If you threw a party and invited everyone you knew, you would see the biggest gift would be from me and the card attached would say, “Thank you for being a friend.”
— Theme Song from The Golden Girls
In Judaism, the word minyan refers to a group of 10 adults that come together to pray. For certain prayers, most importantly prayers of mourning, a minyan must be present. It’s a struggle to find 10 Jewish men and women on a Sunday morning at our shul. On one cold day, I volunteered and was the 8th adult there. Not convinced we’d get to 10, we started the service. I was wondering why we had this arbitrary number of 10. Why are we dragging some people out of bed who don’t want to be there? Just then, surprisingly, the 10th person showed up and in a palpable way, and we were transformed. We went from praying as individuals to praying as a community. I felt like we were the lions forming Voltron.
It made me think about friendship. Friendship is about being there for one another. Anyone can celebrate with you when it’s convenient. A true friend is always standing by you
even when especially when things are tough.
I used to think that there must be some sort of rhyme or reason to friendships. Or maybe that there was some grand hierarchy of friendships. I’m not sure why, but I used to think that celebrities must have some sort of better or more important relationships than other people. Like when Kevin Smith talked about when Ben Affleck had Thanksgiving dinner with Stephen Speilberg and George Lucas when he was dating Gwyneth Paltrow [NSFW language].
But then I learned that life doesn’t really work that way. There’s no grand plan for friendship. When I was in college things used to be easier. I could just sit and hang out with friends for hours without an agenda. At my college reunion, I remember having an hour of unscheduled and agenda-less time to wander around with one of my good friends. It was spectacular. I don’t get opportunities like this anymore. My friends from college moved far away and everyone started to get very busy with work and kids. My friends became the people who sat in the cubicles next to me.
One day I ran into an old friend at my college reunion. She said, “You know, we should catch up more often. Even though you’re in New York and I’m in Michigan, we can have a virtual lunch date. Instead of going to lunch with the people who sit next to us we can chat on the phone.”
“That’s a great idea,” I said. When I tell other people about this, they tell me how smart she is. I say, “That makes sense, she’s a Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan.”
My friends who sit next to me at work are friends of convenience. They are great people and great friends. I was very lucky to have some phenomenal people sitting next to me. But my really good friends are friends of inconvenience. Let me give you an example. One day I was walking to the subway when I saw my friend was walking back home in the opposite direction. I turned around and started walking with her.
“You’re going the wrong way!” she said.
“That’s OK,” I said, “I have a few minutes and I never get to see you.”
It wasn’t that she was helping me get somewhere. Walking with her was actually moving me further away from the subway, but it was worth it.
All of my good friends are like that these days. Everyone is so busy. I don’t really run into people much anymore. I feel like everything needs to be scheduled. My friends are so busy with their important jobs and running around with their kids that I feel bad just calling to chat.
A few years ago, I was excited because my good friend and I were both looking for jobs. So we started having a weekly call to be “job search buddies.” When he found a job much more quickly than I did, I got a little upset.
“I’m going to miss our weekly catch-ups,” I said.
“You know,” he said, “we can just catch up every week anyway. Let’s put that on the calendar instead.”
I’m humbled that my friends want to carve time out of their day to spend with me. They are wonderfully accomplished, smart, sweet, and thoughtful. I learn so much from them and deeply enjoy spending time with them. I realize that they must feel the same way about me, though it’s hard for me to fathom that.
At the end of the day, friendship is just being there for each other. I was at a college reunion with one of my good friends. We were sitting at a table and someone asked her, “How do you guys know each other?”
My friend had the perfect answer. She said, “I don’t really know. We met at some event, and now we have regular lunches with each other. I probably see Rob more frequently than I see almost anyone else. At this point, we’re just really good friends.”
Note: Choosing between friendship based theme songs for the title was difficult: Thank You for Being a Friend (Golden Girls), You Can Count on Me (My Two Dads), I’ll Be There For You (Friends), and You’ve Got a Friend in Me (Toy Story) were all strong contenders.