Monday, September 24, 2012

The Evolution of Friendships

I've had a surprising number of conversations recently about the evolution of friendships.  Mainly, about how sometimes it seems like we remain friends with those we met during childhood or high school in spite of the fact that we've grown up and changed.  Whereas we seem to be friends with those we met during college and after because we've grown up and changed.

I don't know if this is true for everyone, but it seems to be true for a lot of the people in my life right now and, to a certain extent, it's also true for me.  It's amazing how the seasons of our lives are marked by the friendships we made as well as the friendships we ended.

When I was a child, one of my best friends taught me to love books.  She was/is so incredibly smart and, though I didn't realize it at the time (and therefore balked at it when my 10 year old brain took any notice), she held me to a higher standard than I held myself.  She moved away when we were in the fifth grade but we somehow managed to check in with one another once or twice every five years or so.  We evolved.  We aren't best friends anymore, but we are definitely friends.  We've changed, but I still love her so dearly.  There are no strings attached to our friendship, no roles we claimed for ourselves as children that we've been unable to get out of as adults.  We are accepting of our individuality, our growth.  And I've come to recognize that the person I would be had we never been childhood friends is so very different from the person I am and the person I want to be.

There were also friendships made during my childhood that were never meant to grow up with me.  They were meant to teach me lessons, and then to fade away.  From these friendships, I learned about the kind of friend I'd been, and that I didn't want to be that anymore.  I didn't want to be judgmental or mean (as tween girls can so be).  I didn't want to be clique-y and exclusive.  Making fun of other girls, putting myself in a place of grade-school power just so I wasn't the one being made fun of was way to grow up.  It made me a lousy person.  These friendships taught me these lessons when they turned on me, when rumors flew and the catty stares I'd once given were now aimed my way.  It was a hard way to learn it, but I'm so grateful for it.  I'm not sure it could have been taught any other way.

At a certain point, our friendships can seem like rocky love affairs.  We are co-dependent and jealous, selfish and self-absorbed.  These relationships can burn bright and then burn out, and it's a painful struggle as you learn to let go.  I met a girl in middle school and we just clicked immediately.  She was, I now recognize, everything I wanted to be but wasn't.  We were opposites and we filled gaps in each other that needed to be filled for a time.  Where she was reckless, I was cautious; where she was in-your-face, I was mild-mannered.  My other friends tried to warn me off our friendship but I didn't listen.  We stopped being friends, the way high school girls do, more times than I can count before patching things up and being inseparable for another few months.  There was a final straw involving her and a boy I'd liked for 2 years.  I knew after that that this wasn't the kind of friendship I needed in my life.  I slowly started to back out of it.  After graduation, we lost touch almost completely.  Our lives have taken vastly different roads headed in almost opposite directions.  I see things now about her, about who I was then, about our friendship, that I wasn't able to see at 15.  We fed each others insecurities and were in constant competition for I don't know what.  But I'm still thankful that we were friends at all.  She allowed me to be a bit wild with her, and that's not something I was able to do elsewhere.  This was a friendship characterized by fun and freedom, even while we held one another down.

But not all high school friendships are like that one.  There are women in my life right now that have been with me forever.  We dealt with homesickness together during the first few weeks of boarding school.  We were fans of NSYNC together.  We obsessed about boys and wrote fan fiction together.  We got ready for school dances and got drunk off of Smirnoff Ice on beaches together.  We fell in love with Coldplay and screamed at football games together.  We cried at graduation together because we worried things would never be the same.  And now we're going to each other's weddings, texting one another from across the country, talking about jobs and babies and "Ohmygod, did you see that so-and-so from high school has five kids already?!"  These friendships are not always easy because we became friends with certain versions of ourselves -- so it can be hard to find commonalities between us as adults.  But we work at that.  And we try to give each other space to grow.  Because these friendships still bring something to my life; these women are familiar and funny and they know my story without me having to tell them.  They are the ones that I am 100% sure will be there for me in the darkest of times because they have been in the past, no matter what.  That bond is difficult to break.

And then there are the friendships we make as adults.  These friendships can seem the closest, the most immediate, because these are the friends you see or talk to all the time, the friends that the You you are now has chosen.  My current circle includes friends that were Nate's and are now mine, friends we've made together as a couple, and the friends I've made on my own either during or after law school.  I don't know how to explain these relationships other than to say that they are so engaging, so supportive and encouraging.  These are the friends I see at "Family Dinner" on Fridays and Saturdays.  These are the friends who come over to bring me wine and movies when I have a slipped disk.  These are my Girls Night and my camping crew.  They know my drink preferences and the fact that I want to become a long-distance hiker.  Our conversations are most often about issues like politics and greed and socialism and nutrition and poverty and education (and friendships...this blog post came from one of those conversations) because that's just what's important to us.  We are friendships built on ideas, on who we want to become, on who we are at the moment, and the things that drive us.  My life would be so much less without them right now.

This is all to say that I think the best friendships are the ones we choose to keep because they enrich us, they bring something to us and we know we can bring something to these friends.  Friendships, like all relationships, require work and acceptance and space and commitment.  But they are worth it.  Regardless of whether certain friendships have lasted or have faded, they have all been worth it.

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