I think, sometimes, that I’m not very good at friendship. Part of this is circumstantial. We moved often enough as I was growing up (preschool, 4th grade, 9th grade) that childhood friendships just didn’t stick. I remember that before that last move, I’d just settled into a group of girls I loved. I have this group shot of us (that I can’t find right now) and I remember that I was so, so happy being with them. That day we danced around the pool singing along to Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” and I totally felt the love. And it was really real, just like the song said. Shortly after that, we moved away. I don’t keep in touch with any of those girls. I can’t even remember all of their names.
I think falling in love so young wasn’t great for making and keeping girlfriends, either. Cute W was my friend for a year and a half before there was any kissing involved, but once there was, it was all over. I don’t think that having a romantic relationship has to destroy your friend prospects, but I do think it makes it tough when most of your friends are still single. In college, Cute W and I knew that if the two of us were alone at a dining hall table, no one would ever join us. We’d have to move over and jump in with our friends who’d discreetly avoided our Beautiful Couple Meal Time. Later, working in an office, friends assumed I’d rather go home to snuggle on the couch instead of out for drinks with a side of flirting. I used to visit family near an old high school friend once in a while, and I’d call to see if she wanted to meet up until I sensed that my spontaneous invitations were irritating her. I think she attributed my lack of planning to a belief that she didn’t have anything better to do, without a husband (and then a baby) like me. But really, I’ve just never been a huge planner. When she seemed downright angry at an invitation, I said to myself, “Well, I’m clearly bugging her, so I’ll let her call me next time.” And we haven’t spoken since.
Working from home is wonderful and flexible, but it can be pretty lonely, too.
And, of course, my lack of planning, my aversion to the phone, the fact that I am constitutionally incapable of doing things like posting Facebook pictures of adult-me with a pack of women and ardent, emoji-filled captions. . . well, that doesn’t help, either.
This topic has been knocking around in my head so long that I had to do a post about it, but I’ve been reluctant, too, because I know: it sounds pretty pathetic. Part of the problem is that I’ve been re-mourning my neighbor, Mary, now that her husband has moved away. Having him next door helped keep her present. If he were here right now, we’d be talking about how much she loved to smell our white lilac tree at night. I can tell you all, too, I suppose, but you can’t smile back fondly at the downright rapture that evening scent inspired in her.
Ugh, now I’m getting maudlin. Truly, I’m not as tragic as this sounds. I have excellent friends. Cute W really is my best friend, and my cup runneth over with sisters, too. You don’t have to feel Morally Obligated to comment your Undying Girlfriend Love to me.
In fact, I’ve been “working the problem,” as Cute W would say, by trying to connect with people in a more intentional way.
To that end, last weekend I went on a road trip to meet a girlfriend from high school I’d seen only once in the last 25 years.
For most of high school, she was my best friend. We wrote crazy, marathon notes and recorded mix tapes for each other. She brought me along to do musicals at the school where her mom was a teacher and girls were scarce enough that we could nab parts. I’d sleep over at her house, where we’d scrawl graffiti on the walls of her unfinished basement. We’d polish off leftover Chinese take-out from greasy cartons and swipe a bottle of Asti Spumante from a case her parents had stored away and forgotten, pouring it into jelly jars full of ice to drink it as we lazed on the cast-off furniture.
Then, senior year, she started melting into a brittle bobble-headed doll. I remember the school nurse asking me if things were okay and I covered for her, because the nurse had never bothered to talk to me before. But it only got worse. We friends monitored, observed, questioned, and conferred. We set shards of evidence next to each other and built a picture that was too scary for us to handle. So we decided to talk to her parents. Our delegation was an uneasy alliance between me and a frenemy, my rival in all sorts of affections, the girl who’d taught my friend how to purge in the first place. She provided eyewitness accounts of behavior that only troubled her because it had moved beyond recreational use, while I provided the prim, stifled panic.
If this were an after school special, talking to Responsible Adults would result in swift action, effective treatment, friend reconciliation, and hugs all around.
Instead, my constant harping against self-destruction earned me a cold shoulder, and so we were out of touch through her decades of struggle with one thing, then another. It was good to see her finally healthy and well. It was good to talk with an old girlfriend.
But it also brought back old pain. All these years later, I can’t think of anything I would have done differently. My extreme honesty was clearly a tactical error, but I just didn’t have the wisdom to know that you can’t save somebody without their help. Losing her friendship crushed me, and yet I can’t be angry, because running from me hurt her so much more than it ever hurt me.
And all of this is happening as I see my daughters’ friendships shifting and changing, so it makes me re-consider everything in terms of how I’d advise them. Things like maintaining your own integrity even if it means losing a friend, considering that even the best relationships can have unintended consequences, and valuing and loving your people the best you can right this minute without thinking too much about forever or even tomorrow. I have all this friend wisdom that I’ve been acquiring for decades, ready to share with them. Except that they probably won’t really believe any of it until they’re my age.