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.