Friends with real benefits

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social-media-friendsbecause-I-said-so-greenI called a good friend recently to see how she was doing. One of her kids had been inexplicably ill for a few weeks, and my friend — one of the most dedicated moms I know — had spent most of the past month taking her child to various doctors and specialists. We chatted about her kiddo, who was finally on the mend and back at school, and my friend mentioned that her house was (in her words) a disaster. I offered to come help her clean and put it back together.

“Can I be honest?” she asked me.

“Of course,” I replied.

“Normally I’d love your help, but I just really want to be alone. I haven’t had time to myself for weeks,” she confessed.

Not a problem, I told her, and we finished our conversation. When I put my phone down, I was smiling — and not because I got out of cleaning. Nope, I was smiling because I was happy that we’re close enough friends that she could turn me down without a second thought.

Friendship like that is hard to come by. Sure, most of us have lots of friends. More friends, in fact, than we can connect with on a regular basis. Social media makes keeping in touch easy while simultaneously making it more difficult. We know intimate details about our friend’s lives — how long their morning workout was, what their toddler looks like naked, how much they pay for health insurance — without really knowing their hearts.

Tweets, posts and texts seem to make it easy to misinterpret intention. We spend our time reading way too much into everything, such as a friend’s passive-aggressive status update on Facebook, instead of giving each other the benefit of the doubt. She’s just having a bad day. I wonder what I can do to help? We feel guilty when we don’t instantly reply to every text we receive, even though we’re trying to step away from the phone to connect with the humans standing in front of us (a.k.a our kids).

There is a difference between a Friend who likes every photo you post to Instagram and a friend that you can ask to take your kids for the day because you’re so sick you can barely lift your head off the pillow. A friend you haven’t talked with for months but still hugs you and asks how you’re doing when you finally meet up. A friend who doesn’t misinterpret or judge or critique you but simply loves you for who you are.

We all need more guilt-free friendship in our lives. I hope my friends know:

• If I send you a text and you can’t respond right away, please don’t. I know you’re busy and will respond when you can.

• If you forget to respond at all, that’s OK too. If I really need something from you, I’ll give you a call.

• If you don’t answer every time I call, don’t stress about it. I know you’re not tethered to your phone — at least I hope you’re not — and  I applaud your efforts to engage in real life.

• If you want to stop by my house just to say hi, please do so. Knock at my door and I’ll be happy to see you, no matter what my house looks like.

• If you’re too tired to make it to the girls’ night out/book club/maxi skirt party, no worries. Stay home, relax, and we’ll catch up later.

• If you need a babysitter so you can volunteer at your kids’ school or grocery shop without an entourage or even enjoy lunch with a friend, call me. If I can help you out, I will.

• If you’re making dinner and realize you’re one ingredient short, don’t hesitate to ask me for what you’re missing. If I have it, it’s yours.

• If we haven’t seen each in years but you spot me in a crowd, please say hello. I’ll be happy to see you and hear about your life.

• If I post a darling picture of my kids on Instagram, you don’t have to “like” it for me to know you like me.

• If your baby or toddler is sleeping and you need to pick up older kids from school or dance lessons or wherever, don’t wake that baby up. Text me to see if I can come to sit in your house for a few minutes.

• If you need someone to talk to, I’m your girl. I’m always happy to hear from you.

I’m not the perfect friend. In fact, I’m sure there are times when I’ve been a pretty crummy friend. But I’m trying harder to put these declarations into practice. So when you need my help, just let me know. And if you don’t need my help, please say so. I won’t be put out. In fact, it will probably make me smile. A friendship like ours is hard to come by.

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Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

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