Have you ever run into someone who was once a close friend and it feels awkward and uncomfortable? That happened to me in my mid 20’s. I was walking through Fashion Island and I saw an old friend coming toward me. (I will call her Valerie.) I couldn’t believe my eyes. I hadn’t seen Valerie in nearly 10 years! I was so excited to bump into her! I called out her name in disbelief. She looked and saw me. She smiled and gave me a light tap-tap hug. I was hyper, ecstatic, smiling from ear to ear, saying “OH MY GOD! I can’t believe it’s you! How’ve you been?!” She replied “Great. Listen, I’m in a hurry. I gotta run. It was great seeing you...” and she hurried off. I was shocked at her aloofness and complete disregard for the excitement that it should have been to see ME…her one-time close friend! I shrugged it off, believing that maybe I had just caught her at a bad time. I was bummed that we didn’t exchange phone numbers. Valerie had been in my life during my mom’s final years and she was Argentinean too. I used to see her weekly at the Argentine Club for two years straight. We had had so much fun and so much in common back then…
It was probably about a year later, I was walking this time through South Coast Plaza and who should I pass by…Valerie. Again, I was elated at the coincidence of seeing her AND once again, at a shopping mall! Weird! I said “Hey, Valerie!!” This time though, I didn’t even get a chance to give her a hug or ask her how she was doing. She literally waved at me as she walked past me and said “Sorry. I’m in a hurry!” WTF?! Now I was pissed and offended. And hurt. My boyfriend had been with me both times and had witnessed her behavior. He thought she was rude and definitely not someone worth chasing after any longer. It was clear that the friendship was over and that what I had perceived of our one-time closeness was not of importance to her any longer.
About four or five years ago, I came to the realization that every friendship serves a purpose. Some friends are meant to stay forever in our lives and some are just passing through. I came to this realization when another friend who had been close to me at one time, no longer was. (I will call her Susie.) Susie and I went from talking on the phone daily, multiple times a day for about two years, down to weekly, then down to monthly, and now to only sending each other text messages for birthdays. Susie and I just seemed to have outgrown our need for one another. We had met during some rough times in each of our lives but then once the storm passed, we drifted apart. It was sad at first and I missed Susie and the closeness we had once shared, but little by little I started to adjust to the change. As I made peace with the new dynamics in our friendship, I saw that we had each served a purpose in each other’s lives but once those needs had been met and fulfilled, it was time to move on.
I have often thought of myself as sort of a “friend whore”. I am not a one-friend-woman. I have a variety of close friends but all for different reasons. Different friends serve different roles in my life. I have my “fun friends” – the girls I go to for laughter and silliness and dancing and singing. I have my “adoptive mom friends” – the women I go to about the ups and downs of having an open adoption and the added layers of parenting that adoption brings. I have my “infertility friends” – the women who I went to during failed cycles and after learning about friends’ pregnancies. I have my “baby loss friends” – the women who understood the pain of a childless Mother’s Day and Christmas morning. I have my “long-time friends” – the ones who have been with me a long time or who I feel like I have known a long time from the start. They have heard all or most of my life stories and have helped me through them, each in their own special way. And some friends fall into more than one category, but all of them have a very special purpose in my life.
Reflecting on my high school years, I now see that I had a similar pattern in friendships then too. I had different sets of friends for different purposes in my life. I had Maggie of course, but I also had other best friends. Maggie and I were best friends by default. We shared a pre-school past; a history; but when Maggie and I reunited during Sophomore year, I had two other best friends (I will call them Jessica and Sara) that I had made during Freshman year. I also had this new aspect in my life of being motherless. But I didn’t have a friend who understood what that was like…until I met new friends at school.
During the first couple of weeks of my Junior Year, shortly after returning to school from Argentina, I met a Senior in the library. She was serving a detention while I was in my Study Hall period. (I will call her Ramona.) Ramona and I started talking and I no longer remember how but we discovered that we had both lost our mothers. I felt like I had met my idol. Up until that point, I didn’t have any friends who had lost their mother. We instantly connected. She was funny, sarcastic, smart, and had sort of a bad-ass attitude. Soon after meeting Ramona, she introduced me to a friend of hers, also a Senior, who had lost her father. (I will call her Margie.) I looked up to Ramona and Margie so much. They “got me”. They knew what I was feeling. They knew my pain. Ramona would call me her “baby” and she took on a maternal role with me which I now think is so funny (due to the fact that she was only a year older) and sweet. Ramona and I would swap dad stories and she would validate me with “what a living hell it is” (her words) to lose your mom at such a young age.
Sometime during the first months of the school year, I also developed a friendship with Chrissy, my classmate whose father had died during Sophomore year. I introduced Chrissy to Ramona and Margie and they also became instant friends. The four of us shared the loss of a parent which made us feel connected in our misery. It was my first experience seeing that something good can come out of something bad. Had I never lost my mom, I probably wouldn’t have formed these friendships with these girls. But tragedy brought us together and I was so grateful to have them – especially Chrissy.
Chrissy and I became very close, very quickly. She could be silly and goofy like me and she had a huge personality that could light up a room. What I cherished most about Chrissy is that not only did we have a ton of fun but we could also have the uncomfortable conversations that we couldn’t have with a lot of our other friends. It was ok to say to one another “Today marks my mom’s/dad’s month-aversary” or “I really miss my mom/dad today.” We understood what that meant for us and we didn’t cringe hearing it or saying it. We could share with one another the drama going on at home with our remaining parent. We could cry together and we could even go to the cemetery together.
Also during Junior year, Maggie’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember sitting together in my car after school one day, both of us crying like little girls at the news. I was devastated that she could also possibly lose her mother. I felt awful that Maggie was in the same situation that I had once been in – living with the fear of losing your mother. We felt so blessed to be able to support one another during the most difficult times in our lives. We both felt so fortunate to have each other. We related to each other on so many levels - especially our family-life, our culture, and our dads.
Then there were Jessica and Sara. I loved those two so much! They had been with me since Freshman year and we were inseparable. The three of us just clicked. We thought we were hilarious and could make each other laugh like no one else could. We were each other’s biggest fans. We ate lunch together every day. Jessica and I talked on the phone after school every day. We hung out together on the weekends or watched American Bandstand while talking on the phone about which dancers we thought were cute. When we went on vacations, the three of us sent letters and postcards to each other. We just couldn’t get enough of each other. Just like Ramona took on a maternal role with me, I did the same thing with Jessica. I thought of her not just as a best friend, but I also had the instinct to protect her and to be the mom of the group. It was as though when I lost my mother, I had had to become my own mother and I became Jessica’s mom too along the way. This weekend, I asked Jessica if she remembers me talking about my mom or about my problems with my dad. She said she does. But I have no memory of those conversations with her despite seeing things written in my journal about talking to her and Sara about it. The most vivid memories I have are of us laughing and having fun wherever we went together; we would laugh until we cried (or peed a little). I have fun memories of going dancing with Jessica; memories of singing “Blister in the Sun” with Sara in Jessica’s Pinto; memories of inside jokes and goofy shenanigans that only we could pull off. Jessica and Sara were two very bright spots in my life during such a dark time. They brought me "sunshine days" during the cloudiest of days and made me feel that the Brady Bunch weren’t lying when they sang “you and me, ya, we’ll always be friends”. I am so happy and grateful to have had them then…and now. Their purpose was to make me laugh and have fun at a time when I didn't think I could.
I say I am a “friend whore” because I’ve always been the type of person who can have a very close friendship with more than one person. I don’t know if this is common or not. Sometimes I think it isn’t too common because some of my friends say they don’t have a lot of close friends. Sometimes I worry that my friends won’t feel “special” because they aren’t my one and only close friend or that they will question my sincerity or loyalty knowing this “friend-sluttiness” about me. Sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with me for being able to give my whole heart to more than one friend and to be so vulnerable and open with a number of them.
I am not a good “surface friend”. I am a very good “deep friend” though. I am someone who is highly in tune with her feelings and emotions; so I often try to get my close friends to do the same. I want them to experience their lives with insight and to develop the ability to analyze and reflect on their actions and choices, like I work on doing daily. I can have really deep, meaningful conversations with friends about all sorts of subjects, but I suck at small talk and nonsense talk. (This is why it pains me to go to parties. I hate the small talk!)
I have always been what I consider an “open book”. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I don’t hide my emotions nor do I have issues expressing myself or sharing my stories and feelings (as I’m sure you’ve gathered from this blog). I am someone who listens and tries to show compassion without judgment. I always try to put myself in other people’s shoes. So maybe these qualities are what make it easier for people to open up to me and/or form a closeness with me. I also love telling my friends what they mean to me and how much I value them. Not only do I think it makes them feel good to know it, it makes me feel good to tell them. I want them to know that they’ve made a difference in my life and that I cherish them. If I should lose them tomorrow, I never want to have any regrets of wishing I would have told them what they meant to me.
I believe that we teach by example and that the more we lead, the more others will follow. Or at least that is the intention. I have another close friend (let’s call her Olivia) who has a hard time saying “I love you” to people other than her husband and kids. I rarely say “I love you” to her because I don’t want to make her uncomfortable or put her on the spot and let’s face it...no one wants to say it and not hear it back – even if it’s with a friend. But once in a while, I have let it slip out and I give her a hard time and joke with her about saying it to me. We laugh and she explains herself to me every time. I know Olivia loves me by her actions and her gestures but still, truth be told, I wish we would freely say it to each other like I do with other close friends. Not too long ago, as we were hanging up, I blurted it out once more, just on the off chance that maybe this would be the time she said it back. And she responded “I love you too.” I couldn’t believe my ears! I yelled “YOU SAID IT!” I was so happy! She just mumbled something, probably annoyed with my over-reaction. Olivia probably doesn’t realize just how much that meant to me.
As I was writing this, it occurred to me…just like my friends serve a purpose in my life, I must serve a different purpose in each of theirs. But what those purposes are, I don’t exactly know. So many times, I’ve felt awkward and uncomfortable telling one close friend about another close friend; I’ve felt uneasy about possibly hurting their feelings or making them feel unimportant or insignificant. I have felt guilty that I have more than one special, close friend. But now I wonder...maybe part of my purpose is to shed some light on our capacity to love and to give our hearts to our friends. I have learned that openness leads to connectedness and connectedness leads to joy. Maybe part of my purpose is to show my friends that it’s ok to open your heart (with the right people); to be vulnerable (with the right people); to take a chance in sharing your story with others; to make new friends and continue to build on the friendships you already have. My BFF, Maggie gave me a gift a few weeks ago. It’s a wall plaque that says: “Your beautifully messy complicated story matters (Tell it)” Maybe that is part of my purpose – not just to tell my own story, but to lead my friends by example and with encouragement to do the same.