Well, yesterday has got me musing about the nature and value of friendship.

I am one of those odd people who is perfectly content being by myself about 99 percent of the time.  I like having friends, and I will do just about anything for a friend, but most of the time I don’t really need or depend on them.  I am fairly self-contained and self-sustaining for the most part.

But that one percent of the time, when I need a friend, I really, really need one.  I have days when I feel so lost and alone…it’s like being cut loose from everything that anchors me to reality, like I’m just drifting in space with no point of reference.  I don’t have the feeling often but when I do, I hate it.

So then I go down the line of my friends, and think “who do I turn to at this point?”  And that is when I really think about the nature of friendship…

There are several different kinds of friends…I’m not claiming to have a definitive list, but here are a few, as I see it (and I should specify that I am defining stereotypes here, not describing my friends!) :

1.  Whiny Friend:  This particular type of friend is somewhat wearing.  She is perpetually experiencing some sort of life crisis – and no matter what it is, it’s a crisis to her!  Husband is being a jerk…kids are being selfish and mean or having problems in school…mom is being overcritical…boss is keeping her from advancing – you name it.  If the damn toilet overflows, it’s an existential life crisis.  Now, I need to be specific about this – I am not talking about the person who only calls when she has a crisis; that comes later.  This is the person who has a crisis EVERY DAY and every single conversation involves something that is just dreadfully wrong with her life.  And it goes without saying that none of it is ever her fault.  She may be a perfectly nice person, but she is needy, whiny, and has a major blind spot about her own faults.

2.  Superior Friend:  This friend seems to exist solely to point out your inadequacies.  She may not mean to be mean; she may not even realize she is being mean – but she can always tell you what you are doing wrong, or how she has done it better, faster, and for less money.  There’s not a lot more to her, really – and you really don’t want to talk to her about your problems, because she will point out to you how she doesn’t have that problem because she is smarter, stronger, sexier or more talented.  In the process she will, very sweetly, make you understand exactly why your problem is completely your fault and you are a total waste of human flesh for having encountered this problem, because no normal person (someone like her, in other words) would ever have this problem.  This friend is no fun to be around, even when she’s trying to be helpful (which she may honestly be!).  Unfortunately, we don’t often recognize a Superior Friend until it is too late.

3.  One-Up Friend:  The name sort of says it all.  She can take two forms but is usually a hybrid of the two – anything you say she can either top, or “bottom”.  If you got a promotion, she got a better one.  If your boss is a jerk, hers is worse.  If your child is making straight As, hers is being inducted into Mensa.  If you have a sprained wrist, she has a necrotic bowel.  Being with this friend feels like running an endless race that you can’t win and don’t enjoy.

4.  Sarcastic Friend:  This one I avoid like the plague.  She will put you down, belittle you, and tell you and everyone else in the world how stupid, clumsy, and absurd you are – all with a laugh and an elbow that says, “Hey, we all know I’m just playing with you” – even though she probably isn’t, and even if she is it doesn’t feel like it.  I don’t consider this a friend at all, but I know people who have friends like this.  Why they stick around, I have no idea, but there you have it.

5.  The Taker:  This friend is, again, not really much of a friend – she only calls or shows up when you can do something for her.  She will not hesitate to ask or even demand, because hey, “Friends do this for each other!”  However, when the tables are turned and you need a favor, she is unavailable.  She may have a legitimate reason or may not, but whatever excuse she makes, it’s not one she would accept from you!   This is the ultimate one-sided relationship.

6.  Brutally Honest Friend:  This one’s a bitch – and I’m not speaking figuratively here.  This is the person who prides herself on “always telling the truth” – but she only tells the truth when it’s something mean.  She will tell you that you need to lose weight…or that you’re being selfish…or that your boyfriend/husband is a jerk…or that your kids are demons and you don’t discipline them enough.  She’ll say it all and be convinced she’s doing you a favor and that it’s a great personality trait in her.  She’ll be proud of it – “Hey, I don’t beat around the bush.  I tell it like it is.  I say what I think.  I don’t believe in false flattery, I’m always going to be honest with you.”  Sounds great, but in practice it is nothing more than license and justification for being mean, selfish, critical and inconsiderate.  And the worst part is, you have NO license to do the same.  If you try to tell her that something she is doing isn’t good for her, you are going to have a fight on your hands.  Honesty, in her mind, is only a good trait in her.  Everyone else is supposed to be sycophantic and tell her what she wants to hear.  That’s just how she rolls.  This is a person who has excruciatingly bad manners and thinks that’s a virtue.  Again, not really much of a friend, and usually she has many traits of the “Taker” and the “Superior Friend”.

Now, enough of the bad and on to the good:

7.  Generous Friend:  This friend has always got something to give.  She never seems to mind giving or being there, even when you know you are asking too much.  She won’t hesitate to buy you lunch, even if it’s her last ten bucks or she’s using a credit card…she will bring doughnuts in and call you first to share…she will pick up an extra Barbie at the store because she knows your daughter likes them and they were on sale.  She may not be made of money, but she never hesitates to share what she has.  Time may be another matter – often Generous Friend may be way over-committed and have no time to give, and her generosity may be her way of making up for that.  But she shows the love in the only way she can.

8.  Funny Friend:  this friend may not be your favorite confidante, because she’s not all that deep, but damn she can make you laugh!  She shows the love by interjecting as much silliness, fun, and entertainment into your life as she possibly can.  Often Funny Friend is not someone who is comfortable with strong emotion or baring her soul, so again she shows the love the way she can, by keeping you joyful.  There is enormous value in this; those who make us laugh are Heaven’s facilitators, I think, because I really think the road to Heaven is paved with laughter and joy.  Funny Friend may truly love you and want to be there for you – she just isn’t very skilled at closeness and may feel really awkward with it.  Laughter is her way of easing that awkwardness.  Take her as she is, value her contribution, and love her.

9.  Deep Friend:  This friend is the opposite of Funny Friend.  She doesn’t laugh a lot or joke around, but she is always there to talk and analyze anything you want to analyze.  If your husband has been ignoring you, she will discuss with you for hours what could be behind that and how it makes you feel, and will usually help you justify whatever you are feeling.  Whatever it is, she can usually find a reason why it makes sense and is only to be expected.  She is something of a yes-man, often, but not in a truly sycophantic way.  She genuinely believes what she is saying or she wouldn’t say it, though she may recognize it later as being somewhat enabling.  This is your go-to girl when you need to cry or reason through something, when you’re feeling really crappy about yourself, or when you’re genuinely bewildered by whatever it is that life is handing you.  She’s deep, and wise, and borderline telepathic, and she’ll always help keep you sane.

10.  Crazy Friend:  This is a wild one.  This is the girl you do crazy things with, like when you TP’d the school principal’s house in high-school or rode down the interstate in the middle of the night in her convertible with the top down and your tops off, just so you could say you did.  She will get you in trouble, you can bet on it, but you will love every minute.  Unfortunately, you will probably mature faster than she, and may find her antics less amusing when you have responsibilities like a job and kids.

11.  Happy Friend:  This friend is a genuinely upbeat, positive person who can usually find the silver lining to any dark cloud.  She doesn’t do much complaining and almost never talks trash about anyone else.  She can be somewhat wearing if you’re feeling like being depressed or complaining, because she really doesn’t do depressed or complaining, but usually she spreads sunshine and joy wherever she goes and she can also be something of a heavenly facilitator.  Not much of a confidante – stick with Deep Friend for that – but let this one rub off on you, because she’s not faking it – she really loves life and wants you to, too.

12.  Best Friend:  This says it all, really.  We call people “best friends” but usually it’s a misnomer…they are often just the best of a bad bunch, or the best we could do on short notice, or just the best available at that time.  Not the Best Possible, which is what this is.  These are one in a hundred billion; you won’t find many, if any at all, and if you do you’d better hang on tight and make very sure you aren’t slipping into any of the above categories, because you want to keep this one around forever.  She will accept you for who you are – good, bad and ugly – and will love you despite that.  She won’t love your ugly parts, but she’ll accept them and understand them.  She will tell you forthrightly when you are being a bitch or a baby, but she won’t be mean about it or do it “for your own good”.  She’ll tell you because she is honest with you, and generally not unless you ask.  She will also beat the living hell out of (or give a very scathing lecture to) anyone else who ever dares call you a bitch or a baby, because that’s what she does. And just as important, she will not only tell you when the dress makes you look fat, she will tell you when it makes you look smokin’ hot, and she’ll tell you how much she hates you for your awesome legs or perky boobs or whatever.  She’ll tell you that you whine too much, and she’ll tell you that you’re beautiful and funny and too loving for your own good.

She will go shopping with you or eat ice cream with you or talk on the phone for an hour and a half – and if two weeks go by without you talking, she won’t think your friendship is over.  When you talk again, it will be as if no time has passed.  She won’t forget your birthday…she won’t get mad if you screw up and forget hers (okay, she will, but she’ll get over it)…she will watch your kids and love them as much as she does her own…she will trust you with her kids and not get upset if you yell at them to stop keying your car…and no matter what, she will be there.  She may not be able to leave her family and travel 1000 miles to be with you in a crisis – but you will never question that she wanted to.  She won’t be perfect, and you will argue, but that will never be a deal-breaker.  Heart to heart, she is your friend and that’s just part of who she is.  Hopefully, you will be the same thing to her.

Now, of course I have oversimplified and generalized here.  Most people share many of the above traits, and the truth is usually a person will be one of the bad choices, but also one of the good ones.  Nobody’s perfect, but nobody’s all bad either.  But if you find yourself slipping into a friendship with someone but don’t feel entirely comfortable with the way it’s developing, stop and look – are you getting stuck with one of the stereotypes?  It might be worth reevaluating before you wind up wasting a great deal of time on someone who might not really be someone you want in your life.

And conversely, look at yourself – what kind of friend are you?  It may turn out that, like me, you need to do some serious brushing up on your own friendship style.  You get out of any relationship only as much as you give, which is exactly the way it should be.

The bottom line is, there’s only so much time and you only have so much “you” to give.  Give it to people who are worth it…people who enrich your life, and whose life you, in turn, enrich.