As a GED Instructor I would teach essay writing. We’re talking straightforward, vanilla 5-paragraph essays. Now the thing about these hyper standardized essays is that they must ask something that anyone at all could answer without having to read anything (it’s seperate from the reading test). The unintended result is that the questions can often be very personal, ranging from “Who was someone who changed affected your life and how did they affect it?” to “What’s your favorite _____ and why?”
The prompt “What are the characteristics of a good friend?”, led to an interesting class discussion.”You can always depend on a friend, no matter what.” said one student. “You can always call them, even at 2am and they’ll listen to you.” said another. “They will always lend you money.” said a third. The class got a little quiet and stopped calling out characteristics. “Who here has a friend?” I asked. Silence. “No one here has any friends?” I asked again. “Fuck friends. They stab you in the back!” said a girl and the class rumbled in agreement. “Yeah, I’m better off without friends. They’re liars.” said another girl.
What followed was a long discussion about realistic expectations. The students had an unrealistic expectation of good friends (they, of course, didn’t want to receive 2am emergency calls any more than their “friends” did). Instead of seeing friendship as a negotiated understanding between two people it was a monolithic junior high school ideal that they could never have. We will never have the same type of BFF friendship that we had as teenagers because situations and resources change.
Honestly, I was in the same boat as my students, not seeing myself as having more than a friend or two at any given time. My experience left me wondering, are we all unrealistic or simply lower expectations and retitle aquaintances into friends? Are they people one facebook who like our updates, essentially a mix between passing notes in class and cooing over a baby?
As an adult, what are the characteristics of a good friend? I’d like to know.