Do we really know our friends?

best friends forever
Photo credit: keycomp123

After spending several months now with only my parents and dogs as company, I’ve done a lot of thinking about friendships. I left behind many close friends and many more acquaintances in DC, and have yet to make new friends here in California, although I’m highly anticipating meeting people as soon as I make my next move.

In the fourth months since I’ve left, I’ve heard from some friends quite frequently, through texts, emails, online chat, or even handwritten letters (my favorite!). Other people that I thought would be in touch, I haven’t heard from at all, and it’s disappointing, and truthfully, hurtful. And then there are others still that have surprised me by checking in with me, and giving me updates on their lives – people I wouldn’t have thought to hear from.

With change in location and plans always comes change in friendships. Some are to be expected, some are disappointing, and some are refreshing. But more than just accepting that friendships come and go, is accepting the substance of those relationships, and coming to terms with the fact that some of them are surface, fleeting, or specific. I read a blog post this morning about how with the evolution of digital networking, our “friendships” may seem to be deep and wide, but in fact, so many of our connections aren’t really connections at all – they are just people we met once, or perhaps even if we spent more significant time with them, they held a specific purpose in our life at that moment: they were the friend of a friend that was always at brunch or happy hour, or the former coworker that you were friendly with, but no longer see since you left the organization.

And then, what about all of those close friends that you spent hours with, over wine or beer, at celebrations and summer outings…what of them? It suddenly hits me that I don’t really know anything about these people, and nor do they know anything about me. Sure, I may know what they do for a living or that they play kickball on the weekends, and they may know what I do for a living and that I really like Corgis, but not much more. It hits me that one of the reasons I was ready to escape DC is that so many hours were spent talking about stuff that doesn’t matter, and a lot of it was negative. Commiserating about work. Gossiping about friends. Idle chatter about stuff happening in the city. It was like this giant juggling act of getting together with people because that’s what’s expected of us, when much of the time, we didn’t even really want to do it. I can barely count all 10 fingers as I think about the friends that I had real, deep conversations with – about books we read, and how our families and history have made us who we are, what our dreams are and where we’re going, our deep-seated fears and our moments of pure happiness and accomplishment.

Some of what I’m saying may piss people off, people that I hung out with. And that’s okay. I’ll say first that I’m grateful for all of my friends, no matter how close we were or weren’t – because life is full of all kinds of friendships, and some are deeper than others. But more than ever, as I spend week after week figuring out what I want to do with my life and figuring out what’s really, truly important to me, I’m not afraid to shed some layers I don’t need, and I’m not ashamed of expecting my friends to be the best they can be – authentic, caring, supportive, adventurous, and true – to me, and to themselves. Friendship isn’t about judging, and it’s not about trying to fix someone else’s problems. It’s not selfish, and it’s not about convenience.  So I’m going to do my best to be the friend that I would want to have, and not focus on the relationships that give me more heartache than joy.

There is so much more to life and to friendships than to talk about work and people on Twitter day in and day out – because there is so much more to each of us as individuals, and we all deserve a chance to really be ourselves in front of our friends.

Dreaming of the past and the future

"A connection between past and future"
Photo credit: gioiadeantoniis

The dreams keep coming. In them, people from my past filter through modern scenes – high school classmates, estranged family members, ex-boyfriends. Some meetings are awkward, some are familiar and comforting, some are wishful thinking. But almost every night for the last week, visions of my previous life have visited my dreams, making my days full of reflection and curiosity.

It’s not the first time this has happened, but why so much all at once? I suppose it’s fitting in this sabbatical I’ve been on for the last three months and counting. It fits right in with my only somewhat newly rekindled relationship with my grandparents that I hadn’t regularly spoken to or seen in more than 10 years. Or emails I’ve received from other relationships gone dry for various reasons throughout time. Or maybe because like they say, the past can be the key to your future?

For me, my past and the memories that go with it have always been a huge part of who I am. I review old diary entries, pull out photo albums again and again, and read letters and cards from loved ones that I first received years ago. A lot of what’s in my past, and who is in my past, have led to decisions I’ve made as an adult – some good, some bad. I’ve let my past run me over, and I’ve let my past remind me of what could be different in my present and my future. And like many others, I sometimes revisit my past when I shouldn’t, even though I know it will hurt me, again.

But more and more these days, I’m realizing that there’s a way to get closure with your past that doesn’t have to involve tears or fights or disappointment. And again, maybe because of this transition phase I’ve been in, I’ve given a lot more thought to who and what from my past I want to include in my life moving forward. Even if I decide that someone doesn’t necessarily need to play a role like they once did, I’ve found ways to acknowledge them and their impact on my life in a way that provides meaning to me, and makes me feel good about it, and I think and hope, for them.

But just because people appear in my dreams, doesn’t mean I’m compelled to reach out to them and reconnect. Sometimes, it just means I’m thinking about them and wish them well, or I am remembering happier times. And I know that as I continue to take the next steps in this journey I’m on, wherever I go, whatever I do, there will be even more people that are in my present life now that will end up in my past. That part I’m still a little worried about, because even now, it’s tough dealing with a loss of connection with friends I just left behind in DC a few months ago. But that’s what comes with moving and life changes of course. Perhaps they’ll be appearing in my dreams in the year to come.

All the feelings

A moment in time still rings true
A moment in time still rings true

Two weeks from today will be my last full day at my job. Three days after that, I get on a plane to California, and I’m not using my flight back. Whoa. (Catch up on the situation here.)

In the last few weeks, the emotions that accompany a giant leap like quitting your job and moving across the country to the unknown have been all over the place. Mostly anticipation and excitement, but also fear, sadness, nervousness, and doubt. Some mornings I wake up ready for the world, and ready for this new adventure, but within hours I’m freaking out about health insurance, not having enough moving boxes, and not being able to have a spontaneous happy hour with my best friend after work anymore.

As I’ve been cleaning out boxes and papers and stuff in my apartment, I came across an old journal I kept for a few years in high school specifically about my interests. My dad recommended it so I could narrow in on what I wanted to major in at college, and really start thinking about my career. It was hilarious to see how despite some phases of thinking I wanted to be a forensic psychologist or a counselor, I would charge back with notes about how I couldn’t stand math and science, and how I loved writing, reading, theater, and helping people. “Is there a job that pays well where I can just sit and read all day?” And the best: “I love writing. But it might not fulfill my wishes to help people.”

Today, I can look back and realize how those interests and passions we have in our youth are often the most real and true even after years of school and different jobs. And you know what? I feel pretty good about the fact that my work to date has both involved writing and helping people, or helping to do good. And now, I am going to do more of that, but just in a different way. I’m going to do what I wanted to do all those years as I sat in my room trying to write the next best-selling young adult series, and I’m going to help people, too  — maybe to be better writers, or readers.

Just now on TV, Madonna was being interviewed about a daring, yet very classically Madonna outfit she wore to an event. “There are no rules,” she said. “Just go by what you want.” I’m reminded by something my dad told me when I was struggling with an article for a magazine during an internship. It was a very dry piece, and I didn’t know much about the topic. Despite this, my dad said, “You can write it as is, or you can write it Madonna-style.” Over time, I’ve tried to remember that with my writing, no matter the topic, and with my life — to be true to me, to forget the rules, and to do what I want. It’s not always easy, but it is possible, and it’s worth the risk. And that’s what I’m doing now.

IMG_3955I’ve realized that in the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to set rules for myself, and unnecessary deadlines. I’ve tried to force myself to come to decisions about my work, my relationships, and my future, all by the time I step on the plane on May 24. But what I also realized, with the help of some friends and my parents, is that I’m under no one’s deadlines, and nothing has to happen, except of course the basics, like packing and getting out of my apartment. I can sit around for two months and not do any work, or I can have as much work as I want. I can embrace love and see what happens, and I can change my mind about any of it, whenever I want.

My apartment may be getting emptier as furniture is sold and boxes are packed, but my life is feeling more full by the day. I have been so fortunate to have all these wonderful friends and family and colleagues whom have been supportive and caring and proud and happy for me — and yes, sad — and that have been there for me to be all of those things with them, too.

In the next two weeks, as I’m thinking about spending time with my parents and Corgis and being able to pursue my dreams, I’m also thinking about leaving behind an amazing city that has provided me with opportunity, adventure, and the best friends I could ask for. As an only child, I always treasured my cousins and extended family so much in place of siblings. But these people here have become my family, too. They’ve watched me grow and evolve, they’ve seen me at my happiest, at my lowest, and all the in betweens. And I hope that you are all still there in the months and years to come, so I can be there for you, too, and we can share all the feelings, whatever they are, together.

Friends Forever (maybe)

They say that love may come and go, but friends are forever. They say that you can’t choose your family but you choose your friends. They say that friends are for life… but are they? More and more it seems like not.

I moved three times by the time I had started seventh grade. Each time, I though I would have trouble making new friends; each time, it worked out. In seventh grade at my new school, I met a girl at the lunch table that would become my best friend — we said we would be each other’s maids of honor, our kids’ godparents. After 13 years of friendship, we had a falling out over an email two years ago and we haven’t talked to each other since. So much for best friends forever. On the other hand, another friend I met in English class in seventh grade is still my friend, 15 years later, and I can see it continuing for many many more years. I haven’t talked to my freshman year roommate in several years but was a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding that lived across the hall from me sophomore year. Five of us girls from my first job in DC became close friends and attended weddings and showers and parties together, and although two of the girls have moved to different cities, and one is now in another country temporarily, we all email each other updates on our lives every few months. A friend I met at my second job moved across the country, but I text with her nearly every week. Yet I almost never hear from another friend I had been close to at the same job.

Recently, The New York Times ran a piece on the challenges of making new friends over a certain age. Although it focuses on people in their 30s and 40s with families, I think those of us in our mid and late 20s struggle with this, too. We also have what the author calls K.O.F.’s — Kind of Friends. There’s the friend you see at happy hours and you catch up with but don’t talk to otherwise. I have friends I met on vacations, some of whom I have seen again, some of whom I haven’t heard from since. There are the college friends that live in my city that I get brunch with once a year and that’s it. I have work friends who know a lot about my personal life and others that don’t know anything about who I really am, and I know little of them. I have friends I was close to for a few months and then our relationship fizzled away, not because anything bad happened, but because of life, and differing interests, and because plainly put, just as in dating, sometimes we’re just not that into each other.

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Give me one reason to stay here…

…and I’ll turn right back around. So goes the Tracy Chapman song. She’s been jilted, maybe cheated on, walked on, treated badly by her lover. We don’t know exactly what happened, but we do know that she’s tired of going through the same motions of feeling loved, then pushed aside. She wants a reason to stay — needs a reason to stay — or she’ll leave forever.

What are the reasons we stay? What does someone say, may it be a friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, neglectful family member, whomever, that make us stay and give them another chance? When do we reach our limit? What if one reason isn’t enough anymore and we need more?

Over the years I’ve thought about what makes me give in to relationships (be they romantic, platonic, or genetic) and give it one more shot. What words have been spoken, promises made, gestures shown, to make me turn around and come back and see if things get better? Perhaps it was an apology, perhaps it was the “but they’re such a good person” feeling, or the guilt creeping in, making me feel like I’m the bad person for wanting out. Sometimes I don’t know the reason, but I go back anyway…only to be disappointed again.

But none of the reasons have been worth it. That’s the whole point of the song, right? “I told you that I love you, and there ain’t no more to say.” If only it were that simple — we could just say I love you and things would get better. That the people hurting us, whether they realize it or not, intend to or not, would just magically fix things and we go skipping off into the sunset together. But the reality is that the reasons often don’t come through, and we’re left shaking our heads, turning away in disappointment, and wondering what could have been.

And for me…it’s often still not enough. I still want to fix it. I still want to be the one that makes it better, to figure out what’s wrong, why things aren’t working. It could be the meanest person in the world, and I’m the one wanting to make them nicer, wanting to know how I can be better for them.

I’ve worked hard in the last few years to realize that it can’t always be me, and it often shouldn’t be. That sometimes, there’s nothing I can fix, nothing I can make better, and hardest of all to hear — no reason for me to stay. Because staying will only make it worse, and staying won’t make me happier. So sometimes, it’s stopping and saying, hey, you asked for a reason to stay, and you didn’t get one…so it’s time to turn around — and not come back.

How do you know when that time is? We often don’t know, at least not right away. I’m famous for trying one more time, waiting a bit longer, and hoping someone will realize they’re messing up. It’s tiring, yet I’m that person still. Maybe because I have hope. Maybe because I’m a fool. In the end though, it’s as simple as remembering that I deserve better. And because I deserve better, and you deserve better, I ask for one reason I should stay — and if there is no answer, then I turn around. Because someone else down the road will have a reason, perhaps many reasons, that I should stay, and love them and be loved.