Tuesday 13 January 2015

To simply be there

I was chatting online last night with someone I’ve known for a few months. We’ve talked several times before and although we don’t know each other very well, I consider her a friend. Without going into details, she is going through a pretty rough time.

I’d offered what I hoped was gentle support as well as suggesting a few options in response to what she was saying and things we’d talked about in the past. She quietly thanked me for my suggestions but mostly didn’t seem to pick up on them. I realised I was perhaps trying too hard, and messaged her privately. The following is excerpted from our conversation, with her permission.

You get to tell me if I am being too pushy, suggesting things all the time. You won’t hurt my feelings if you tell me. You are the one living with all this, day after day.
Sometimes you need to remember that things aren’t as straightforward as they should be. And that can be because I can’t do something because I’m ill, or because the services/help/support isn’t there.
Thank you.
What for?
For being straight with me.
... also, most of the time when I’m upset, I’m not looking for a solution, just support and kindness. But I know it’s hard not to want to try to find one!
Yes it is! I’m smiling, because I should know that one by now! You are fab, and I am glad to know you.
And you’re silly!

I was still thinking about our exchange as I walked into work this morning. I’m used to navigating things with Fran. We are close friends with a good deal of history behind us now. We have been through a lot together, as you might say, and whilst I don’t get it right all the time — far from it! — if I say or do something that is unhelpful to her (or vice versa) we generally let the other know there and then and get it cleared up.

It is fundamental to our friendship, and my ability to be a supportive friend, that each of us feels safe expressing and exploring what we feel and think. But not everyone is able to do that, or wants to do that, or trusts enough to do that, with me or with others. And that is okay.

It felt good that my new friend trusted me enough to speak up, rather than keeping quiet for fear of upsetting, angering or distancing me. I hope she feels that was a healthy thing she did, even though it was something I imposed upon her by my clumsy approach. For my part, I got a valuable reminder that each person and friendship is different, and a person's needs vary. Practical assistance, suggestions or challenge may be appropriate responses at times, but what is most needful is to listen. To simply be there, open and present to what is happening.

It cost my friend energy and effort to remind me of that. I hope she feels her silly friend is worth it.



  1. A wonderful reminder. I found this to be true and even reminded my husband of this when someone special who was troubled came to visit us last week. Hubby has a tendency to want to fix things before he gets the whole story. This time we just listened and asked questions, and the result was the young man felt free to verbalize. And he wants to come back when he has the next long break from school. I'm very glad he was able to open up and be himself so we could get to know what's going on with him. We normally only see each other superficially on holidays, and not always then.

    1. That's awesome, Barbara. How wonderful that you and your husband were able to offer this to the young man. You have truly made a significant difference in his life. I so empathise with your husband, though! It is a hard impulse to set aside, when we feel we can see a way to a "fix"!