When I first met two of the guys (let’s call them Andy and John) three years ago, I was an intern, they could barely be in a room together and the goal at that point was simply mutual tolerance. It was only last month that I watched awe-struck as John sat in front of Andy, trembling with vulnerability and declared, “I care about you. You are the most important one to me.” This was
friendship, pure and true, embodied in a statement of love between the oddest of couples.
So how exactly did two young men with severe difficulties in relating to others come to connect so deeply, to trust and rely on one another, to overcome their mistrust and anxiety and simply enjoy the pleasure of being together? The truth is, I’m not sure. I consider myself very fortunate to have borne witness to the development of their relationship over time and I do have a few guesses. It is not often that any of us, in my experience, has the opportunity to see change so apparently and observe growth in its various stages. Here’s what I’ve learned from the experience.
To have and be a friend, you have to first allow yourself to want a friend. Andy and John three years ago were isolated individuals. When they related to others, it was often superficially or in defined roles (Andy was often the snarky loner and John a troubled, advice-giving mentor). Both, however, had something missing and while this was first not in their full awareness, as they became more comfortable, each was able to admit to themselves and then to each other how much they wanted something more from the relationships in their lives. To admit that lack, or ache, for a friend is a bold risk, but it seems the first step that Andy and John took towards each other.
Friendship is hardened by hardness. The road Andy and John took was not all roses and rainbows. There were fights and negotiations and insults and compromises and then more fights and more mediation. There were times when it felt
as if one or the other was ready to give up and walk away – that the whole process had completely regressed. Persisting
through the difficulty built a foundation for the two guys that serves them still today. Without that struggle, the foundation would no doubt be weaker, their mistrust and anxiety would persist and their possibility for meaningful connection diminished.
There is no limit to our capacity to love. Andy and John were never expected to have a typical friendship. They each have so
many barriers in relating that the best it thought possible was perhaps a “working relationship” or a friendship of convenience. The possibility of a complex emotional relationship, of brotherly love, seemed outside the realm of reality for these two. I underestimated them both. By sharing in their path, I have come to believe there is no limit for any of us in our ability or desire
to love another. While it may take many forms of expression and may evolve over years or within a single shared moment,
the essence of friendship remains the same and available to us all.