Family. Spouses. Kids. The lucky person who gets to prepare the mess formally known as taxes. These are all relationships in which we know work is required and there’s an equal expectation that the deal is, in ways small and forgettable or big and important, transactional. A give here, a take later. A flow, chased by an ebb.
Friendships, on the other hand, tend to come with a forecast of clear and sunny nonchalance. Perhaps most out of any of the relationships that make (and sometimes break) us, there’s an expectation that the bond we have with our friends is one that should unfold cleanly. No ruts. No weight. No routine chores.
When we all know that isn’t the case.
Take yours truly, for instance. Being my friend is, ooh, it’s some work. It’s a lot of knowing that I’ll respond to that text in 3-14 business days and, in the meantime, you shouldn’t take it personally. It’s knowing I am very neurotic and am only capable of writing with one type of pen—a neurosis that sometimes inspires me to go all the way to my parked car to fetch said pen from a stash I keep in the console, in case of pen-loss emergency, before signing my portion of the brunch bill. It’s being on the receiving end of the slapstick TikToks I find freaking side-splitting and showing up to rather forcefully give a hug when I’m too hurt or stunned or stubborn to graciously accept the love. It’s watching me do very, very dumb things that you have very, very clearly advocated against. It’s mastering the graceful balance of knowing when to pry and when I’ll never forgive you for it and, many have argued it’s also way, way too much Mariah Carey.
The love we have for these kinds of people is acute and profound and staunch and sharp. Maybe that’s the very reason we don’t always see or sense that it does, indeed, require and deserve some elbow grease.
My friends know these things about me because they’ve put in the time. And the effort—because even I know I am five feet, four inches tall of an undertaking. They’ve likely sat waiting for that thing I thought I already responded to (and I am very sorry for that) and have definitely sat waiting for me at a dinner date when work kept me and kept me and kept me late (sorry for that, too). They know to say nice or direct things to me because words are my love language. They know if I call, it’s an emergency and that they—god, I hope they know—are the patron saints of my life.
Few relationships are capable of leaving such a profound signature on our lives as friendships.
The love we have for these kinds of people is acute and profound and staunch and sharp. Maybe that’s the very reason we don’t always see or sense that it does, indeed, require and deserve some elbow grease. As some of the greatest loves of our lives, these connections require all the secret sauce of any other meaningful life collaboration. They require some freaking commitment. Compromise, apology, gratitude. A fan club-worthy enthusiasm, honesty (even when it’s scary and icky), and the trust that sometimes you’ll put in the work, sometimes it’ll be their turn and, most of the time, you’ll both be pitching in to make the thing hum in the way only the best friendships can. In the way that’s work that never, ever actually feels like work.
April (Swinson) Smasal spent her formative years in Wyoming, where her career options were limited to rodeo queen or writer. Foregoing the lure of an impressive belt buckle collection, she opted for the word thing. Now, she’s a copywriter and writer-writer living in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband, Nick, baby boy, Hank Danger and very cute-slash-spoiled French Bulldog, Arnold E. Biscuits.