On Friendships

Friendship has been a life-saver for me, sometimes literally.

Growing up, there was constant struggle and strife. Divorce, remarriage and the constant fighting and my mom and step-dad always being on the brink of divorce.

There was my constant struggle for autonomy, because my mother couldn’t, wouldn’t let go and trust me enough to make good choices. “Do this, don’t do that, get your head out of your ass, stop whining, stop arguing, stop exaggerating, stop daydreaming, I don’t want to hear it, you’re grounded, you’re going to end up in the poorhouse if you don’t do as I say”. It was worse than that at times, as I’m finally admitting in print the abuse she dished out, and the abuse she allowed my sister to do to me, and how it changed the path of my life.

I toed the line as best I could, being the “rule keeper” and “peace-maker” for a while. I didn’t have any boyfriends in high school, so there wasn’t much to be grounded from, until I was 18 and started dating. Then I was always grounded.

It wasn’t enough to attack me, but also to pick on the men I cared about. No one was good enough. It’s not that they wanted someone wonderful for me, it’s that they wanted no one for me.

But then I took a stand, and fought back. All the while I worked on putting myself through college. I was never going to be in that situation of under anyone’s control again. So I chose the biotech field, and moved up and changed jobs so that I was involved in challenging work and surrounded by highly intelligent people.

It was challenging, and stressful at times. The upside was that I made some wonderful, close friendships along the way. I’m the type of person that once if you become my friend, and there is mutual respect and understanding that we both benefit from, you are my friend for life.

My longest running friend is R, from 8th grade. I don’t have friends from before 8th grade only because I moved from New Mexico back to the Midwest, were I was born. We are on 25 years of friendship this year. I look back and can’t believe how much we’ve shared together. He knows all about life at home when I was growing up. I know about his too. We shared lots of hurts together and it felt good to be accepted and we always enjoyed our time together. We went on countless hours of walks together, and simply did silly stuff, like deliberately go to grocery stores in the middle of the night just to people watch and giggle. He’s now just starting his own family and it’s wonderful to hear his love and appreciation for his not-quite-newborn son.

Then there was Dave, my first “older man”. I was 17 and a senior in HS and he was 18 and a college man. He studied the likes of Shakespeare and Nietzsche and talked with me til the wee hours of the morning about philosophy, particularly existentialism (angst was Dave’s favorite word and I had plenty of teenaged angst to talk about with him), and turned me on to Monty Python and dry humor and expanded my world a little bit as he came home with stories of university life. I loved him dearly as a friend and yet, that one fateful night, after philosophizing till wee hours of the morning (okay 1 am, which to a teenager was close enough) he gave me the most perfect first kiss in the history of all first kisses (I shall tell about it some day) and later wrote me a poem about my eyes. Ah, but as life should have it, I didn’t recognize him as anything other than a friend, things fell apart (and I didn’t mean for it to happen that way…I was young, and stupid and scared of the change in our relating). He helped me make sense of what was going on with my family situation.

I’m still friends with my first love, P. I met him when I was 18 (21 years ago), but my mom wouldn’t allow the relationship. She instantly hated him. And even though we managed 9 months together, we eventually realized we were losing the battle and broke up. We remained friends since then though. We dated other people, but we wrote each letters for 4 years while he was in the Navy. We grew up apart, but we never forgot each other. He’s a really great guy and has his own family now (he has 2 sons). Our families get along well too, and we’ve gone on 3 family vacations together. We are planning our fourth in a few weeks. We rent a condo on a lake (yeah, doesn’t it sound like we are rich? Trust me, we aren’t) together to share expenses that has a kitchen and we cook breakfast and lunch in the condo to save on costs and dinner out and do a few days of waterparks.

Then there is D, my colleague/mentor/father-figure (he’s 17 years older than me and he’s like the dad I wish I had – don’t get me wrong, my real dad is turning out to be a great guy, but for 19 years I never really saw or spoke to my real dad) from my crime lab days. He is truly a kindred spirit. Like a male version of me in a lot of ways. Deeply philosophical, deeply compassionate, sensitive and funny. He is the go-to guy when life is running you over. He’ll sit and listen, offer his observations and offer possible explanations/interpretations, all the while understanding that it may not be the only explanation out there and accepting that he might be off-base. He’ll gently suggest thinking about things in a different way or kindly help you figure out a way to accept the way things are.

My other close friend, Barb (who was about 16 years older than me), was willing to sit with me too and share things with me. Her brand of wit wasn’t always appreciated and looking back, I realize she was probably profoundly gifted. She had a really difficult time playing by the rules, had some deeply held opinions and was very rigid at times. This didn’t earn her points with her employers and co-workers. Her lack of success in her professional life was most likely due to this. I was the only one to see past her facade and dealt with her when most other people wouldn’t. She ruffled my feathers occasionally, but my desire to keep her friendship helped to smooth our bumpy roads. She constantly referred to her ex as “The Absolute Ruler”. He left her when she went off to pursue her Ph.D. in biochemistry. I sensed that left her broken and bitter. She tried to hide her pain behind a “tough old bird” exterior, but I knew she’d be a different person had that not happened. She died a few years back to cancer, and I’ve missed her ever since. I know I’ve dreamed of her 3 times since her passing, and I think she haunted me once at the lab after hours. I’m only half kidding. I was writing about her in an email to a friend, and I heard noises. When I said, “Barb, if you are here, please stop scaring me” or something to that effect, the noises stopped.

I’ve spent a little bit of time on the phone with D. lately, trying to come to understand what to do with the current dearth of real face-to-face contact with people I call my friends. My close friends are living their lives. He and my other friends live far enough away that running out for a cup of coffee is not possible.

I realized I need the deep philosophical discussions, the deep sensitivity, the deep understanding and wisdom that comes with friends like I had that either knew me in my former life, or that were older than me and were able to help me understand things I didn’t. In the 5 years I’ve been a SAHM, I’ve never found a friend like that in real life. I’ve come close to it at times on the internet.

But the internet is so damn limiting. It’s not the same as real life interaction and it’s incredibly difficult to interpret someone’s feelings or tone, or to ask for clarification, or to see the non-verbal responses that give you a clue as to what is going on in the other person’s mind that they may not be telling you or may want to tell you but can’t bring themselves to.

I fail incredibly hard at maintaining internet friendships for this reason. I’ve tried with two different people and both times I found that there is communication barriers. I found myself thinking, “but that’s not what I meant” and having my intentions misunderstood. I kept thinking to myself it must be me, because I’m having difficulty feeling understood. I’m told my explanations are defensive posturing (maybe they were, maybe they weren’t), saying “I won’t do it again” falls on deaf ears, and I get told I’m doing things I’m not trying to do. “Don’t exaggerate; don’t be sarcastic; don’t say it this way, say it that way; don’t ask questions; don’t patronize me”. But I’m not, but I wasn’t, but I didn’t mean to.

If the persons really knew me, really could know my sincerity that I am not trying to make things like they are perceived, then they wouldn’t say those things to me and I wouldn’t be trying to push them away. I don’t want a friendship that dictates to me how I should express myself. Or say dismissive things when I try to be sympathetic, or tell me not to be glib when I am not trying to be. It was becoming clear that I wasn’t doing something right most of the time.

I realize I can’t be treated like that. I don’t like to be told what I should be doing (ask my mother about that one) or how I should be saying things. But what about tolerance for the way I do things or say things? Assume positive intent with me, that’s all I ask.

I realized then it’s hopeless. The internet can be such a beneficial thing in some regards, but in others, it’s just not capable of conveying the things in a way that a face-to-face conversation would. Misunderstandings could be clarified immediately, tone could be understood, the non-verbal signs would be able to be a guide.

I seek a friend to someone who understands where my heart is and with whom I don’t need to struggle with syntax out of fear my intent will be misunderstood. It’s exhausting.

I’m going to work harder at my real life friendships. I’m going to start making new friends and see if I can’t get somewhere with them instead. I need wisdom, philosophical thought, new ideas and I need to voice mine in an atmosphere that I feel is empathetic and accepting with how I express myself. If the person can’t handle it, well, that’s their misfortune. I’m a wonderful, caring friend. But sometimes that’s not what someone wants. We have differing opinions of things.

This internet stuff is way too difficult for me to do that with sometimes. I can’t do it and I dislike it when I repeatedly fail to get my points across. I like who I am and people who really know me do too. I’ve never been this big a failure at friendship until I tried making online ones that might have been going somewhere.

Something just gets lost in translation.

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14 Responses to On Friendships

  1. Meagan says:

    Hello,
    My name’s Meagan. I’m a long time reader of your blog, first time commentor.

    I have had a few failed online friendships. Finding a connection with someone I can relate to is a challenge in itself as I am not unlike your middle daughter. I’ve dealt with Selective Mutism my entire life and I’m 27.

    I’ve been into the online socializing thing for some time. The ironic thing though is that I write to my Selective Mute friends through Youtube.com instead of talking to them with video responses.

    Your blog certainly has given me some perspective on what my mother might have gone through. Though she didn’t have the wealth of information that you do now with the internet.

    I must be feeling lonely enough to write this. I hope you find the extra connection and insight you’re looking for. I should go write to my friends. It’s been awhile since I’ve done that.

    🙂

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Meagan –

    I really appreciate your coming forward to share with me. I understand how difficult this is for you to do so. I’ve got such compassion for those who struggle with SM.

    I just clicked on your hyperlink and saw the video there (and I know that many people don’t know what it is or could even recognize what it was). Now that I know what it looks like (and yes, there is a whole lot more information out there now than ever before), I notice a lot of young children who shy away from interactions with others. I try to share our story with parents of those children who don’t understand why their children struggle. Some children may be your typical “slow to warm up child”, but with others (especially when I see older children struggle) it seems that they might be exhibiting signs of selective mutism.

    For some parents, even like me, I had no idea what it was until someone (in my case my own mom) recognized the possibility of selective mutism.

    Things are better for my daughter. She still has moments of mutism, but only among strangers (which is totally fine by me). She’s adjusting well to this year in school. I’m keeping an eye on it and encouraging her the best I can.

    We have lots of conversations about her feelings and her fears. She’s less fearful in school and now just has generalized anxiety about some things, but she is getting better at articulating them to me and we work on them together.

    Thank you again for sharing with me. I wish you well.

    Come say hello at any time.

  3. Tonya says:

    Well, I wish I could be your friend! Hmm, we are both scientists, raising smart girls with “issues”, utilizing AP and GD methods, and struggling with the loneliness of being a SAHM. Call me, seriously.

    I too suffer from lack of satisfying and meaningful friendships. I found myself envying your descriptions of male friendships in your post, because that is who I always had as best friends prior to marriage and mommying. Even now, I get along better with my best friend’s dh than I do her.

    Anyway, blessed by your musings, as always.
    -Tonya

  4. Tonya says:

    umm…and you got to go to Bristol! I miss it so much!! Ren Fairs in FL are lacking.

  5. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Tonya –

    Thanks so much for the kind thoughts. I really am touched. 🙂

    I just might email ya. It’s a little late now to do so (I’m up because I’ve got a bit of insomnia going on), but I think I will be sending an email your way very soon.

    You know what it’s like to be me a little bit then. We seem to have been living parallel lives.

    I guess I haven’t realized that I am being heard when I write here. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just whining and who wants to listen to that.

    So you’ve been to Bristol too? Very cool. Did you live nearby Wisconsin then (I’m 1.5 hours away from there).

  6. Tonya says:

    I worked in the Chicago far northwest suburbs for a few years when I was working in field (long before dd). I miss it, but maybe not the long winters.

    I am on GCM, Auroras Mom.

  7. Deb J says:

    Casey, just found time to check back to your blog. The email notification of an update didn’t work, for some reason. It’s been a busy summer.

    I connected with you a few months ago about my “explosive child” whom you described, quite aptly, I think, as probably suffering from reactive hypoglycemia (I’ll write on that in a minute in the other area).

    I was struck by your opening post because it could’ve been me writing. My husband and I have always had communication problems. I somehow thought we could get past them as we got more intimate and he felt he could trust me. But I have come to understand that we are simply wired differently–and that difference may well be part of the frustration I’m also experiencing with my daughter.

    I, too, have turned to the internet a great deal in search of connections and conversations and friendships that I haven’t been able to achieve in person. I’ve resisted creating my own blog because I knew that it could completely consume me. I did join Facebook last month under protest, only because I had applied for a job that required experience with social media. I have since gotten a little addicted, having been able to reconnect with many old friends, share photos, etc., and have some fun interactions with current friends. I try to restrain myself to writing when the rest of the family is asleep, but if I’m in the middle of a particularly interesting exchange, sometimes I can’t help myself. Then I feel guilty about it, then I get snappy because I’m guilty. Ugh. The fact that I am a night owl by nature and he needs 13 hours of sleep every night doesn’t help, just gives me a ready excuse to stay up (like now!).

    It’s been a fascinating experience, however, this reconnection. One thing I’ve found is that I have very little in common with most of the people who were my best friends in high school. However, although our lives may have few similarities now, being able to share old memories is wonderful, especially since my parents are both gone.

    But I have found new and exciting friendships with people with whom I was only remotely acquainted back then. Kids I grew up with in our small town, but never befriended. One was a cheerleader, always perky and grinning. Hated her. But lo and behold I find she is an amazing person, and we have had fantastic email exchanges. Another was a rival in spelling bees. He was fat in school, a geek. I have come to find out that his mom died while he was in high school, and his dad had a hard time managing. He was depressed and apathetic. Now, we share experiences and perspectives as journalists and we find we have lots of things in common. I so reget the judgments I made back them in my own effort to try to be more popular.

    I so relate to what you say about seeking satisfaction elsewhere. I have felt quite a bit lately that my marriage was in trouble. I have tried to talk to my husband, begged him to talk to me, to trust me. But I feel like he’s intimidated by me, by my intensity. He, too, often struggles to find words. Where I LIVE for intense, deep, philosophical, one-on-one conversations, he shuns them.

    To me, it seems like he accumulates an entire series of thoughts in his head, then he downloads them when he feels he has a window of opportunity. It’s not always socially appropriate, which is embarrassing. He tends to interrupt other people when they try to respond, because his thoughts need to keep coming out, like a train that can’t stop. What’s worse, it seems like he doesn’t even notice that it’s awkward. He never apologizes to the other person when he overruns their words.

    With me, he reacts quickly when he feels he’s being judged, or when he feels I’m putting too much pressure on him. I feel like asking ANY question of him puts too much pressure on him. But he knew who I was when we got married, he knew I was intense, with curiosity, and passion. That I asked questions and liked to communicate. I feel like he doesn’t trust me to really tell me how he feels, and that hurts. Your comment about “Assume positive intent with me, that’s all I ask.” hits home so much. Just the other day, I said something similar to S. Why does he assume the worst in what I’m saying, what my face tells him? What can’t he assume the best?

    Ugh, I’m downloading to you as if you were my counselor! But I have few friends to talk to about this, because most of our friends were his before we met. When I try to talk, they dismiss what I say, I think, because their first loyalty is to him. Plus, I’m sure many of them think I’m too intense, too.

    We do need counseling, obviously. But thanks for letting me vent.

    The bottom line is that I do recognize that while the internet can be fun, it needs to be kept in its place, and it’s not a stopgap for important, direct communication that needs to happen between two people for a marriage to really survive, and thrive.

    And I very much relate to your quest to find friends you can really relate to. I honestly can’t think of a single person right now that I feel THAT close to. I constantly feel I have to choose my words carefully, and I don’t feel like there’s ANYONE who really knows who I am and appreciates it.

    Why is it so hard?

    Ugh, there I go again, venting. And there I go again, apologizing. Sigh.

  8. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Deb.

    First of all, for your privacy, I edited your name and your husbands name.

    Second of all, don’t apologize for the need to vent. You have my empathy. I imagine your daughter’s issues play a bit of a role as ours did. When things were really intense, it was very hard to cope with things. I can honestly say I had no idea how to parent a complex child until I had her. I thought parenting was quite easy if you simply met their basic needs for food, clothing, and a bit of loving attention.

    I had no idea that my second child would need so much more. She turned my life inside out and upside down before I realized I had to learn more about what was at the root of things. When I did, I learned a lot about myself and my daughter and it wasn’t pretty at times to go cope.

    I’m a highly sensitive/intense mother parenting a highly sensitive/intense child. It made for quite a spectacle at times. I often thought to myself, now who’s acting like a 2 year old – me, or her?

    Does your husband communicate better via email? I found that me and my husband had a breakthrough via email. Rather than accuse each other of things and feel threatened by tone or my husband’s silence while he’s trying to figure out what to say next, we used the email to express some thoughts to each other that we would simply fail to catch in person.

    Because the written form of communication is less personal, it’s easier to “hear” comments that could be taken as a criticism rather than a simple statement in person.

    I am highly emotional and too subjective at times. I was more open to hearing what my husband had to say when he emailed me than I would have if he initially spoke of his concerns. I was able to read his words and assume positive intent and not “hear” criticism. Sometimes the tone a person uses does sound negative – I am unfortunately conditioned to respond badly to negativity and criticism because that’s all I heard growing up.

    I need to practice assuming positive intent as well. I can’t expect that unless I make sure I practice it too.

    I think also, having extremely high expectations of what another (friend/spouse/etc) can or should be able to do with regards to communication or understand can create some problems too. I’m going to save that for my next post. It’s not to imply that you or anyone else does this, but I do believe it is what causes some of my current problems.

  9. Natalie says:

    What I noticed from this post is that most of your IRL friends are men or “men-like” women. I don’t think it’s incidental – the stimulation that you are seeking seems to be of a very “cerebral” kind. I am somewhat like this myself – most of my friends were always men. What I enjoy in blogosphere is not friendship, but knowledge – learning about things that I don’t know from blogs like yours.

  10. Deb says:

    Yes, I agree that email might work with my husband, if I could get him to do it. He doesn’t really care for computers. And yes, I’m sure that the challenges with our complex daughter haven’t made anything easier. All in all, I do feel very lucky that I have a good and caring husband who is also a loving father. I am just starved for conversation on a more satisfying level.

  11. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Natalie – yes, I do tend towards cerebral friendships.

    There are a few women who’s company I’ve enjoyed recently. The dental hygienist who was well informed about the latest medical research (therefore reminding me of the things I knew from my lab work). The OT girlfriend of a friend of ours. I don’t get to see her that often, but we went to Indianapolis this past Saturday with them. She is very interesting to talk to, especially about sensory processing issues.

    But the other type of friend I am fond of is one who is a little off the beaten path. There is a mom friend of mine who I am becoming really fond of who is totally different than me. But I like her because she more of a “free spirit”. Her daughter has some similarities to my intense dd2, so we have that in common and I’m able to talk to her about what I’ve learned. I realize that’s kind of important to me – having someone who knows what it’s like to have a spirited child but also doesn’t want to completely squash the very spirit that makes them special.
    So, I’m finding a lot of things to talk about and hash over in my own mind as I relate the things I’ve learned from my personal research into child development.

  12. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Deb – I wish you luck with that. What about handwritten letters then? Once upon a time I used to write lots of handwritten letters to those I was friends with. Or maybe a “couple’s journal” that you could pass back and forth with and write notes to each other in.

    Now that I thought of it, I think that’s something I might try too. I heard about it once before, and I’d forgotten I wanted to do that.

    Hmmm….(gears spinning). I just might surprise dh with that.

  13. Deb says:

    Great suggestion, and certainly worth a try. I am also going to put some effort into cultivating other friendships, even if they’re with people who don’t necessarily share ALL of our interests. (Which, by the way, is likely, because we are definitely “off the beaten path” people.)

    Thanks again for your blog. We’ve hard a hard time lately with the child, and stress levels are running high. It’s good to hear other stories from the trenches…

  14. raisingsmartgirls says:

    The nice thing about cultivating friendships with people who don’t share all the same interests is that you get to experience new things if you give them a try.

    Like, one of our friends loved to do the Ren Fair. I had no idea it even existed until one of our friends took us there. I have been back about 10 times since. It’s always a blast!

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