Today I’m participating in Cara Strickland’s synchroblog on friendship. I thought about reblogging my Friendship in 7 Movements post from last year, but it is long and specific and also, I wanted to do something new.
I’ve never been good at surface friendships. I guess I don’t have a lot of interest in talking about things that don’t matter. I don’t like conversations where you’ve spent an hour talking to someone and walk away feeling like you don’t know one another at all. I want to skip the getting-to-know-you part of the relationships. I want sweatpants and you snorting when you laugh and me accidentally breaking into song without noticing from Day One. But as it turns out, most people don’t want to talk about family histories and their biggest dreams and how afraid they are of being a mother (and, equally, of not being a mother) fifteen minutes after meeting someone.
I’m a classic introvert – I greatly prefer one-on-one interactions to groups of people. Parties both terrify and exhaust me. Most people would never guess that 9 times out of 10 I have to push myself out the door to keep a social engagement. The night of my junior prom I got all dressed up, hair and makeup done, and promptly burst into tears because I didn’t want to go. I suppose you’d call this social anxiety.
But unlike some introverts I know who fade away into the background at a gathering, I’ve always tried to combat my social anxiety by acting self-assured. Ironically, it is in social settings where I am least comfortable that I am loudest. I try to be the funniest, the friendliest, the most interesting. It’s like watching a train wreck from above where I can’t seem to stop myself from blurting out the first thing that pops into my mind.
Believe me, the irony of trying to make deep connections with people while putting on this party persona is not lost on me. I know that it makes no sense and is even counter-productive. But sometimes I feel like something comes over me and I can’t stop myself even as a part of me watches in horror. I am desperately uncomfortable, but something in my subconscious screams that if I give in and stand quietly against the wall no one will like me and I’ll never have friends. And what could be worse than having no friends?
As a child I fell in and out of best-friend-ship on a yearly if not monthly basis.
My problem with friends wasn’t the cattiness or pettiness that ruined so many other playground friendships. It was the intensity I brought to friendship that seemed to overwhelm my peers.
I loved too fiercely. I chose someone and I clung to them with a loyalty that sometimes frightened us both. I wasn’t possessive – wanting to be their only friend—but when I chose someone I longed to show all of myself to them and to have them choose me back. And often, who I was was just too much.
It wasn’t that these friends didn’t like me – they just weren’t prepared to or maybe even capable of putting as much into the friendship as I did. I cared about all of their details. I wanted to show that I loved them by learning as much as I could about them. And inevitably, the day would come when I would realize that I knew all their favorite songs, their middle name, and what kind of sandwich they brought for lunch, but they didn’t even know my favorite color even though I’d told them three times. My feelings would be hurt and they would be freaked out that I had a notebook where I recorded all of their preferences (just kidding!) and we would move on to different friends.
Eventually, I learned to be self-protective in my friendships. I learned to expect that others would not love me with the fierceness and loyalty I felt towards them. I learned to guard myself from sharing too much too quickly and from expecting that everyone I chose would choose me too.
And then, in college, I made a new kind of friend – the kind I’d longed for growing up and nearly given up on. I found my people, the ones who will forgive you when you’ve hurt them and will join in when you make up a song about your toothbrush. And I learned something crucial about friendship – you can’t make it happen the way I try to at parties.
True friendships are divine. Yes, they require attention. They require effort. But mostly, they are gifts. Like love letters from God himself.
A friend isn’t a possession. You don’t collect friends like souvenirs from places you’ve been. You can’t make friendship happen. But when one comes your way, you say thank you. You treat that friend like a spectacular sunset or a stunning concerto – you thank God for its beauty and for letting you experience it, even though it’s something you can never wrap your grubby hands around.
I have a friend I’ve known since high school. She’s a few years older than me and we didn’t do a great job of keeping up once she went to college. We have seen each other only a handful of times over the past decade. We don’t talk on the phone. We only occasionally chat online. I try to see her when I’m in town visiting my parents. But she is precious to me beyond words. She is a friend of the heart –someone I trust completely and admire deeply. She is one of the first people I think of when I need support and one of the people whose encouragement means the most to me. I cried when I saw the first pictures of her daughters and on my wedding day she gave me a handkerchief she’d used at her own wedding to use as my “something borrowed.”
This friendship is not the work of my hands. It’s not a credit to my engaging personality or a testament to what a good friend I am (because, as I said, I am rubbish at keeping up with this particular friend). It is pure grace. And all I can say in response to that kind of grace is, “Thank you.”