Friendships: How They Nourish & Add Spice to our Lives

  

Friendships, we have come to conclude, are a lot like spices. They add flavor and enrich our lives in varying degrees, depending on the particular seasonings we choose and how much we sprinkle into the recipe. 

There are the “go to” spices like salt and pepper that we might add into foods every day and even with every meal—atop our scrambled eggs in the morning, on our avocado toast at lunch and then into the stock for our roasted chicken in the evening.

We also keep on hand essentials that might add more kick--cayenne, garlic, onion powder and paprika. Some, like the paprika, also add more color to our culinary efforts. We tend to use these spices less often yet relish having them to make a recipe come more alive, maybe, on a particular day when our spirits are low or the reverse—when we’re in a celebratory mood. 

And then there are the healing, healthy spices like ginger, cinnamon and turmeric. We read about them in our health-oriented food publications, see them in health-food stores and hear about them from our health-conscious grown children who suggest them as a way to extend our lives. 

Of course, there are the other spices we use sparingly, maybe, because of a high price tag such as saffron or poppyseeds or because they add fluff that only works with certain foods and at certain times. Add anise, caraway seeds and juniper berries to that list. 

We’ve each stocked our pantries with a wide variety of spices much like we realized we do with our friendships, a topic we discuss in our latest book, Not Dead Yet: Rebooting Your lLfe after 50. We’ve filled our lives with a range of friends. Friends have come into our lives in different ways, at different times and for different reasons. Each offers a distinct flavor or way of connecting and enriching our lives. We hope we add to their lives, too.

We treasure these relationships and work hard to stay in touch with these significant friends whom we need for daily, weekly, monthly sustenance or maybe a once-a-year checkup! We call, email, text, facetime or Zoom, or meet in person when possible to have meaningful exchanges. We keep their confidences and trust, and they keep ours. Even after 33 years of working together and being good buds, Barbara and Margaret still say to the other when sharing a secret, “You know not to tell anyone, right?” They do but feel it’s more of a pact if they utter the words out loud. 

We also make ourselves available when these key friends need us, sometimes in person but most definitely in other ways. We share a rare history with these long-time friends who add joy and we thank the fates that they are in our lives. They are as reliable as an Amazon delivery. And there’s no tit for tat, counting who does more. It all balances out just as using the right amount of a spice does. It’s not always the same. Sometimes, nutmeg (grated fresh) plays the major role in flavoring a dish; other times it’s only part of the line-up and cumin is the star. This can all change with tomorrow’s meals or friends’ needs. 

If we don’t like the way a spice flavored a dish tastes, we acknowledge it and feel comfortable taking a stand and using a substitute, just as we often but not always feel comfortable speaking up to friends when they are unkind, discount us in some meaningful way or leave us out, often unknowingly or because they’re having a rough patch. Sometimes, they may even get angry or yell at us, and we feel entitled to yell back or speak up firmly. Is the fiery discourse akin to the hot spices in Northern Chinese food we sometimes crave? Is it even necessary to turn up the heat? We don’t seek it out, but it happens. 

With a deep friendship, we know there can be cracks in the surface which usually can be repaired if we take the time to be patient, honest and authentic. It’s no different than revising a recipe that no longer works for whatever reason—it doesn’t fit our diet or how our tastes have evolved. Barbara is on to an entirely new brisket and now cooks her roasted chicken at a high temperature like Zuni’s restaurant in San Francisco. However, the sameness, longevity and strength of a recipe or relationship convinces us to keep some variation alive rather than let it fall flat like the fabulous popovers Margaret has learned to perfect (as good as Neiman-Marcus’, says Barbara who’s tasted them.) 

Yet, like we do in any relationship or in our cooking, we pick our battles as we do our spices. Nobody is perfect. And we keep in mind the old chestnut, “If we expected them to be perfect, we’d have no friends.” 

We also know there are two sides to every situation. Sometimes our memories play tricks on us. We allude to the Rashomon effect, which comes from the Japanese movie by that name, released in 1950. It became famous for playing up the challenges involving human memory and people’s different perspectives. 

The phenomenon happens with friendship as well as cooking. You remember something was done this way; I remember it was that way. Mom’s recipe for rugelach tastes like it incorporated cream cheese in the dough but you recall it being all butter, sugar and flour. And different memories can get us in trouble if we’re adamant that we’re right. Friends need to listen, be flexible, adjust their thinking, apologize at times and with no ifs, ands or but’s. Just say “I’m sorry” period. It’s worth the extra mile. 

These deep or BIG friendships, as defined by the authors of the book, Big Friendship, and cited in our recent book, don’t come along often. The authors explain that these are the “most affirming—and most complicated of relationships that a human life can hold don’t happen overnight.” They take years to cultivate. 

However, we know that all friendships can’t—and shouldn’t--be of this magnitude. Too many of these would be like overloading calories. We crave other people’s company for variety—some who are purely fun and make us laugh uproariously, some who are soothing and nice like a warm bath, some who like pursuing certain activities with us (Barbara has several painting pals and Margaret has her tutoring group), some who live nearby. Margaret has friends in her building, even on the same floor. Barbara considers the shopkeepers in her village friends, who wave and say when they see her, “How are you? What’s new?” 

And because we’re curious, we enjoy making new friends by going for coffee, wine, lunch or a walk with someone we barely know for a trial “friend test.” What are we apt to lose? Maybe, an hour or so. We’re old enough to say to ourselves, nice person but no match like the duos do in the weekly “Date lab” feature in the Washington Post newspaper

We are on the clock--tick tock—and time is precious. As a result, we now seek friendships that make us feel good, enrich our lives and involve a reasonable give and take. If not, we’ve also come to realize that we can only change ourselves—maybe our expectations. We cannot change anyone else, so why try? Maybe, if we’re the ones always giving, asking how they are, running to them to rescue them when they are in need. They rarely do the same. But rather than end the relationship, we decide it’s better to pull back, not call or do as much and relegate the relationship to the middle or back of the shelf rather than the front. 

And sadly, some friends at some point detract from our happiness and even affect our physical health. If we’re wise, we might let the friendship die a natural death if we can’t work it out. This can mean speaking up (better than emailing or a text which can be misconstrued). It’s a little like banishing the chili flakes in a recipe because Barbara finds she no longer likes the taste and Margaret cannot have them because of her new acid-free diet. 

So, the next time you engage with a friend of any variation, think about the comparison with spices and where they sit on the shelf. Do they go in the front for an easy reach, in the middle for occasional use or at the back where they even might be out of sight and out of mind? Each flavors our lives but in different ways and to different degrees. 


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