Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On Friendship

My very first best friend was Julie. She was everything I was not: dark-skinned and exotic. I attended public school while she was enrolled in the Montessori school. Her parents were divorced, while mine remained married. She liked strawberry jam on her PB&J while I preferred grape jelly. See? totally different. We ended up drifting apart when she began attending my public school in 5th grade. She wanted to hang around the "cool kids", a circle of which I certainly was not welcome to join. So, back to square one.

My second best friend was Susan. She moved to my neighborhood in 6th grade. She was alone, like me. We filled each other's empty spaces. We both had so many typical pre-pubescent flaws - the type that are never kindly overlooked but rather magnified and discussed and used in every way possible to bring a person with an already fragile self-image to her wobbly flaky-skinned knees. But we understood each other's flaws and shared a common interest in speculating about all the popular girls' future faux pas that would catapult them into embarassment, like pimples and food stuck in braces and toilet paper stuck to their shoes. We both longed for the sweet reward of the day that we were not the only ones being laughed at in Junior High school.

But then I finished Junior High school and went on to a private high school, leaving Susan behind. As much as I hated the popular girls, I decided I wanted to be one, and a new school was the perfect place to reinvent myself. I wanted to know how it felt to sit at a lunch table with other people who included me. I longed to speak in class without fearing the inevitable laughter that would follow. I wanted to express my eclectic style and be called "cool" or "fashionable" instead of "freak". So I went, and I became a popular girl. I thought I would show other girls in my circle how to be popular the right way: treat everyone kindly, give people a friendly smile, never participate in gossip and teasing and put-downs. And I did well for the most part... until Susan transferred to my private school Sophomore year. I was threatened by her presence. I didn't want her to tell my new group of friends about how unpopular we were at our old school. And, my need to be accepted by the group had tempered my individuality, whereas Susan remained true to herself. So when she marched to the beat of a different drummer, I drew myself further and further away from her, and I encouraged my new circle of friends to do the same. Susan came to my school with the expectation of acceptance and I let her down in the worst way.

Friendship FAIL.

My treatment of her still haunts me. There is no apology that I can give. There is no penance. There is only the memory of my immature, damaging behavior. I'd love to say that my treatment of her really wasn't that big of a deal. I'd love to believe that my actions didn't affect her. But I know better. I don't know where she is today. I don't know if she remembers me as "the girl who ruined my life" or as just another speed bump in the journey that is adolescence. Hopefully I'm not so narcissistic to believe the former, but some people take their teen years harder than others. Either way, I don't know if an apology from me would make much of a difference to her at this point, even if I could find her. Maybe after I publish this post I should go hit Facebook. maybe not...

My third best friend was Angie. I thought she was THE. SHIT. She was smart and cute and funny and easygoing and talented. All the guys went crazy for her. And she had a trampoline (which made for the best slumber parties of all our friends). Sometimes I think I was a little too intense for her... I'd call too much or want to spend the night at her house all the time or just want us to be like sisters. Thank God she never followed through with that restraining order. Whew, dodged that bullet! (just kidding) We had periods of drifting away, then becoming close again, then drifting again, then rekindling the friendship again. My friendship with Angie developed and continued through a time when I was growing out of the hormonal teenage years, and consequently the drama of friendship kinda leveled-off. I learned how, when my feelings got hurt, to not turn it into a life-or-death situation. When our friendship didn't sail along, smooth as glass, I didn't go off the deep end. Well, Okay, I did at first. But I learned not to do it every time. And eventually, our relationship grew in new directions and stretched to new places I never expected it to go. And we went there together.

Then my next best friend was Nicole W., then next was Elena, then Nicole A., then Jackie, then Sherry, then Leslie, then Joni. Every best friend I've had has taught me something and given me something.

I know myself, and I know that I need friends. I can't be like my husband and just survive with casual acquaintances. I need to have that double-X chromosome person who can relate to the emotions I'm going through. But it isn't as easy to make friends as it used to be. I don't sit next to anyone at the Pep Rally or in Chem Class. I don't even have co-workers. There should be a service for finding friends. Woman seeks woman for friendship to share cocktails, labor stories, and mutual disdain for carpool. Have emotions, will share.

It doesn't help that we move from state to state every few years. I've just about reached my limit of how many times I can form new friendships and then let them die when I move. Because, believe me, there is nothing more hurtful, more betraying, than when a person to whom you've poured out your heart and shared your secrets suddenly quits calling or emailing, simply because out-of-sight means out-of-mind. That is worse than breaking up; that is the "I'll call you" that never happens.

I know I'm not alone in this struggle. This need for female human interaction is the whole reason mommy-and-me playgroups got started. Women need a safe place to find other women who are also looking for an ear to bend. It's not like we can go to the grocery store and say to the other shopper in our aisle, "Oh, I see you're buying green beans too! I love green beans!! Wanna get some coffee?" That borders on creepy stalker. When I was a new college graduate and setting goals for 5 years, 10 years, and 20 years ahead, I never imagined that "have a few good friends" should be on the list. Because really, who ever imagines how hard it will be to sustain a friendship once they've survived the minefield of high school?

But that's it, isn't it? Making and maintaining friendships is hard work when we don't have easy access to people who share mutual interests. Even if we find that pool of people, a lot of them don't fit our vision of a BFF. We want someone who is as much like us as possible, at least as much as necessary so that we have some talking points in common.

How is it possible, in this world of millions of people (even in my city of millions of people) that I feel so alone? I'm not sure about the answer. I'm really wondering if I have this open hole in my soul that no amount of love or friends or compliments or food or clothes or hobbies will ever fill. As soon as I get enough, the hole grows and I want more. Maybe I need to quit looking for more friends, more love, new hobbies, and yummier food. Maybe I need to work on shrinking that hole.


Young Wife said...

It is so hard to have and maintain friendships as a woman! I have a hard time opening up and really being a close friend because it seems like every time I do, my friend moves away. I don't even want to think about middle school and high school friends. Great post! Stopping by from SITS.

Swizz said...

I've actually thought of writing this post myself...except with MY story in it. ;o)

I too need those types of close friendships...the ones where you feel like sisters instead of just friends. You can call a million times about nothing and they don't mind...they don't think you're some crazy kind of stalker.

In a way I've grown to temper myself in ways I don't like, just so I don't overwhelm others I'm trying to become friends with. Then, are they REALLY getting to know ME?

I AM a busybody who wants to be all in your business. :o) I am a friend who wants to talk/hang a lot. I DO want you to call and just chat or just drop by unannounced.

Where are the rest of you who want that, too?

Aunt Crazy said...

Sometimes I read your posts and I think you are inside my brain. I moved a lot as a kid, so I never really had the chance to build those life long friendships. I'm not very good at being a friend because I work, I go to school, my kids are very active, etc. I'm horrible at calling people. I've been burned by friends before and had my heartbroken. I am enough of a bitch that I realize friendships can be overrated yet there are days when I yearn, really long for a couple of girlfriends. Someone I can say anything to, someone who can say anything to me, that we can trust that those said things are between just US. Someone to call when I'm sad or happy or just to say hi, but someone that won't be offended if I don't call.

Being a woman, wife, mother, it's hard, in so many different ways and on so many levels. There's not much left of us to give so I think the friendship area of our life suffers most. But then I see women who have girlfriends and they have spa days and girls night out and I'm jealous, I admit it, I have the hate on with jealousy because I WANT THAT TOO!!!

Aunt Crazy said...
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Foursons said...

I think you just wrote my life story.

Bridgett said...

I hear ya sister. My Susan was Becky and we DID meet later at a (small Catholic school) grade school reunion. And it was like nothing had happened. Which made me feel even worse. But as my 4th or 5th best friend Marita reminded me, standing there, "kids are shitty to each other and then you grow up." It doesn't necessarily continue. Necessarily.

Yearning for female friendship is a drive for me like procreating. It's so deeply ingrained and I get all tripped over myself hoping and wishing and wanting and trying not to be too happy that I jinx something.

Jennifer said...

Girl you need to get on yahoo messenger and add me and then you can talk to me all day. My BFF lives in Baton Rouge and we talk pretty much all day every day. We hardly ever get to see each other in person, but our relationship is just as real and better than a lot of people that I get to see in person. I don't think you have to be down the street, you just have to be available.

I am Harriet said...

Gosh...I'm glad there is Facebook :)

Stopping by via SITS to say hello!


Angie @ KEEP BELIEVING said...

Hey BFF! I remember always feeling like we were breaking up and getting back together when I wasn't the friend you expected me to be. I remember going through all my selfish phases of being into a certain guy or event in my life and blowing you off - albeit not maliciously. I know I am not the easiest person to be friends with. i don't call much. I don't call back in a timely manner. I love you dearly. I consider you one of my bestest friends in the whole world. I also am surrounded by friends, even good ones that I see on a regular basis, but I still feel lonely, too. i think it is just a struggle of a stay at home mom.

PS. Your guilt with Susan? You know I share it with how I treated C.F. You know it. Want to apologize and beg for forgiveness. Want to prove I am a different person now than then.


Maggie S said...
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Gigi said...

I know what you mean. But I am a GREAT believer in having girl-friends. They are a balm to your soul. They meet needs that your husband, your children and your family can NEVER meet. It's hard enough to meet/make friends the older we get - but with all your moving? I'm sure that makes it just that much harder. But that's one of the things I love about blogging - because I am meeting so many great people from all over. And I know, that no matter where I go - they (well some of them anyway) will still be there - because we now have a bond. I think if I still lived in Texas and anywhere near where you are - I'd be the one showing up at your house with coffee all the time saying, "Hey! Got time for a chat?"

Mary Jo said...

I completely relate to this. I always feel lonely for female friends. All of my "bests" have drifted through the years. We moved in the past year, and I really don't know many people, so its been even harder. I would love even finding a true friend online. Someone who will email, text, twitter me... ask how my day is and actually CARE. I see it happening between other women (on twitter, FB, etc...) but when I try it seems to be thwarted!

Wanna be my penpal?! LOL

-- Needy Chick in Indiana

Mama B said...

I agree with Jen, feel free to chat me up! (I see your little Green dot over there in Gmail, I know your there!)

You know I agree with so much of what you said, b/c I posted it. It's so hard to make friends as adults and the few that have survived I am not as good about keeping up with as I should be.

Seriously one of my biggest problems is when it's quiet and I can talk (as my kids bounce, HARD and LOUD on a roll of big bubble wrap) is early AM and nap time, you know when so many other people are at work! My online friends, many who are real friends too sustain the need for conversation....oh and monthly margarita nights with whoever can make it!

Paula said...

Excellent post! The sad thing is, there are lots and lots of women feeling that same loneliness, but don't want to put themselves out there to find a friend for whatever reason - rejection, hurt in the past, shy, low self-esteem or confidence, etc. Church is where I've found my closest friends (not counting those long-time friends from home and college). Having a safe place to be authentic and transparent is a treasure, but hard to find.

stephanie (bad mom) said...

Ahh, beautiful & bittersweet.

Yes to all of the above - even the finding more yet needing less. Life can be a paradox, you know. Like feeling really close to people you've barely met in real life... :D

Anna See said...

oh my goodeness! i could relate to this in so many ways. how wonderful that you have taken the time to consider these friendships and what they have meant to you! wow.

i need friends now, too. i am a drive by friend in the carpool lane of life. ugh.

Catch the Kids said...

We all have regrets. Things we said and now wish we hadn't. Apart from trying to make amends, I love the phrase "When you know better, do better". It means accepting that we are not perfect, but DO have the responsibility to improve where we can. Love this post.