Checking in, paying attention, and friendship


an old photo, with Lisa and another dear friend-of-the-heart Denise Ullem, May 2011

I absolutely loved Laura Zigman’s Salon piece about what she learned about friendship from Lisa Bonchek Adams, The Worst Thing That Can Happen is that Friends Disappear. I was fortunate enough to know Lisa also, and everything Zigman writes resonates.  Lisa was an attentive and engaged friend, unafraid to stare right into whatever was complicated and to ask questions of others that might have been uncomfortable for some.  She was willing to go with you to the edge of whatever was going on in your own life.  She was there, in the most essential way.

Friendship is a topic I find fascinating and important.  I’ve written before that sometimes friendship feels to me, at its essence, to be about aiding.  About staying near.  But it’s also, Zigman reminds us, about checking in.  Which is, after all, simply a manifestation of that being near.

The people I love the most are the ones who don’t disappear.  They stay, steadfast, nearby.  We all have full lives.  We are all busy.  Someone reminded me recently of how fiercely I believe that, and of the fallacy of the “I’m too busy” excuse.  Regardless of that reality, the truest friends are the ones who make a point of saying ‘how are you?  I’m here.’  Of not slipping off even when things are difficult.

We don’t always want to be checked in with, of course.  Sometimes we ignore those friends and family who touch base, who pull us from our corners, who refuse to allow us to retreat. “Checking out seemed infinitely easier instead of consistently checking in,” writes Zigman.  That impulse is familiar to me, both on the offering and on the receiving ends.

I have on occasion been told – usually not in so many words – to buzz off by a friend. But these people have all, every single one of them, come back to me later and said, you know what, thanks for not listening to me when I wanted you to back off.  It’s a fine line, and sometimes we need to give others their space.  No question.  It is possible, I believe, to do this while also making it clear we’re still there.

I am not endorsing overstepping and intruding and hassling (and I know that Lisa didn’t and Zigman isn’t, either).  I am saying that a true friend is one who is there and who demonstrates that nearness in ways big and small but most of all consistent.  Text your college roommate.  Put a birthday card in the mail.  Make a double batch of cookies and drop them off at a nearby friend’s house.  And be grateful to those friends who check in, since they are showing you with every message that they’re there.  And there’s no more potent way, in my opinion, to say I love you.

9 thoughts on “Checking in, paying attention, and friendship”

  1. Beautiful picture and sentiments. I read Laura Zigman’s essay last night and it reminded me how even a text counts, especially when backed by a full heart.

  2. I admit I falter at this sometimes, assuming those dear to me *know* I’m there for them even if I don’t show it. But you (and others in my life) remind me of the sacred importance of showing you care, of checking in, being there even in the smallest of ways. Thank you for that…off to read Zigman’s piece! xox

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