The very first friend I ever remember having was a charming girl named Melissa in first grade. She had bright blue eyes and yellow hair cut in a chin length bob that bounced and swung when she moved her head. Her laugh was more of a giggle and she found everything to be the funniest thing she had ever heard. I followed her all through the first grade, her humor sweet ambrosia to my serious nature. I still remember the time that she got the Mumps and missed school for a few weeks. It was as if someone had turned out the lights, leaving the school dim and dull. Her sunny presence made everything a joy.
We moved after first grade, out to the country for several years and I lost track of her. For those years that I lived there I never found a new best friend, or even any true friends at all. I played with my siblings, hung out with my books and writings and spent my time playing in the fields. When we moved, yet again the summer before fifth grade, I never looked back, I had no one to leave behind.
By the time I reached 8th grade, I still hadn’t found a social group of kids or one best friend to call my own. I hovered on the sidelines, being friendly but had no social network, no one sharing sleep overs or long conversations. I was lonely and I wanted friends. I made a genuine decision to actively make some new friends. Unfortunately, the friends I found were not any mother’s dream for their daughter. Over the course of the next three years I got into a lot of trouble with my new friends and made some poor choices that had life-altering consequences. It was time to grow up. It was time to make changes. I couldn’t go in a new direction and keep the same friends. I didn’t want to go back to a life with no friends at all.
But I did. Sixteen years old and alone with a child, my *old* friends suddenly had nothing in common with me anymore. They wanted to party and play and have fun. I had jobs and money to earn and a child to take care of and an education to figure out. There was no place to meet in the middle. We went our seperate ways.
I met a few new people. One was a woman who needed a roommate because she was down on her luck. I thought we would be friends. She forged a check out of my checkbook. I asked her to move out. There were more after that…too many to mention…It would be a long post. What I began to learn was that while I thought I was picking friends that cared about me, they were picking me because they wanted something from me. Money, help, babysitting, favors, an hour or so of listening to their troubles, every day… It was tiring, exhausting. New baby, too much work and friends who were freeloaders and users.
I needed new friends. Again.
Why was I so bad at this? I gave and gave and gave my friends everything they wanted. I was there for them. I helped them. I listened. They were never there for me when I had troubles. They never listened to me if I had a problem, We never did things that interested me, it was always things that interested them. And these were ALWAYS the kind of friends I had.
If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.
The definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It was time to look in the mirror. It was time to realize that the problem wasn’t the friends I was picking, the problem was me. Something I was doing, choices I was making, words said or not said. It was happening to me year after year with different people. No one is THAT unlucky. The problem was me.
I confessed my concern to a friend that seemed to be different than the rest. I had been going through a particularly rough time with a personal relationship and she asked me about it. I clammed up. She called me on it. “Listen, ” she said, “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t complain that nobody listens to you if you aren’t willing to talk. If you always have to act like everything is fine. If you are never willing to admit that you have a problem or that you need something. You have to be willing to ask. Let a person know how you feel once in awhile.” I was shocked. She was exasperated with me.
I started journaling about it. As a life time journaler and writer I realized that I had been using my journal as a friend to tell my troubles to. I listened to my friends but my journal listened to me. There was no two-way street in any of my friendships. And it was my fault. I never spoke up. I never let out my true feelings. I wasn’t being honest or authentic, I just let everyone go about their merry way, and did whatever they wanted. They had no idea I wasn’t having fun, wasn’t happy, wasn’t feeling I was an equal…because I had never told them.
My friends weren’t mind readers. I wasn’t talking. We were at an impasse. But there was an even bigger problem. Before I could tell them what I wanted, what I needed, I had to figure it out. I had spent so long stuffing my thoughts and feelings down that I couldn’t just draw them up on command. It took practice. Hard work. Sometimes I would have to think of it ahead of time and practice saying it out loud. It sounds silly now, all these years later but it’s true. I had to learn how to be an authentic friend.
I have good friends now. Great ones. Married my best guy friend one year ago this coming up August and my best girl friend and I are going on ten years this August. Happy Anniverary to both of the JK’s in my life.
I have other friends too. Off-line and On-line. I have lots of friends but at the same time I am pickier now then ever before. Pickier because I choose friends according to my values and interests, not by who’s around or who will give me the time of day or who seems to *need* something. Time is valuable and I have to make choices to spend my time with the people who are going to value the same things that I value. I choose to value hanging with *Like-minded* people that have things in common.
Sometimes friendships are for a time. People come into your lives and then they pass through. There was a purpose to it, a lesson, a message or maybe just a little comfort to be shared at that point in the journey. There is no guilt in letting go of a friendship that has drifted out of its prime. But at the same time, there is nothing in the world more valuable than the honest to goodness love of true friendship and doing what it takes to keep it together.