Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tough Stuff Tuesdays: Friendships - Friend or Foe?

Last year I was having a stream of difficult days, and so I sat down, grabbed my laptop and wrote a sixteen-page tirade on what I assumed was my mid-life crisis. I tried to analyze each facet of my life including my experiences growing up, friendships, successes, and failures, body image, marriage, kids and aging. I wanted to know what made me tick, what were the most influential and most damning parts of my life so far. But, one of my biggest questions about myself to date, is why I can’t seem to forge any new friendships at this stage of my life. Why I find myself hiding behind other “obligations” to avoid making new connections.

Now, I have never been one to be overly outgoing even though some who know me, may think otherwise. I was an insanely shy child growing up. I can’t really say why I was shy, but perhaps it was because I lacked confidence in myself. I was never a student who excelled and was often put in remedial classes which I hated. Nothing hurts the ego or your confidence more than being teased because you were in the “stupid” math class. I hated it. I hated it so much that I refused to go and insisted that I be put in regular classes. I told my parents I would much rather get a C in a regular class than an A in the “stupid” class, and so I fought, every school year,  just to stay above water. I envied the kids who breezed through school, who seemed to know all the answers without much effort and who were outgoing and well liked. Not only was I a struggling student but I was also gawky and pretty much a wallflower. And conversations with boys? Forget it!

Once I graduated from high school and got away from “who I was” or at least who everyone perceived me to be from Kindergarten to 12th grade, I reinvented myself. I went off to college and seemed to have more friends than time. I had a hard time understanding this new change. I was still the same person really. The only difference? No one knew me from before. I didn’t have to submit to the hierarchy that was set in place in grade school – all those same people who seemed to shine so much brighter than I were no longer blinding everyone. I was finally being seen for who I really was, and I was finally beginning to realize that I was worth being friends with. I was worth something.

Yes, I’ll admit it, high school sucked. Image was everything, and it seemed as though most were out to achieve a sense of belonging, no matter what the cost. Once you were categorized, you were stuck for four long, miserable years. I don’t know if I even belonged to a category or group. I wasn’t popular, I wasn’t a geek, I wasn’t a “burn-out”, I wasn’t into sports (at least not at school). So, I guess I just considered myself a nobody, someone who was easy to ignore.

Flash forward to now. I am 46 with a wonderful husband and three beautiful kids. I have lived in Chicago, San Diego, Seoul, and Beijing and have met a multitude of wonderful people from all over the world. BUT, friendships? I have very few. As a matter of fact, I shy away from new friendships these days. One of my friends asked me the other day why I thought I preferred to resist new friendships, and I had to dig down deep to figure this out. What was I afraid of? Why did I avoid settings and situations that would put me face to face with new people? Why do I tend to stay out of contact with some of the friends I already have? Well, it’s painful to admit, but it’s all about past friendships.

I can recall the first burn vividly. It was when I was in junior high, and the Farrah Faucet hairstyle became popular. My best friend, since at least third grade, had been moving over to a new crowd when we were in junior high. She was pretty and began hanging out with the popular crowd. She had the new hair style (along with a vast majority of middle school girls), and I wanted that hair style too. When I came to school the day after I got my hair cut, she yelled at me during lunch in front of a whole table of popular kids telling me I shouldn’t have copied her. I was mortified. She was my best friend who I did everything with, EVERYTHING! And she made me the laughing stock of the lunch room. I never spoke to her again. Since then, I have been burned by “friends” more times than I can count but the ones that hurt the most were the ones that happened as an adult.

As adults, we’re expected to be mature, respectful people. We should have learned by now, to respect one’s opinions, speak kind words, not talk behind one’s back, be there for the good and the bad. Unfortunately, for some, just because they are an adult doesn’t always mean that they have reached full maturity or ever will. Some continue to carry on as though they are still in high school (have you seen Housewives of Beverly Hills – which should be called “High School on Steroids”?) But, when an adult burns you after you invest so much physically and emotionally into a relationship, it’s very hard to recover. With each burn, the scar tissue that forms after healing becomes tougher; thicker. You would think this scar tissue would protect you, allow you to endure more, make you more resistant to the pain, but it doesn’t. It only makes it harder for the next person to find you, to get to your deepest layers, to allow them to see you and all your vulnerabilities.

My scars are thick, and sometimes I think they are impenetrable. I find myself avoiding situations that would cause me to meet new people because I just don’t have the energy to invest in “potential” friendships. As I meet people I begin to categorize them immediately. I’ll probably never see her again, I wouldn’t mind having coffee with her but I draw the line there, She’s interesting but sooo opinionated, if I don’t want to feel more depressed I better stay away from her, I could hang out with her – she seems rather fun and carefree, I do not have time to be her psychologist, would she answer the phone in the middle of the night if I needed her? Would she drop everything and be there for me if I needed her? She doesn’t swear enough, she swears too much….The list is lengthy and stupid, but it is something I can’t turn off.

So, lately, I have moved to being organic. Not with food but with friends. The best friendships seem to be those that form organically and feel effortless. Just because your children are in the same class doesn’t mean you will be friends or that you have to be friends. Forced friendships are rarely timeless – they usually have an expiration date like when the kid’s lessons are over, and you go your separate ways or the end of the school year rolls around, and you aren’t invited to a summer pool party. But the friendships you make that are built bit by bit, coffee by coffee, laugh by laugh over time may just be the ones that will be the most precious. It takes time to build trust, especially if you have experienced too many hurtful relationships.

There are many different types of friendships, and perhaps, my inability to distinguish between them could have caused unrealistic expectations among my friendships. Maybe I thought of a friend as close while, to them, it was casual. In a Huffington Post article, the author listed three types of friendships which seemed simplified compared to some of the other articles out there. The three listed were: convenience friendships, cosmetic friendships, and interdependent friendships.
Convenience friendships are formed out of convenience such as proximity or activities. People we may have met through school, our job, our daily grind and who we see on a regular basis. Sometimes these may be considered best friends and sometimes not.

The next type of friendship is a cosmetic friendship. Someone who is friends with you because it allows them to gain something whether it be money, benefits, job promotion, or status. You are their ladder, and once they have used you and you have nothing more to offer them, they are off to their next victim leaving you in the dust (I had way too many friendships like this. I would consider this the burn friendship).

The last type is the interdependent friendship where both people contribute evenly. This is generally a healthy friendship that cultivates long lasting bonds and is based on time and trust. These are the friendships that most people desire, especially as we age, yet it seems to be the most difficult to procure because of life-long negative experiences. But, in my experience, even though these friendships are hard to find, they are the ones that last and are healthy. When you do come across someone who may just fit this type of friendship, it should feel like you are slipping into your most comfortable slippers without effort. It should feel like eating your favorite food and never getting full, and it should feel like when you say goodbye, they are only separated by distance, not spirit. Yes, this is what humans thirst for, the interdependent friendship that keeps us feeling loved, thought of, emotionally desired and precious.

I’m still fearful of opening myself up to new friendships. Sometimes I think it’s just easier to become reclusive than to put myself out there again, but being alone can sometimes be just as damaging. Finding interdependent friendships at my age proves to be difficult but not impossible and getting rid of the cosmetic ones will only help to improve my trust going forward.

That being said, It’s important to identify the cosmetic relationships early and, if you have kids, it’s important that they know the difference as early as possible. It’s okay to still be friends, but it’s important to protect yourself from the fall, from the burn, from the disappointment that comes from those who use you for their own personal gain. Because once you are lured into their web, getting out alive without losing a part of yourself is tricky and it will always leave an imprint on you that will be permanent.

What is your most valued friendship? How do you teach your child the importance of being a good friend? What do you do when your child has a cosmetic friend? Feel free to share your friendship stories!

1 comment:

  1. No less than half a dozen conversations between Bryan and me have either started or concluded the same: Their son is really nice and sweet and a great boy for our girl to be with BUT WHAT WILL WE DO IF THEY BREAK UP?!? WE REALLY LIKE SCOTT AND JAN!!