“Friendship. It’s complicated,” I wrote, in my piece about “Thirteen Reasons Why“, echoing Hannah Baker’s own words. In that particular post I highlighted some of the hardest aspects of life, and so I wanted to revisit this notion and to explain—on a deeper level—how I feel.
Friendship, when you are an adult, can be both essential and tricky. It is a time when, perhaps counterintuitively, you may need your friends the most (despite the whole, “I am a grown up and so I should have it all figured out!” thing).
It is also a time when it can be the hardest to say, “I need a friend, right now. Can you help?” This is because if you are an adult with adult friends, your adult friends are inevitably also busy and stressed and dealing with many things at once, from relationships to jobs to parenthood to navigating through complicated situations in all of the aforementioned areas.
I am so lucky that most of my close friends have been in my life for many years, if not decades, and any newer friendships feel like that quote that says: And then my soul saw you and it kind of went, “Oh, there you are. I’ve been looking for you.”
But every friendship, just like every individual, is different. They each serve different purposes, meet different needs and require different things.
I can liken it to my greenhouse garden, in many ways, now that my black thumb has turned the slightest shade of green. Some of my plants grow abundantly, needing little care. They’re just there, steadfast and sturdy, so even if I forget to water for the day, I know that I will wake up to more sweet basil than I need. But I am grateful to know that it will be there. Other plants, like my tomatoes, require a little bit more time and effort. They soak up water and need pruning and require more on a daily basis, but they are SO worth it because I love tomatoes SO much. And then there are my squash and cucumber plants. The leaves have grown abundantly, they blossom beautifully, but I am still not exactly sure how to tend to them properly, as I have yet to see a squash or a cucumber. But, despite this, I prune them and stake them and try, knowing that when the first cucumber is ready to be picked it will be the best cucumber. And, in the meantime, I can fry up those squash blossoms. Finally, there’s the lavender. It is one of my favorite plants, as it is so pretty and it smells so fragrant. I can go days without thinking of it—though I would never—and it is there, not overpowering or overgrowing, but it brings me so much joy and does not resent me for a few days of neglect. And guess what? I love every single one of those plants that I mentioned above. My garden would not be complete without any of them. But, they all take work.
So, as I said, adult friendships are complicated.
I have some friends who I would call “best friends” or “soul friends” with whom I seldom, if ever, speak on the phone and, if I am lucky, see twice a year (but that’s on a good year). However, with these friends there is a connection that is unparalleled and could never be broken. We may exchange fewer words, but they are the right words. They understand me in a way that is so profound, and I them. I feel them.
I have some friends who go out of their way to make me feel better. Even when they are busy. Even when I have been wrong. They say, “It’s ok. You are doing the best you can. Don’t be hard on yourself.” And it is because they love me. They do not want me to feel any pain.
I have some friends who are outwardly more straightforward (read: tough love) and give me clear advice that can be, at times, hard to hear. They say, “It’s not ok. You can do better. You need to push yourself.” And it is because they love me. They do not want me to feel any pain.
I have some friends who hand me a drink and would encourage me to squash my woes by finishing a bottle of wine, dancing on a table or doing a headstand in public. They say, “This doesn’t count. Everyone needs a free pass, sometimes.” And it is because they love me. They do not want me to feel any pain.
I am so blessed to have this garden of really incredible friends. They each teach me different & unique things, every single time that we are together. Sometimes, it is about strength; sometimes, about motherhood; other times it is about coping with an acute worry; sometimes it is about personal style; often it is about how to be the best human possible; occasionally it is how to properly season a dish or mix a cocktail.
My group of friends, however, has morphed, especially in the past year. This was mostly deliberate, as when you go through really hard times a) you see who sticks by your side when you need it most and b) you see who sticks by your side even when you say, “I can’t see you right now, but please understand that it is me, not you.”
I have chosen quality, over quantity. Do I miss some of the people and things that used to define my life? Of course I do. I am triggered all the time, whether it is when I drive by a certain restaurant or hear a specific song or reach into my closet for a piece of clothing and think, “I remember the last time I wore this.” This can be very painful, especially for someone like me who has these definite triggers. These memories come to life, for me. But what I have learned is that I am allowed to miss and I am allowed to mourn, as long as I have also learned and grown.
My ultimate goal, now, is to be a good friend. I am trying to fortify my friendships, no matter how strong they already are, by being better to this amazing group of people who I am lucky enough to call mine. I try to listen more than talk (which, if you know me, can be a challenge, but I am trying!) and this makes me feel so happy. I try to reach out, even if it is just a quick, “Hi, I am thinking about you!” because it is true! I AM thinking about him or her. I want to show that I am there in the good times and in the bad. That they can lean on me as much as I have leaned on them. That I can come through. That I can also be the one to give the hug or buy the beer or leave the voicemail of support. I want to show them that when I see something in a store or on a website, I will surprise them with this, just as a tiny token to show how much I care. I want to show up.
I am a very open person. I connect easily. This is a good thing, but has also gotten me into trouble. In the past I have made friends and then the friendship became extremely close extremely quickly. I have operated at a high intensity level in all aspects of my life, and while that is good in many areas (e.g. writing on a deadline), other things should and do require more time. My history of making a friend and then talking to them a million times a day and seeing them 6 out of 7 days a week is not always problematic. Some of these friends have turned into forever friends. Others…let’s just say that they have not. But they were good friends at that time, having given me something that I needed for a moment.
Twin explained this point to me during her last visit to Philly in February. And if this doesn’t say it all then I do not know what does:
Twinny and I sat at my kitchen table, eating a late lunch of poke bowls, and I opened up to her about my anxieties surrounding my daughter making forever friends. “I made some of my best friends in first grade, and she is in first grade now and I don’t know if she is doing the same,” I explained.
And Twin, a friend whom I met while studying abroad in Spain when were randomly assigned as roommates and with whom I have maintained an incredibly close long-distance relationship for the past 12 ½ years, explained to me that she had friends growing up with whom she was so close for periods of time, and then they drifted and that it was ok. Nothing happened, they just no longer fit in each other’s lives with great facility. Yet they were still meaningful relationships. Friendships, just not forevers.
And then, I stopped her. I had started to feel weird. My speech was getting funny and I had numbness spreading from my chest to my arms. My doctor insisted that, although I have a migraine disorder with a complex aura (with these symptoms), I go to the ER to be checked, just in case I was having a stroke. So Twin, during her ONE NIGHT VISIT to Philadelphia, stayed at home with my two kids, taking care of them, while my husband and I spent hours in the Emergency Room. Because of this, our nighttime plans got thwarted and instead of a special dinner out, we ate takeout in the dining room and watched Youtube videos on my couch, eating gelato out of the carton, passing the different flavors back and forth.
I felt so guilty. That was not how I wanted for her to spend her visit! But, as she reminded me, that is friendship. And would I do the same thing for her? In a heartbeat.
So, at 32 and 3 months, I now have a much deeper understanding of and profound appreciation for friendship. I savor my relationships, I try to worry less and give more.
There is a place for the tender comforting, and the tough love and the fun. There is a place to talk and I am finding more and more places to listen. And, perhaps most importantly, there is room to be silent.
I appreciate my basil, but do not take it for granted; I work for my tomatoes, but know that they are worth it; I try to maintain my squash & cucumber, staying patient and knowing that I will savor the sweetness so much more than if it had been easier to achieve; I adore my lavender, as it smells so lovely and never lets me down.
Adult friendships are complicated.
But they are also wonderful.