Category Archives: Friendship

“Let me tell you ’bout my best friend…”

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“Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them.”  –Marcel Proust

My best friend, E, is getting married this weekend!  I am so excited for her, and my happiness comes from how much I love her.  There is something special about a best friend, but it’s a title that I have had conflicted thoughts about recently.  I have other friends who are close, who mean the world to me.  They love me and support me and we have fun together that no one else can bring.  They are blessings.  And no matter how much they mean, E is still my best friend.

“Old friends cannot be created out of hand.  Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions.  It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.  –Antoine du Saint-Expéry

C was my best friend growing up.  We went through all of school together, and were inseparable through the beginning of high school.  She was quiet, smart, goofy, innocent, and slightly awkward–just like me.  We had so much fun, played endlessly and talked on the phone for more hours that our parents liked.  We were a team.  I had other friends, and longed to be part of the popular group.  Our class was small, and I was gradually included more and more in that crowd, but it always came back to me and C.  She understood and accepted me in a way that I never would have survived childhood without.  Her family treated me as one of their own and our worlds were intertwined.

High school came, and we stayed close in the beginning.  Then we had classes apart.  And she got a boyfriend.  And I made new friends.  And three years passed.  And this past summer, she was married.  Without me there.  I don’t judge or begrudge her that.  I do know that, if my big day ever comes, I cannot imagine it without her there.  We haven’t talked in years, but she will always have a home in my heart, a starring role in my memories.

“No, don’t you remember? There’d be, like, this one person, who had, like, perfect hair, or perfect breasts, or they were just so funny, and you just wanted to eat them up — just live in their bed, and just be them. It’s like everybody else was in black and white, and that person was in color. Well, Rayanne thinks Angela is in color. Major color.”  My So-Called Life

Then came A.  We became friends in high school and she was in major color.  We had mutual friends and got along well.  And then we spent more and more time together.  And then she knew me better than anyone did.  She was everything I wasn’t, what I wished I were.  She was loud and confident, cute and likable.  School was an option and grades weren’t a stress.  Her dad was cool and laid-back.  She did what she wanted, how she wanted, and answered to no one because she didn’t need approval from anyone.  She made me laugh and feel free.  She reminded me that there were more important things than papers and grades, that adventures could be fun and life could be spontaneous.  She was a splash of cold water on my face.

Then I left town for college and started to build a new life hundreds of miles away.  A was the only person I visited when I went home, the only friend I would go out of my way to see.  It only felt right to see her, because she made home what it was before I left.  But I made new friends, people who were living life with me, experiencing my school and world.  She had loss and revelations and one day, in some big ways, she wasn’t the same.  There are still things that she posts on facebook that make me smile and break my heart, because they are why I love A.  They make me miss my friend, wish we were still close.  But distance and discoveries made us new people, and it became hard to get to know those people.  So we send quick notes, but the friend that I had no business adoring has drifted off into life.

“The most beautiful discovery true friends can make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.”  –Elisabeth Foley

And now there is E.  We became friends our freshman year mostly because of the weird similarities we discovered.  Both the oldest with two younger brothers, we participated in Mock Trial in high school.  We love Heavyweights.  We love to buy office supplies.  We dip pizza in ranch.  And as we did more together, more commonalities appeared.  We shared a room and apartment, and everything that happened.  We talked and laughed and cried, studied and procrastinated, and we saw four years fly by.  We lived in the same apartment, but made a point to meet up for meals and go to the beach for our favorite sandwiches once a week–just us.  Somewhere in there, she went from a person who happened to be placed on my hall to someone who knew me inside and out.

E moved to the east coast after school for the Navy and has spent time at sea.  She has had relationships and friends, literally seen the world, and found the love of her life.  When many of my friends studied abroad in college, including her, I worried about their return.  I worried that they had seen so much, their world was now so big, that little me no longer had a place in it.  They had changed and I had not.  But she still has a place for me.  She doesn’t treat the mundane life I have lived, the smallness of my world, as insignificant.  She still lets me in to her life.  She makes me feel important and loved, even with all the other things she juggles.

I feel so guilty saying I have a “best” friend, because there are so many others that I love and have loved.  There are so many who have shared secrets and experiences with me, grown with me, changed with me.  But I would be lying if I said that these girls were not special, didn’t stand out in my memory.  A part of me grieves for the loss, that a new friend has replaced the old, but that’s the way of life, I guess.  They have new friends now too.  I would like to think that, when they look back, they remember me with the same aching affection, that they feel bittersweet tears spring up when they remember the beautiful friendships we had, and now do not.  As I think about these special people who sustained me, I can only hope I lived up to the friend that they deserved.

“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends/ And say my glory was I had such friends.” –William Butler Yeats

A Toy’s Story

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“We’ve done our duty.  Andy’s grown up.” –Army Man, Toy Story 3

Last week I went and watched the newest (final?) installment of the Toy Story world.  I knew going into the film that it was an emotional story for me.  Andy, like any real boy, grows up and leaves home.  He heads off to college and leaves behind the toys that defined him, the story of his childhood.  I looked back through photos that I took of my room before I cleaned it out after graduation.  I looked at my collections, my awards and pictures that plastered the walls.  My dolls, my toys, my books and movies–it was the product of fourteen years of life.  I decorated rooms in college and now have my own apartment, but nothing has ever been as truly, deeply, boldly me as that room I grew up in. 

I was choked up within a matter of minutes watching that movie.  It pulled at  my heart throughout the story.  I later read a “confession” in Entertainment Weekly by a man who had seen the film.  It was about his own emotional outburst, and those that men confessed to him they cried while watching it.  Something about the movie is so painful, so beautiful, so personal to adults.  Yes, there are moments that children are enjoying, but Pixar knew that they were targeting every person who had ever packed up toys, ever decided to grow up, ever had to become an adult.  It asks the question of what a toy really is.  Is it something that you enjoy and then put away until it’s needed again?  Does it wait for the next generation to find joy in it?  Or is it never really happy unless it’s being loved and played with  by a child?

I know that all of this is silly to question, because toys are pieces of wood and cloth and plastic.  They do not feel or think.  They just are.  But this is the whole magic of the movies.  Everyone who has ever carried a toy everywhere, who has had ongoing games and stories they imagine, knows that a toy is much more than what it’s composed of.  I think of my Polly Pockets (the real ones, the tiny ones I couldn’t play with if my brother was awake) and Barbies and Precious Places and American Girl dolls all packed away.  The Littlest Pet Shop (again, the real ones, not the creepy new generation) and Beanie Babies and Legos that fill buckets in the garage make me feel guilty.  Should we give them away?  Should they be somewhere where children will love them as much as we did?  Is it selfish to keep them for the children I want someday?  Is a toy something that we can rightfully hold onto?  The army men left because their job was done: they saw Andy through his childhood.  After that, they had no more use.  Is there truth in this?  Or do we really never outgrow our need for the toys that accompanied us through the years?

“‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. ‘Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’

“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'”  –Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

I grew up in America.  I had parents who loved me and my brothers, who provided for us and wanted to make us happy, give us a childhood of joy.  Part of this meant that we never wanted for much.  We had clean clothes, plenty of food, shelter and attention.  And we had toys.  We had too many toys.  Many of them I would never recognize if I saw them in a thrift store, but there are many others who I can feel in my hands, who I can smell and hear and never forget.  I remember the cardboard Grocery Store my parents assembled for me.  They painstakingly kept boxes from food and resealed them so I had REAL food for the shelves.  I can remember the way my mom’s doll house she handed down to me smelled, even after I started using it more to throw clothes on top of than to play with.  I can hear the swish of the water and plastic that swirled in my little pot, made to look like soup cooking.  Nothing on earth sounds like the clatter of hundreds of Legos falling out onto the floor. 

We were raised to appreciate our toys.  We were relatively good to them.  We didn’t draw on them or leave them outside.  We loved our toys.  My brothers both had a propensity for choosing the ugliest, hardest, sharpest toys to take to bed with them every night.  We kept the accessories and pieces and took care of what we loved.  My dolls all had names.  My mom made beds with blankets and mattresses for them. 

“‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?'”

Another part of Toy Story’s universality is the tragedy of it.  Again, the unnecessary guilt sets in.  We all have favorite toys.  We would be excited by new ones, revel in the adventure of playing new games, but they would mostly fall by the wayside.  I feel sad for those toys, who were wonderful and gifts and special, but not special enough.  They were fun, but not lasting.  There were so many that eventually broke, or were lost, or handed down to other children.  As irrationally sorry as I feel for these toys, I feel an awe for the ones that stayed around.  When my grandma continues to give my little brother Legos for Christmas, a little part of me stings with jealousy.  Where’s my new doll dress?  Don’t I get a new stuffed animal?  There’s a piece of me that wants to know that others recognize that child that’s still inside me, that I still love my toys, that I’m not the only one who has no idea when I got old enough to live on my own or hold a job or make restaurant reservations.

“‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.'”

On my bed right now, next to my pillow, is the Pound Puppy I got for my fourth birthday.  She is now old enough to buy alcohol.  She has been everywhere with me.  She has gone to the hospital with me when I was scared.  She left for school with me when I was terrified.  She has been dragged all over our home, shoved in suitcases, gone on sleepovers, and seen two decades of my life come and go.  When I read this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit my throat tightened.  My dad told me that the last time he saw Nicky he got choked up.  She doesn’t look like she did coming out of that box.  She looks old.  She has almost no fur left, few of the strings that separate her “toes” and much of the paint on her big eyes is scratched.  Her nose and bow are faded.  She is dirty and stained, looking more like she’s gray on accident.  She has soaked up tears and secrets.  She has no stuffing left in her neck, the perfect place for a child to carry a toy.  She is soft and floppy in all the right places for her to fold in half and fit perfectly in the crook of my arm as I sleep.

“‘I suppose you are real?’ said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.”

I know one day Nicky will have to go away.  My parents have talked about having her cleaned and preserved, like they would in a museum.  One day I will have someone else to occupy my bed, and her place will be taken.  One day she will simply not be able to withstand the demands a girl puts on her.  I dread that day and prefer to think that if she’s made it this far, she’ll make it forever.  At a time when my family is far away, she is closer than anyone else.  When I’m alone and realizing that friends are not as true as I thought, she is steadfast.  When I feel like things are out of control and chaotic, she brings me back to the simple.  When all the fears and anxieties and dreams and wishes that I build up in my head get too big, she can bring me back to the small, to the little me that made her leashes and buried my face in her tummy.  She is more real than almost anything in my life, more than cloth and stuffing and thread.

‘The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,’ he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.'”

“Just Friends”

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“Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part gets in the way.”

“That’s not true.  I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.”

“No you don’t.”

“Yes I do.”

“No you don’t.”

“Yes I do.” 

“You only think you do.”

“You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?”

“No, what I’m saying is they all want to have sex with you.”

“They do not.”

“Do too.”

“They do not.”

“Do too.”

“How do you know?”

“Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive.  He always wants to have sex with her.”

“So you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?” 

“No, you pretty much want to nail ’em too.”  —When Harry Met Sally

The past few days this idea has been everywhere.  I turned on the Today Show this morning and heard all the reasons why men and women cannot really be friends.  It was an interesting discussion because it assumed that at least one of the two involved was in a relationship already.  The “experts” talked a lot about trust and crossing boundaries and sharing things with a “friend” that you would not share with your significant other.  Perhaps because of the audience demographic, the segment ignored the dynamic of two single friends of the opposite sex.  Then tonight, in a very different realm of television, Family Guy talked about Brian’s attraction to Lois, and his unrequited feelings led him into therapy.  And incontinence. 

It’s such a fascinating relationship and everyone has an opinion on the topic.  I think that most opinions depend heavily on whether or not a person has fallen hard for a friend or not.  However, the fact that a guy or girl hasn’t had feelings for a friend does not mean that they have not been the object of secret affections.  It’s really interesting to look at.  I’m sure that there is plenty of sociological or psychological studies that have examined these interactions and feelings.  It would be interesting to know just how many co-ed friendships cross the platonic line.  I would think a study on this would be near impossible, however, because how often do we risk the friendship and admit the feelings?

I wonder when all of this starts.  And when it all ends.  I know that for a few of my childhood years I felt more comfortable with and enjoyed the company of boys more than girls.  I remember the first friend that I realized I wanted more than friendship from was probably around seventh grade.  I’ve crossed that dangerous line time and again since that formative year.  It really is a point of no return for most friendships.  I have liked guys that I then pursue a friendship with, and had friends that I had feelings for, but I never feel quite the same once the feelings subside.  Does it kick in at different times for everyone?  I can’t imagine that there is anyone that hasn’t felt the pain of knowing that “friends” just isn’t quite enough. 

There is something unique to the male-female dynamic that is different from any other relationship.  Whether there is romance at stake or not, my friendships with guys are nothing like my friendships with girls.  I love the book Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller.  The book has so much to offer and opens up so many fascinating thoughts and ideas about why we are the way we are.  One of the things that Miller looks at in-depth is love, with attention to romantic love.  He writes beautifully about how man was not meant to be alone.  God saw that he needed someone around, he need help and companionship.  And then he waited.  He named animals and that wasn’t good enough.  Nothing would do but a woman, made of the same stuff as man, a piece of himself.  She was the same, but separate and different.  She was what man needed.  I’m sure that I should see this as proof for heterosexuality, or providence to keep humanity going.  And I guess it could be those things.  I think, however, that God knew that guys need girls.  There is just an innate need, a hole that is filled, by companionship with someone of the opposite sex.  We are not meant to be alone.  However, as a girl, I was also meant to complete and complement a guy.  Some might think that it’s insulting or demeaning that Eve was made from a piece of Adam, not on her own, to be his companion, to meet his need.  I think that is one of the most beautiful parts.  Yes, she was made for his solace and pleasure, but she was made because nothing else would do.  Women were created to be loved and to love.  Perhaps it’s maternal instincts or antiquated gender roles, but I think that is such an awesome honor.  God’s plan for me, for my gender, is love and friendship.

“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”  —Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I assume a big part of the problem is that we all like attention.  We want to feel loved, feel validated, feel special.  When we find someone who makes us feel alive and adored, we don’t let them go.  Friends do this, build us up into our best selves.  This attention creeps into the parts of our minds that spend too much time making things complicated.  We like feeling special.  The way we feel about ourselves becomes connected with the way we feel about the friend.  Then it all gets messy and lovey. 

All of this culminates in the ultimate question: if men and women can never really just be friends, do you sacrifice the love for friendship, or risk the friendship for love?  I always opt for the former, but I also tend to ask my self the torturous “what if…” a lot.  There really is a choice to be made.  You can’t be “just friends” and “more than friends” at the same time.  Which do you choose?  How do you choose?  How much do you risk and how much can you stand to lose? 

“How long can I go on like this, wishing to kiss you/ Before I rightly explode?/And this double life I lead isn’t healthy for me, in fact it makes me nervous/ If I get caught I could be risking it all/ Well, baby there’s a lot that I miss in case I’m wrong/ And all I really want to do is love you/ A kind much closer than friends use/ But I still can’t say it after all we’ve been through…”  –Jason Mraz, “If It Kills Me”

The Friendship Paradox

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“There is an electricity about a friendship relationship.  We are both more relaxed and more sensitive, more creative and more reflective, more energetic and more casual, more excited and more serene.  It is as though when we come in contact with our friend we enter into a different environment.”              –Andrew M. Greeley

 

I am a different person when I am with my true friends.  I’m a person that surprises me with her honesty and ability to open up.  I’m someone who wants to be better to others, who is kinder and more genuine.  I’m happier and more alive, literally feeling more, seeing more, hearing more.  I’m the most vivid, authentic me that I know.  I’m challenged and pushed out of my comfort and complacency.  I’m a better person because of my friends.

Today I got to talk with a friend for a few minutes over the phone.  Lately I’ve avoided talking to people who used to know me because I’m not the person they knew.  I’m someone that I’m embarassed to be, settling for very little.  I sucked up my pride and caught up on life with a friend.  While I tried to deflect questions about my life and what I’ve been doing, because the answers are short and depressing, it was refreshing to just talk with her.  I’ve made some new friends at work that I’ve spent more and more time with lately, but there’s no comparison between new and old friends.  It’s fun and interesting and exciting to get to know a new friend, but there is a certain comfort and peace that comes from people who know your past, who’ve seen you change and grow.  She reminded me of who I used to be.  As we talked I felt my sense of humor come back, felt myself joke and talk like I did in college.  It took little more than a voice to bring me back to life a little bit.

Then I got to spend some time with another amazing friend who knows me better than almost anyone right now.  We talked about everything from books to boys to life ambitions to what we’re meant to add to this world.  I laughed and talked about things that I don’t tell many people about.  She listened to and, most importantly, understood me while I talked about my love of writing.  She encouraged me not to just find a new job, which my dad does, not to just be thankful that I have a job, which most people do, but to go after what I really love.  She could do this because she’s seen me at my lows, which have been pretty low lately.  She’s heard more than most because she asks more, she’s earned the trust to know more, and she uses that to push me.  She’s seen me at my best, at my happiest and most alive, and she helps me remember that part of me. 

I love this quote about friendship because it captures how I feel when I’m with the people who know me.  It’s a paradox of being the most calming and exciting thing.   They give me rest and comfort but they push and challenge me.  They know who I was and am and they allow and encourage me to grow and change.   Right now they also uplift me and bring me down; they encourage me and leave me discouraged.  I’m reminded of who I was, make me happy and joyful.  However, they remind me of who I was and who I now am.  It’s hard to remember how happy I was, how genuinely alive I used to be.  I was active and giving and now I hide whenever possible.  But the fact that I remember that me, that I still feel like her from time to time (thanks to my friends) brings me hope.  It shows me that, while I’m down and struggling now, it’s not all there is.  There’s still affection and laughter and encouragement– I can still be who I enjoy being.  I still have my friends.

Fast Friends

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“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.  True friendship is a plant of slow grow, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the application.” –George Washington

 

I understand the sentiment of the wise Washington’s words.  Protect your heart.  It’s a fragile thing and wounds heal slowly, leaving deep scars.  Don’t trust it to just anyone.  It gives you life, it sustains you, so be careful who’s given access to it. 
I’ve learned this lesson again and again, but never really apply it.  I’ve let too many people too close to the core of me, to my most vulnerable places.  I’ve let them just under the surface, kept them at a distance, but they still make a swipe at the important stuff.  I don’t think that they have ever done so intentionally.  Well, perhaps one, but that’s the exception that proves the rule– I let them hurt me, they don’t seek to do so.  Which is ironic, because I’m slow to truly open up and share and be exposed.  I don’t give them ammunition because I know that they don’t need it– it takes very little to do much damage. 

Despite this distance I maintain and all that I keep to myself, emotionally I get close fast.  It takes no time at all for me to be invested and committed to a relationship.  I may never be open about my feelings, but they instantly take hold.  It’s the only part of my life that I dive into head first.  This is where I get hurt.  I’m sacrificing and giving long before it’s earned and, while I’m at least somewhat aware that I should be holding back, I cannot stop this.  I guess I have something to learn from our first president.

However, I also take him to task on his advice.  I know that my feelings have been wounded and my confidence shattered, but I don’t think that I regret my swift loyalty.  In fact, I wish that I was not so reluctant to open up.  When it all boils down, life is short.  I have spent enough of my years lonesome, feeling isolated, and I regret that.  While I may get frustrated or hurt, I don’t regret giving to my friends.  I don’t regret caring.  I don’t think that it’s a mistake to add a little love to someone’s life.

I do think that this leaves me open to pain and disappointment.  Every time a friend misses my birthday after I make sure to call them, it stings.  When I give rides to the airport but am left stranded, it hurts.  But I do not think that I could live with myself, I do not think I would be myself, if I balked because I feared that my friendship would not be reciprocated.  Or, perhaps, that reciprocating would take a form that I did not expect, because people are not perfect. 

As I hang out more with people I work with, people I might not choose to spend time with if we weren’t coworkers, I think about this caution to protect my heart.  Do I too quickly call them friends when, in fact, we’re only acquaintances, slightly more familiar with each other than with others?  Do I expect too much from them because I know how much I’m already willing to give of myself to them?  I don’t know.  I do know that, to quote Grey’s Anatomy , “People are better than no people.”  I appreciate the caution to beware who I allow into my life and how much access I allow them, but I would rather count my friends faster than I should.  I’d rather regret being too open to caring, loving too fast, giving too much, than regret being closed off, alone and unwilling to be a friend.