Friday, December 8, 2023

‘Be Intentional’: The Advice On How To Be A Better Friend That I’m Stealing From Jane Fonda

Another pearl of wisdom from Jane Fonda has Emma Clifton thinking about how to be a better friend

I’m doing my very best to reduce my Twitter usage but then there are mornings like this one, when I am offered two perfect pieces of content: 1) A rescue beaver building a Christmas dam inside its temporary adoptive house (please, enjoy!) and 2) Jane Fonda, eternal font of wisdom, summing up the best things about female friendships, and how to preserve them.

“Women’s friendships are very different from men’s friendships – and they’re very important to our health,” she told CBS Sunday Morning. She goes on to note that men often sit side-by-side, watching sports/cars/girls, whereas women sit face-to-face, eye-to eye, “and they say, ‘I’m in trouble, I need you, can you help me?’ We’re not afraid of being vulnerable.”

She then goes onto debate a point made by her “favourite ex-husband” (not a descriptor we hear enough), who talked about how it’s not possible to make friends after 60. And here she shares the bit of wisdom that I, at 37, will be trying to adopt as my (rather late-in-the-game) New Year’s Resolution.

“You have to be intentional,” she says. “I never used to be intentional… you have to pursue people you want to be friends with. You have to say ‘I’m intentionally wanting to be your friend.’ It works – people hear that, and they stick around.”

Yes, this would definitely count as an extrovert/introvert split (two of the women sitting next to Jane, Lily Tomlin and Sally Field, both immediately add that they ‘don’t really like people,’ but people who are intentional ‘won’t really go away’. Ha!)

In the past few months at Capsule, we’ve talked a lot about the loneliness epidemic and an extension of that, Sarah Lang’s excellent piece on how to make friends as an adult (the latter of which remains one of our most-often read pieces, showing that it really is more common than we might think).

The reason this stood out to me so strongly on a random weekday morning (once I could stop watching the beaver video) is that I’m well aware that I’ve been all too guilty of the opposite of intention with existing friendships over the past couple of years.

I know we’ve written a lot about this – and we’re all tired of Covid talk, yada yada yada – but the impact of both the pandemic and the frequent lockdowns on our social life means that it’s become too easy to flake on plans, or not even make them in the first place. We’re all aware of the ‘oh we must catch-up some time’ narrative when we run into people we know, which acts a mutually acceptable form of ‘we both know this isn’t going to happen but it IS nice to see you!’

When the first lockdown happened, there was so much intention – Zoom drinks, online quizzes – because we were so aware that what was happening to us wasn’t normal and we needed each other more than ever. But in the subsequent years (ugh), it’s been less about ‘we’re all in this together’ and more like ‘I’ll see you on the other side.’ But the other side of what? For better or for worse, this is it. And I’m particularly aware of this shift because of a friendship that ended abruptly at the end of last year.

I had a friend who I didn’t see often – maybe once or twice a year – but every time we did, we had the not-polite-but-genuine thought of ‘we should do this more often.’ She was clever and fun and witty, a brilliant business woman who was very into all things woo-woo – we would talk astrology and pets and energy and books, the kind of chats that start with a cup of tea and turn into a glass of wine a couple of hours later. The kind of chats that make life worth living, that there doesn’t seem to be as much time for in this busy, weird life we lead now.

In 2021, at the start of the very bad 100+ day lockdown, she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and things went badly, quickly. We saw each other at Christmas at the end of that year and although her ability to speak had lessened dramatically, we made it work and she was an utter delight, as per usual. But the chaos of 2022 and the arrival of Covid as a here-to-stay problem made things more difficult – not wanting to get her sick, staying home during all those peaks – and it turned into an occasional-message kind of friendship, rather than an in-person one. You know, the kind where you share life updates, photos, memes, but the ‘how are you today’ answers get shorter and shorter. And then she suddenly died.

At the funeral, friends from all stages of her walk of life spoke about what a good, thoughtful friend she was – the kind who was very much as loyal in your bad days as well as your good, which is a rare jewel of a friend indeed. She was intentional; right up until the end, when we were messaging just a couple of weeks before she died, she was still kind and curious.

Part of the urgency of Jane Fonda’s message about being intentional with your friendships is the knowledge that quality time is not guaranteed – Jane is 85, I can only imagine how many friendship funerals she has attended over the years. It’s a very adult experience when you first attend the funeral of a friend and it acts as a wake-up call from the general refrain we tell ourselves about life these days: that things will slow down in a couple of weeks, and then we’ll be able to properly catch-up.

I know this is very much bumper sticker wisdom but that John Lennon quote of ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’ feels especially true for friendships, now that we live our lives on permanent fast-forward. Life is not going to slow down, there is no perfect empty week or weekend ahead. There is only the time we have now, and how intentional we are with how we spend it.

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