Sunday, July 1, 2012

Happy to be stuck with you

Do you remember in elementary school when people used to transfer into your class or into your school really late in the year? How having a new person interact with made them the center of attention. Even though they weren't such a precious commodity (a kid in your class is a kid in your class), you immediately asked yourself whether they might fit in with your group. Then you either made the effort to incorporate them, or watched them become friends with everyone else and lurk in the corner never speaking to them except perhaps to say, "Welcome."

I was usually the latter.

There was this one time that a new girl transferred into one of my classes towards the end of elementary school. I had one really good friend in that class and apparently (so she tells me and so I vaguely remember), I told my good friend that I wanted to be friends with the new girl. She seemed nice, so why not?

In theory, the idea of making friends seems a simple one. You point your friendship radar on someone and then put your energy into being nice to them, trying to make them feel like they belong in your group. But it's not so simple.

It's kind of like trying to cultivate a romantic relationship with someone. You can put all the energy you want into it, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen. It takes effort on both ends. We like to assume that platonic friendships, especially between members of the same gender, are somehow exempt from this judgment process. Like we could all be friends if we just tried.

But that's simply not true.

Because I have tried desperately to make friends in some situations. And in others I've not tried at all. And either way, I'm stuck with the same group of friends. Stuck with isn't the right phrase, actually. I'm blessed with the same group of friends.

In recent years I've realized that my desire to have an ever-expanding group of friends has been founded on a misconception of what the term "friend" means. I'm not going to go to Webster's Dictionary to find the answer, but I think we can all agree that the term refers to someone who you have a friendly (haha), close relationship with. Preferably, it refers to someone you can trust with your safety, your confidence, your money (if they should need to borrow it) and your heart.

If I actually had a ton of "friends," that would be great. But there are only so many people you can trust with those things, the rest you can call "acquaintances."

A lot of people don't have any good friends. Or very few. They surround themselves with people that they have fun around, but who they never manage to cultivate stronger relationships with. But in due time (and mostly after elementary school), I realized that I was not one of those people.

Somehow, over the years, I've managed to insert myself into a group of people consisting of individuals who are my intellectual and emotional equals. We can go from having nerdy conversations about which Disney Prince we'd most like to marry to impassioned debates about our moral decisions and spiritual beliefs.

One of my favorite memories with a best friend of mine happened last summer. She was dropping me off at home after we spent some time together at a friend's house. It wasn't a long drive, but when we got back to my house we sat in the car for at least 15 minutes just talking. We related to each other on the loss of our parents and talked about mutual experiences, sharing and then listening.

This girl is one of my goofiest friends (in the best possible way). She laughs hysterically at everything and exudes joy wherever she goes. But during that drive home, she reminded me why we're friends and not just acquaintances - we can connect not only on the level of not-partying, not-drinking, not-doing-anything-that-a-priest-or-pastor-might-disapprove of, but on the level of personal confidantes.

Back in elementary school, I don't think I quite understood what I wanted out of my friendships. I got mixed up in a crowd of girls that, after a few years, turned their backs on me. In fourth grade I would roleplay Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with them, but by sixth grade they were giving me rude nicknames and purposely avoiding me and running off together to the jungle gym.

That's not what friends are. And it scares me that so many people have friendships that are that fragile and superficial.

Those are not the people who I have kept in contact with over the years. My greatest friendships were never set on a foundation of superficiality, on whether we liked going to the same clubs or hanging out on the same jungle gyms. They were about a mutual respect and temperament, and an understanding that we would stick by each other no matter how far apart we were, how long we were separated or how busy we were.

In the last week or two, I finally got to see some of my high school friends who I haven't seen for months. When we reacquainted ourselves with one another, it was like things had never changed. That's what real friendship should be. Not the kind where after a few months apart you start bad-mouthing and gossiping about one another, but where you reconvene within the group and can't imagine life any other way.

Am I stuck with these people? Yes, I am. And thank goodness.

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