The first day of kindergarten, my baby girl nodded in the direction of Elizabeth, a dark-haired, dark-eyed five-year-old beauty, and whispered in my ear, “I want her to be my friend.” Ah, if only we adults could speak our desires so simply and eloquently and truthfully.
My daughter and Elizabeth did become friends, and I am so very grateful my sweet little girl didn’t suffer rejection on her first day of school.
Have you ever fallen in love with a friend–at first sight–like that? Have you ever, after a few moments of conversing with a stranger, felt a kinship so strong, you broke down the defenses you use to guard yourself from hurt and rejection and reached out? I live with absolute certainty that everyone has done this at some point in his or her lifetime. I sincerely hope that you were accepted as my daughter was. Chances are, the other party felt that connection also.
I remember in college a close friend was counseling me about friendships. He was oh, so logical about it. He drew me a flow chart. I probably have it to this day (and my reality is such that I have absolutely no idea where it could be). Essentially what he told me was this: If you reach your hand out to ten different people, it’s true that the possibility exists that you will get your hand slapped. You may even get your hand slapped by most of those you chose to befriend. However, if in the tenth person, you find a true friend, was it not worth those nine rejections?
Certainly we don’t reach adulthood without having been rejected. Do you remember having fights with your friends when you were little and saying, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore?” Oh, yes, those were the days. It was all so simple then. Then you become and adult, and find that you have four categories into which to sort people:
Category 1 is for acquaintances. You say hello and chat if you run into them. You probably have no clue as to what’s going on in their day-to-day life, but you keep them on your facebook page not only because you want to maintain some type of connection, but also because you want to see how well (or poorly) they age. They reside in a neighboring galaxy. If you see them in a restaurant, you pray to the goddess they don’t ask you to join them at their table as you know that unless everyone is imbibing adult beverages, you’ll run out of conversation in ten minutes tops. You would give them a couple of dollars for bus fare or parking.
Category 2 signifies casual friendship. In this level of friendship, expectations are low and the interactions are casual. These people could be your co-workers, players on your soccer team, church friends, or parents of your kids’ friends. They are people with whom you don’t often go out of your way to get together, but you would probably invite them to a big party. They reside in your galaxy, but reside in the somewhat cold, outer reaches of your orbit. You like them, but possibly can’t stand their spouses. You would invite them to Thanksgiving dinner if you found they didn’t have an invitation elsewhere. You would lend them $20 bucks for gas and expect prompt repayment.
Category 3 is for friends. These relationships can be a little tricky as they are deeper, but expectations aren’t always clear. These people have a much closer position in your galaxy. When you want to celebrate a birthday out on the town, you invite them. If you’re having a dinner party, you invite them. You see them a couple of times a month, but you hold a little bit of yourself back because either you’re afraid of getting hurt or you aren’t sure that your friendship can tolerate much heat. At this stage in the game, you’re in trouble if you don’t like their spouses, but hope, if you have to move, they are free to help load the truck (or even lend the truck). You probably know all the dirt on their spouses and their mothers-in-law too. You would lend them $200 bucks if you had it, and hope like hell they will pay you back.
Category 4 denotes intimate friends. These people are your besties. You can let your hair down around them. They love you for who you are, and you feel the same for them. You always want to see them, and they always want to see you. In fact, you’ve probably seen each other naked as jay birds in the locker room at the gym. These people are the godparents of your children, the friends who sit in the waiting room of the hospital when you or a family member is in the emergency room or operating room–they’ve got your back and you’ve got theirs. You make every attempt to love their spouses and are often successful, and your children are friends. If you have to move, they help you pack, lend you their truck, and organize your friends. These people aren’t just in your galaxy, they live on your planet. They are the sisters or brothers you would choose if you could choose your family. Sometimes, if you’re very lucky, they are your sisters and brothers, you’re that close. You would bail them out of jail, if necessary. You weep when they are transferred for work, never lose touch with them, and travel to see them. If you could, you would pay their mortgage if they were in a tight spot. You know that when they are on their feet, they will pay you back.
I know my mother had a friend who was this close when I was young. Her name was Dodie. I recall waking up early one morning, late in my mother’s pregnancy with my brother, and finding Dodie folding clothes in the living room. My mother was in labor and she was taking care of us, maybe until my grandmother arrived. My sister and I were attendants in her son’s wedding. But when my father was transferred, and we moved just 300 miles away, my mother’s friendship with her languished until soon it was just an exchange of Christmas cards. I suppose that this has to do with my mother’s battle with depression. Once we moved, she never again had a really close friend, or at least not until after I left home.
Friendships go through a lot of transition over their and our lifetimes. I don’t know if others find this ebb and flow easy. I certainly do not. Additionally, having mental illness and friends is sometimes mutually exclusive. With one of my diagnoses, Histrionic Personality Disorder, one of the symptoms is difficulty in maintaining relationships. There are times, more than I care to mention, that in the grips of my illness, I made choices I would never have made were I well. And I have lost countless friendships because of it. It has made me learn the true value of the friends who have stuck by my side–It would probably be more accurate to say friends who have renewed our friendship upon having learned of my diagnosis, because one of my main problems is staying in touch. Chronic depression has me isolating on a regular and extended basis. As Aristotle wrote, “A friend to all is a friend to none.”
You may think it’s funny, but I actually have a diagram of my friendships based upon the solar system. It appeals somehow, to my OCD, to have this concretely chronicled. And it reminds me, when I am isolating and hurting, that I do have friends who love me, even if I’m in too much pain or too depressed to reach out. Think of it as art therapy, if you will. I also have a lot of fun moving paper doll figures to frozen planets when they piss me off or hurt me, or alternately moving them to the sun, where I imagine them bursting into flames when they’ve burned their bridge to me. I also have a planet for people I have hurt, those who have banished me to burn in the sun of their solar systems. This reminds me to be forgiving, and to pull people out of the flames of my sun, because I remember how much it hurts me to have hurt those friends I can no longer claim as mine.
Regardless of their place in my life, past, present, or future, I cherish my friends and the memories we’ve made. I look forward to the future with my current friends, and resolve never to lose nary a one of them to my illness ever again. Life is sweeter today, thanks to you all. I believe no truer words have been written than those by John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…”
1.) For my children, always. ❤
2.) To my friend and cousin, Kathleen*, without whose emotional support and financial help, I surely wouldn’t have survived, and who came out for ten days and helped me whip my house into shape. ❤
3.) To my mom, thank you for loving me when I’ve been unlovable, for forgiving me, and for becoming my friend. I’m so glad we made it to this place. ❤
4.) To Cindy–she has always kept up with me, even when I did not return the favor. She, too, has taught me how to be a friend through her loving generosity of spirit.
5.) For Trey*, always. I’m your woman, remember that : ). You have taught me how to be a friend and a lover at the same time, something I have never had and value highly. ❤
6.) To the friends I have lost, for teaching me the price of betraying a friendship. ❤
“A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.” ~ Bernard Meltzer
“A friend will help you move. A good friend will help you move a dead body.” ~ Jim Hayes
“Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate.” ~ Thomas Jones
Photo credits (these photos are all over the web, but at least I can thank the site from which I got them):