everything just kept trucking like it all made sense.

Of course, what I fail to mention is that Amanda joined our 3-musketeer routine in part because we had an opening. See, the then-BFF had just kicked the other BFF out of the group. Friends become enemies and enemies become friends and you have no idea why.

I remember being very excited about going to college because of all the mature adults I would meet. People who were ready to put aside childish things and be for real about creating and maintaining real and true friendships. Boy was I wrong. College seemed to be the perfect opportunity for everyone to practice all the manipulation skills they learned in high school. And this post-graduate life? Well, look no further than the desk one over from you, or the cubicle behind you. We don't do friendships anymore. Like I said -- we had it right on the playground in elementary school.

Through trial and error, I've come up with a few "rules of thumb" and a handful of questions one might ask themselves as they navigate the treacherous "friendship" waters.

First, keep it simple. Friendships don't have to be overly complicated and it's usually about the time they get complicated that it's a good sign that it might be time to let go.

Second, don't be afraid to cut ties. This is one I struggle with. I'm not a fan of burning bridges -- and that's not what I'm suggesting. Rather, don't be afraid to tell a person (as a friend told me once, about another person) "you may be a good person, you're just not good for my life." If it doesn't feel like a good fit, it probably isn't. You wouldn't buy a pair of shoes that hurt your feet would you? Then why stick around in a friendship that's no longer working for you?

Third, don't be afraid to fight for a friendship. I know, I know -- this seems to fly in the face of what I just said, but all relationships hit rough patches. It's ok to want to fight for a friendship. Good friends, true friends don't come by all that often. If you have one, do your part, hold up your end of the deal and don't be afraid to fight for it.

Ok, ok, you're thinking, we know how to do friendships, but what about knowing what kind of friendship we're in?

Good question grasshopper. I'm glad you asked.

The reason that handy dandy cliché doesn't do much by way of explaining how you know who is who is because it's not cut and dry. You don't mix in a little baking soda and get your answer. But you can ask yourself a few questions...

Do you find yourself talking to this friend but really having nothing to say? Perhaps there was a period of time, typically before some major event, where you guys had all kinds of things to talk about but now, after this event, there's nothing to say at all. Lots of empty (and uncomfortable) dead space? More than likely this was a friend who was in your life for a reason. The tricky thing about "reasonal" (yes, I made that up) friends is sometimes they can grow to something more, if everyone puts in the effort. Be careful not to trick yourself into thinking that a friendship can be more than it is without any real work. All relationships take work.

Is this friendship on an even keel? Do you feel like you're giving more than you take (or, perhaps, taking more than you give)? If the friendship's not on an even keel and hasn't been for a while even though it used to be, it's probably a good sign that this is a seasonal friendship.

A lifetime friend is probably not someone you need a checklist for. They're the ones you struggle to imagine your life without. The ones you call first (or second, if you're lucky and have more than one) when something major happens. They've seen you cry, seen you happy. They're encouraging in times of doubt and honest when you're a bit too gassed up. They're far from perfect and they piss you off sometimes, but even then you appreciate what they bring to your life.

The biggest mistake we sometimes make is ignoring the signs. Wanting a seasonal friendship to be more than it is (without putting real work into it). Allowing people who are in our life for only one reason to stay around for more reasons until they've sucked us dry. We have to take stock of what's going on in our space because if we don't, we relinquish control.

To close, let me fill in some holes from the story I told earlier...

While we never had a conversation about why Amanda was suddenly cool (or why Lauren, the ousted friend, suddenly wasn't) I realized in the weeks before graduation that then-BFF had a master plan that involved a lot of trickery you'd never expect a high schooler to be capable of. Everything had been calculated. (This is a story for another time, but let's just say she managed to not only convince a girl her boyfriend was cheating on her, but get him to admit to it when he didn't actually cheat) When then-BFF realized Lauren was too much of a threat she put her on the outs and when she realized I wouldn't be a good fit for what she needed (someone to accept a lot of lies without asking questions) she called on an unsuspecting person -- Amanda.

Before we made it to our first year of college, then-BFF had stopped talking to me. She never told me why and I never got a chance to ask. In the years that followed I deduced that she had a much better handle on our friendship than I did. I was seasonal. I served my purpose, she let me go. I'd been following along, watching the way she dropped "old" and "trusted" friends like they were nothing, thinking our friendship was bigger and better than that. Truth was, it wasn't and if I'd spent more time paying attention and less time being self-assured, I probably would've seen the hammer before it knocked me out.

BougieLand -- how do you determine which of your friends are worth the effort? Any rules of thumb of your own to add? Any stories of mistaken friendship identities?