What is friendship?
I'm a little amped right now because I was home all day with the kiddos during this effing pandemic part deux and my husband got the old, "heres the children, I'm leaving to go be a normal adult for a couple hours, good luck buddy" (with some teeth clenching and an obvious edge bordering on aggressive, I'm trying though.) I know there's a post on that at some point in me brewing, but I don't think that writing on it with a budding resentment will be super helpful to anyone and especially to my relationship, so more on that another time.
What I wanted to talk about today is friendship. And I guess how much I suck at it. This is such an odd topic because I've never found an adult yet who is willing to hash this out with me in person, maybe... Okay, I know what a therapist would say anyhow (I happen to be one!). They'd say "well, what have you done to try to build friendships?" And this is where I'd talk about smiling a lot, trying to be friendly to people, inviting people to do stuff and going to stuff other people invite me to when I genuinely can (which I'll be honest isn't often). Throw being sober on top of it and it can get weird when the great American pastime as adults seems to be hanging and drinking together (on a boat, at a restaurant, while dancing, after a run, after work, on weekends at the pool etc). Maybe it's because I live in a small town and the demographics of my would-be friends just run low? Okay, I'm going to throw something that seems a little narcissistic out there, but stay with me (if you want to).
My husband and I own a business that has done fairly well for us. We could live ocean front if we wanted to, lets put it that way (and we do, just haven't pinned down the right house yet). And the older I get the more okay I am with being well-off so to speak. But I don't look the part you know. I don't wear make-up, I'm often wearing running clothes or t-shirts and cut off shorts etc. I don't exactly know where I'm going with all this, just that I feel like I'm a pretty approachable and open kind of person (I'm a therapist for Gods sake). But in my circle of friends (mostly moms in recovery or just generally women in recovery,) I'm not having a lot of girl-time. No dinners, coffee, brunch, jogs etc. We do meet on Sundays to talk but it's in a recovery format (ie a meeting) where yes, we get to catch up and the talks are deep, but outside of this time, I feel excluded and I sometimes feel it has to do with a class division so to speak. I know my sponsor would say this is a positive (in the end,) "You don't want to hang with people who don't want to hang with you!" And she's right, I don't. I've come far enough on my self-love journey to feel like I want to be wanted not just tolerated or accepted in a group. But I often wonder if I'm alone in this dilemma of adult friendship or am I just overly self-indulgent (narcissism again?). Now we occasionally meet up with people for dinner maybe every-other month or go to a kid's b-day party or baby shower that I consider being invited to because I am "friends" with this person. I put quotations on the word friends because obviously there are different layers to friendship and people in your circle who you do b-day parties with is one layer. A somewhat obligatory yet pleasant time to let the kiddos run wild and talk. Maybe its the pandemic, or maybe the pandemic is just exacerbating an already sore spot on my ego, but I just don't feel that connected to the women around me near or far. Other than my sponsor, there's just not that many people who I feel really "know me, know me." You get what I'm saying. And some of you are thinking that I am mostly to blame for said condition and you could be quite right.
I feel it only helps if I go into my friendship history in order to paint the full picture. I have had some great friends in my lifetime. Some really amazing people. I'll start in elementary school, My first best friend was Julia, but she went to a different school than me, so by 6 it was Tristan, she was strong, confident and we had the same nanny after school until 5th grade when she told me she had to drop me for the "cool kids" and the terms of her becoming cool was losing me as a friend. This was very devastating for me, and I never told my parents until I was in my late 20s. Yes, I did inventory on it when I got sober. Then there was Medwyn, she may have been the best one of all. She was decidedly uncool, but the sweetest, kindest, and huggiest friend ever. She and I were kindred spirits playing Pogs, trying to call in to the radio shows, dying our hair and having sleepovers. We remained best friends through middle school but were destined for different high-schools and I kind of started to distance myself from her emotionally during 8th grade and she felt it. Needless to say in freshman and sophomore years of high-school we didn't see each other much without a drivers' license and by the time we could drive the friendship was over and gone, faded away in the crowds of our own respective high-schools and peers therein. In high school early on I met Courtney and she lived right down the street from me. We rode the bus together and hung out and slept over and joined the lacrosse team together. She got a boyfriend sophomore year and we drifted apart and I met Heather, Ana, and Katey. They were in my grade and liked to skip school and experiment with drugs and were tight. And I wanted to have friends like that. I ended up being their fourth piece to the puzzle. During my junior and senior year however, I started to hang out with Chelsea. She was a grade lower than me but we played lacrosse together and would hang out after practice. She introduced me to all kinds of music and I swear I've still never laughed as hard as I did with her. She ended up kind of joining my other posse at times too. After high school we all melded together and partied it up in college. In the end it was Heather, Chelsea and I, though Heather remained close with Katey, it was usually the three of us all the time. When I got sober they were both at my intervention along with another friend named Katie we'd met in the bar scene who was an amazing hair stylist and one of the sweeter people I've met. Getting sober was one of the hardest things I ever had to do coupled with the fact that I had to draw really hard boundaries with these three women who were my everything. I told them I needed 3 months of radio silence to go get sober. I had been struggling to not drink and relapsed a few times hanging out with them in bars in the beginning. I told them that, if what holds us together is more than drinking, when I come back it'll be better than before...We ended up going to brunch. I had a little over 90 days clean and had told my sponsor about going to see them again. I was so excited. During the 90 days I'd met a lot of people who were sober or getting sober like me and had started some really nice new friendships in the program. When I met up for brunch on the weekend with my old friends they all ordered mimosas. They asked me if it was okay and I said "sure," but inwardly I felt uneasy. I didn't have a lot of clean time, and was about to be surrounded by my drinking buddies swilling champagne and OJ. In their defense, they didn't know much (anything) about sobriety or sober people or what I'd been going through because of being incommunicado with me. As the date wore on, they got a little more tipsy and were talking about all of their recent exploits in the bar scene. I started to feel really uncomfortable. I had spent the last 3 months running, quitting smoking, working the steps, going to lots of meetings, hanging out at coffee shops with people and talking about my newfound spirituality and being of service. I was out of shit-talking practice and the difference in our trajectories in the moment felt so vast and full of grief and so strange. Like I was sitting in the chair of a person I wasn't anymore. I had become estranged from my old life so quickly and I really couldn't go back. For me, to drink was to die and I was scared. I left that breakfast trying to keep a brave face on for them, but inwardly I was reeling and a little shell-shocked. I called my sponsor and just cried. I cried because I loved (still do) them so much, but I didn't fit with them anymore. One of those women is sober today and the other two seemed to get on with life without needing to seek outside help. In sobriety I formed a few friends early on but mostly hung out with my sponsor. I found a friend named Beth who is still one of the best friends I ever had. She and I were navigating relationships in recovery together and she always had my back. She'd invite me over for chocolate after every breakup and we'd spend all day at her kitchen table laughing and talking and crying. I don't know if there's a bigger heart in this world than her. She had two boys too that I love and was so happy they had a sober mom, she has been a good example for me with my littles. When I quit smoking the second time I had befriended a girl with my same name and another woman, Elisabeth in the program and we deigned to train for a marathon together. If you've ever run long distances with other people then you know that these are your blood brothers and sisters. Something deep happens when you connect through a common struggle. I will love these women like sisters for my life. They now live in Idaho and Texas respectively. During the time I was quitting smoking and getting out of a terrible relationship and changing my diet I met Cyn. She went to my home-group in Austin and she just understood me without any judgement. Some of my other friends were tired of my same sad story about my ex and had actually set boundaries around me talking about it anymore, but not Cyn. She, much like Beth, just got that it wasn't black and white. She too had struggled with codependency and was a runner and we'd run and go out to eat and laugh at ourselves, and we grew up together in navigating self-love and relationship. She never judged and I flew home to go to her wedding to help her celebrate when she found The One. I will forever love this woman. But this is where my story has taken a pause.
We moved to Saint Augustine Florida 7 years ago. I have made some great friends around here, but no one that I'd say was ride or die, except for maybe my sponsor. She has my back no matter what, but she is a busy business woman, and also my sponsor, so I know I need to preserve that relationship for what it is. Nonetheless, we are going running together tomorrow morning, and I couldn't be happier. I don't have a close relationship with my brother either and I feel the pangs of loneliness when I hear of those who hang with their siblings. My parent's weren't great blueprints for me either with their respective friend circles. Most of their relationships were transactional or by default because they went to the same yoga class or photography group. My dad has owned and run restaurants my whole life and many people have been with him for over 20 years so many of his friends are employees. My mother does have a best friend who I love. So that has been a good example for me. They met in Law School in 1988 and still go walking together a few mornings a week. Now my husband has a lot of friends from childhood that he still feels comfortable calling on the phone and catching up with for a few hours a few times a year. I am always envious of this, like they don't talk or do anything but they always check in and text and it's cool. I guess I could do this and I don't know why I don't. I always feel like I don't want the person to feel obligated or feel awkward, or maybe I'm bothering them by taking this time out of their life. I guess I just feel really insecure in the connections I have or had with people. Like they are just sort of holding their breath until I finish talking so they can get back to their lives. What is that? Where did that come from? I certainly don't feel like that when other people talk to me so I don't know why it is so pervasive for me. I know I'm not alone. I've shared about this in meetings before and had people come up to me afterwards and say they feel the same way.
Sometimes I think its the society that we grew up in. Separated in our own little boxes, focusing more on little glowing screens versus talking to our neighbors. It really does take a village to raise a child and I have sadness when I think about my girls (and myself) not having a tribe to lean on. One of the reasons 12 step fellowships grew and blossomed, in my opinion, is because there is true community there. It is a place to sit and talk about our stories and be seen and heard. No matter how trivial it may seem, you have just as much right to be there and be heard as the next person. There is no classism, sexism, racism, or if there is, it is left at the door for an hour. There's an inclusiveness not found anywhere else in the world to me (so far). Everyone in your life can shut you out and dislike you and members of the program will welcome you in and give you a cup of coffee and just listen because someone did it for them and they see the value of life even at its lowest points. It is the most beautiful thing in the world and it's what I have been searching for my whole life. But life is not a meeting. Although, I think there is a lot of real-world applicability. I do believe that the right people are in my life at the right times and I am truly grateful for all that I've been blessed to be in company with.
Another obstacle to friendship for me has been that I am a serial monogamist. Meaning, I am and have almost always been in a relationship with a steady boyfriend (now husband) since I was 19. There is about an 8 month period of time that I was not in a committed, monogamous relationship for my whole life, and I guess that person just satisfied a lot of my social needs (sigh). One of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, wrote an essay about his friend's theory on life, that you can only have so many good things in life, but not all, like you can have a career and family, but at the sacrifice of friendships. Maybe that's right, maybe you can't have it all. Or maybe it's just the season of life we're in where our kiddos are little and friendship will come later, when we have more time. Either way, it's okay. My social needs are actually pretty small, I just get a little lonely at times and I think I really miss my old friends a lot. I'm pretty ready for the world to get back together again a little. This is a strange world we live in now and I know we are all just coping the best way we know how to. To all the would-be friends out there, hello (!), I love you (!), I hope you are happy, and I miss you. Amen.