In the episode of The Simpsons called “Lisa the Drama Queen,” Lisa finally has a best friend. Best friendships often elude Lisa, possibly because she’s too intense, too nerdy, or too smart. She has a hard time finding someone with whom she clicks. But when she meets Juliette, she finally has found someone who is smart, loves music like she does, and is looking for a best friend, too. Marge is delighted (at first) about this new friendship, and says to Lisa:
Here are a few best friend tips: compliment her hair and shoes. If her dog bites you, don’t make a big deal out of it, and—
[Homer interrupts] Friendship is like marriage; the key is listening. Also, if her dog bites you, don’t make a big deal out of it.
Ah, if only friendships relied solely on compliments and the dog thing! In reality, true best friendships rely on mutual respect, affection and reciprocity. (Although Homer may have a point on that whole listening thing). Best friendships don’t require the two parties to be similar in superficial qualities like income, style of dress, marital status or even political affiliation (although the last one is a toughy). While heartfelt compliments never hurt, affection and respect (beyond an admiration for her ability to find the best shoes or her talent with a flat iron) have to be there to help the friendship through rouch patches.
There are times in every friendship when one person needs the other more. Breakups or divorces, layoffs, deaths of loved ones– these can all shift the balance of a friendship. If the shift is temporary, the foundation of the friendship should be fine. And while helping a friend through one of these crises can be exhausting and difficult, asking for help or accepting extra support can be an added stress on the friend who needs it. Some people hate asking for help or hate feeling like they’re taking more than they’re giving, which can make the whole ordeal even worse.
If your best friend is like that, and he’s been laid off, don’t insist on paying for more than your share; nothing makes the prideful type feel like a loser more than accepting handouts. Even though you really crave that rosemary chicken from Wilde on North Broadway (and you’re willing to pay for her dinner, too, because it’s worth the extra cost to have great company and great food), don’t put her in the situation of having to tell you that she can’t afford to go out to dinner and that she’s not comfortable letting you pay. Suggest meeting at Caribou instead.
If your friend needs you but hates being needy, you might have to remind him of a time when the situation was reversed and you were the one crying on the phone, you were the one sending rambling late-night emails, you were the one asking for help with the resume. Tell her that you know it’s temporary and that soon you’ll both be looking back at this event if not with laughter, at least with relief that it’s over.
I do wish Homer hadn’t cut Marge off so we could benefit from the third piece of advice she was about to give Lisa. What if it was a secret trick for how liberals and conservatives can be friends? That’s a tip I would like to hear.