Did you know that it’s International Friendship Day today?
What is a friend, though? The definition of friendship has evolved over the years thanks to social media platforms like Facebook, but I believe a friend is someone we choose to share an interpersonal bond with, beyond just an association. Unlike other bonds such as marriages and romantic relationships, they lack a formal structure.
This is what makes friendships beautiful and special, because unlike family, we get to choose our friends.
As I take a step back to look at the relationships in my life, it got me pondering about the friends I have made so far and how friendship can unfold in ways I’ve never imagined.
Friendships are different in every stage of life
From the first time we made a buddy in childhood to meeting new people in adulthood, friends play different roles in our lives.
I recall happy times in kindergarten playing with my classmates, celebrating each other’s birthdays and even dancing for our graduation performance! I fondly recall waving goodbye to them at the end of the day as we would shout in excitement: “See you tomorrow!” before parting in different directions back to our respective HDB blocks.
In primary school, I started to experience a different type of friendship. I remember following a friend around and copying her habits and actions — I wanted to be just like her!
But the friendships forged back then were based on the time we spent in school together and I didn’t hang out much with them outside school other than working on group projects at each other’s houses. Sometimes, I chatted with my classmates on my house phone (back then, primary school children didn’t get to own mobile phones).
It was in secondary school and junior college that I found my closest friends with whom I am still in contact with today. Growing up in our adolescent years gave us the opportunity to bond closer with one another as we discovered and figured out our own identity. Over the years, we have gone overseas together; they were my bridesmaids at my wedding!
When I entered university, I had the opportunity to make friends with people of diverse backgrounds which helped broaden my horizons and perspectives as we exchanged views on life. We shared different interests and values and often had conversations about what matters to us in life, such as what we hope to achieve by the time we reach 30.
Friendships change with age
As the years go by, things change. Speaking from my own experience, we may find ourselves too busy – or lazy! – to make friends. And it’s understandable as our priorities are different. We may spend more time with our significant others. We may have also outgrown the phase of wanting to gain acceptance and find like-minded friends whom we can hang out with.
Perhaps in our hectic lives, having just that one or two friends whom we are comfortable with might suffice. Because meeting and hanging out with people is no easy feat – it requires time and commitment. Being tolerant of new quirks and having to embrace another person’s likes and dislikes can also be tiring.
Of course, it is always good to have friends we can count on. And friendship can sometimes come in unexpected ways.
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Last month, my dad shared with me excitedly about a taxi uncle from our block who drove him home from work. My dad had just taken up a new part-time job as a security officer as his retirement plan.
“Oh, which taxi uncle?” I asked.
“The one with many Superman figurines decorating his taxi,” he replied.
It got me excited as this particular taxi is usually parked at the carpark below my block and always catches my attention.
My dad shared that it was a happy coincidence that this taxi uncle just happened to be the assigned driver to drive him home one night.
Subsequently, he became the one assigned to pick up my dad whenever he was on shift – a perfect arrangement since he could drop my dad as his last trip of the day. My dad added that on some evenings, the taxi uncle would even detour to our nearby hawker centre so that they could dabao dinner for their families.
It was during these car rides that conversations flowed. My dad told me they talked about their families and how happy he was to have found a new friend in such an unexpected way.
Friendships like this don’t always happen, but when they come along, it takes an open mind and heart to strike a conversation and be friendly.
Now, whenever I ask my dad if he still meets this taxi uncle, he smiles and always has something new to tell me about their little chats.
Friendship is a two-way street
Do friendships have to be equal all the time? Friendships require maintenance and sometimes this brings about unhealthy expectations. We may be on the wrong track on our friendship journey when we are overly invested in a relationship without getting enough in return.
I have had close friends who drifted away and I no longer keep in contact with. While this makes me sad, it reminds me that friendship is a choice.
But instead of fearing rejection or loss and comparing how much I receive in each friendship, I choose to be free to give and love because I want to be free from any feelings of obligation.
I believe that this is the path to be happier ー to live and love freely, without expectation or obligation.
Friendship is a two-way street. While we can’t choose how we are treated, we are in control of the kind of friend we want to be, and how we can treat others.
So for International Friendship Day, be the friend that you want to be, without thinking of how it should benefit you or fear that you would be rejected or taken advantage of.
That way, the act of giving is reward itself, and you might be surprised by the happiness you will find!