Sunday, June 06, 2010

Four Musketeers

I used to think I knew what friendship was.

When I was a kid, it meant playing house, roaming the neighborhood, doing bake sales, being invited to one another's parties (when my best friend didn't invite me to a Christmas party, saying she was told to invite other friends and having them then go caroling to my house? Yeah, it nearly killed that little nine-year-old in me).

As a high schooler, friendship was defined largely by who accepted me into their "group." For the most part, friends were who I hung out with on weekends. They're the ones I shared all the high school drama with (of which there was much . . .), the ones I always, always worried would nudge me out of the inner circle because they'd figure out that I wasn't cool enough and didn't belong.

During that time, I had an intense sense of loyalty and always supported my friends, whether it was in a performance, recital, birthday, or even for a competition in another city. (They were freakishly talented, so that was quite the commitment.) I gave and gave and gave. Then I got horribly confused when that kind of support was never reciprocated.

I remember a dress rehearsal on the school stage for a dance concert. A couple of "best friends" were at the school at the exact same time, and they knew I was about to go on stage. I'd learned enough by this point to not expect them to come to the concert itself, but I was hurt when they didn't bother to even peek in the door to at least see the dress rehearsal. They were already in the hall. All it would have taken was turning a handle on a door.

This kind of thing happened a lot. I'm a very slow learner.

Eventually, near the end of my senior year, there was some big seminary thing. I think there was a slide show of the year or some such, and in the background was the classic Mormon pop song that goes, "Be that friend, be that kind, that you hope you might find. And you'll always have a best friend, come what may."

Bologna, I thought.

It was the first time I'd admitted to myself that no matter how hard you work on being a good friend, you can't control someone else. You can't make them be friends back.

So I sat in the back of the room and bawled, knowing that the lyrics were a load of garbage. I was the best friend I could possibly be, but I'd been kicked around over the years. A lot.

Much of the time, I didn't know if I had a group I belonged to, let alone a best friend. (People who knew me then would be surprised to hear all this, I'm sure. I hid the angst well.)

I left the room not knowing what friendship really meant.

Things only got worse when I was the second of our group to get married. There's been a lot of finger-pointing since about the period immediately following my wedding, but the upshot is that, for whatever reason, I was clearly no longer part of that circle. There was a big disconnect between me and them until the others married and had kids. That's when we finally had common ground again (like potty training war stories).

I had one friend during this time who remained single. And she never stopped talking to me just because I had a ring on my left finger. I don't recall her ever acting weird after the wedding or after I became a mom. She never changed. She was my tender mercy (and was in high school more than once, and has been a few times since).

The next real friend connection I had was over a decade ago. I served in a Young Women presidency where I bonded to the other presidency members in a remarkable way. After our release, we stayed close. But when the president was moving away and I said good-bye, I walked home hyperventilating with wracking sobs. I knew that such a friendship was rare and priceless, and that as much as we cared about one another, we'd never have the same relationship once she left the state.

My critique group is made up of people I consider dear friends, including that rare occurrence, the male friend. I am lucky enough to have two of them, and they're both like awesome extra brothers.

For me, the definitions of friendship have continued to undergo many iterations over the years.

My current view includes all of this and more:

  • A "true friend" might not be a buddy who has known you most of your life, even if you have Girls' Camp pictures and embarrassing stories you could blackmail the other with.
  • Someone who is nice 95% of the time but manages to twist a knife say, annually, is not a friend.
  • You can live in the same area for years but never truly be friends with neighbors, even if everyone is friendly and gets along. (Friendly does not equate friendship.)
  • An acquaintance and a friend are not the same thing.
  • You must earn the label of friend.
  • If someone who uses that label is really a friend of convenience, she might stab you in the back or climb over you to get what she wants.
  • Some actual friends are the kind and loving type. They are people I'd love to hang with, to talk to and otherwise have a great time with. But thanks to multiple burns of the past, I remain guarded even with most people in this category. Most of them, as truly wonderful as they are, will never see the deepest layers of who I am. I still (greatly!) appreciate the friendships we have, such as they are. What they see is most definitely real, (for that matter, I'm way too real for a lot of people, which has caused me no end of trouble and has likely lost me friends), but these connections will only ever go so far.
  • I have a very difficult time making friends, especially in neighborhoods and wards. This is largely because I'm painfully shy but don't look like it. As a result, I've been called "stuck-up" many painful times. The reality is that I don't ever feel superior to someone; I almost always feel INFERIOR and unable to introduce myself or open up. (One reason why that YW presidency was so big for me.)
  • The most surprising element of friendship of late: I can learn to love (and be loved in return) by women I've never met, thanks to blogging. (You know who you all are. You truly enrich my life.)
The point of all this (I swear, there is one):

I am more and more grateful for the three women I can call my truest friends. We've known one another a varying number of years (less then a decade in every case). We're separated geographically (we're all in the same state, but in some cases, hours away from one another). Each one has walked a different path with me, shared things unique to them and our friendships.

Yet the four of us as a group are close in a way that almost defies logic.

These women lift me. They encourage me. If I'm having an off day, they don't get offended. Instead, they come to see what they can do to help. They offer support and love and understanding. Often, as a group.

They're never more than a phone call or e-mail away. They provide listening ears. They give needed hugs. They make me smile and laugh. And because we're all in the same "weird" industry, they understand me, the way I think, and my feelings, in a way no one else can. Sometimes, just hanging out and laughing together is enough to lighten my load, because of who they are and what they represent:

True Friends.

Because the truth is, they know me (frighteningly well), and that means they're starkly aware of my plethora of large warts.

And they love me anyway.

Of late, I've found myself regularly saying prayers of gratitude for Josi, Julie, and Heather.

I love you guys. Thank you for who you are, what you represent, what you've been to me and continue to give me, and for what you put up with. I really don't know what I'd do without you.

(With Heather, Josi, and Julie, LDStorymakers Conference, April 2008.)


Heffalump said...

I have a hard time with friendships too. A lot of your stories sound similar to things I went through.
I have an incredibly hard time opening up and being real and becoming friends with someone. I have "friends" but few that really know me.
I have come to realize that my best friends, are actually my sisters (I have four of them). I wish I had appreciated them more during all those years of drama with my temporary friends.

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

I remember my dad consoling me once and telling me that the best part of high school is graduation. I could have written a lot of your post myself.

Amazing how we learn as we grow, isn't it? I figured that once high school were over, people would be genuine and honest and that nobody was ever mean.

Hugs, and wonderful post! My life is also richer for having all of you in it. :-)

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Our childhood and teenagehood have some eerie similarities, enough that I'm (barely) fighting off tears right now. But I also have a small group of truest friends and it more than compensates. It really does.

As for you, sweet Annette, I feel glad to know you to ANY degree. You are among the most genuine and generous women I know. I think half the reason I follow your blog so intently is in hopes you'll rub off on me. Love you!

Julie Wright said...

Oh sure make me cry for the two days it took me to listen to Band of Sisters (which I completely and totally loved btw) and NOW I get to cry some more.

You cannot know how much I love that you guys don't judge me, don't decide to hate me when I do and say all the dumb things I do and say. You cannot even guess as to how much your friendship means to me. It is huge for me to have you in my life and I am grateful for you every day.

And I owe you a better head rub when I'm not worried about messing up your hair and makeup.
Love you!

Lisa said...

It's scary identifying with a total stranger, whose blog I visit. I've always wondered what was wrong with me and why so often my "friends" just took adantage of what I was good at and then left me by the wayside. I've never felt cool or like I belonged. Often I have felt left out and I have been excluded because "I do too much" and "I'm too talented". Backhanded compliments at least. Thanks for making my "abnormality" seem more socially acceptable. The greatest comfort one can have is a friend who "gets" us even when we are not sure we "get" ourselves.

Cheri Chesley said...

I could tell the first time I saw the 4 of you together you had a special friendship. You are all unique and talented women and are lucky to have found one another. Way to go, Annette, for having the guts to post this. It's not easy to bare the soul. :)

Jenny P. said...

It's hard to summarize what it feels like to have friendships that mean so very much. I had some good friends when I was growing up (and some not so good friends). It's interesting to look back and see which of those friends I'm still close to. I think it has a lot to do with the sincerity and the quality of the friendship when we were young.

I have a very small group of women that I feel understand me wholly, completely and love me for who I am. It means SO much to have that.

Heather Moore said...

Annette, thanks for making me CRY!

I have a very hard time making true friends. Even when I've known someone for years, to ask a favor or to lay a problem on a friend is very very tough for me since I am a "I'll just do it myself" person.

I can't count the number of times over the years I've been able to dump whatever on you and known that you'll keep things 100% confidential. I don't think there will ever be 2 Annette's in the world!


Josi said...

Sniff, sniff. I just deleted a 500 word response and am going to piggy back on this post instead, but for here, on your blog, let me just say that you are one of my best blessings. I have learned so much from your strength, confidence, and ambition and know my life would not be complete without you. Thank YOU for giving our friendship a chance (when you had plenty of reason not to) because it is a priceless gift to me.

Josi said...

Oh, and we need a new picture! This one makes me miss my long hair :-( and envy yours more than I already do.

TisforTonya said...

I think I make acquaintances quite easily - even friendly acquaintances - but true "friends" I can probably count on my fingers... Having moved from Kansas to Washington (and nearly every state in-between) during our marriage we rarely stayed in the same place more than 2 years - which is coincidentally just about the amount of time it takes me to find a "friend".

I think I learned way back in Elementary to stop putting myself out there so much because it was tiresome to be stepped on repeatedly.

My definition of friends would include those people who you could go 5 years without seeing, but when you are together you pick right back up without any amount of awkward moments.

and with that - I'm off next week to a high school reunion - where the 3 "friends" are leaving me to the wolves! It should be interesting.

Laura said...

Thanks for letting us into your heart. This was such an insightful post. I think a lot of people have been through similar things with "friends". I know I have.

See Mom Smile said...

I think it is harder to find true friends the older I get. But I know what I need and don't need so they are easier to spot. Does that make any sense? Great post!

Summer said...

This really hit home for me. I could have written it.

I feel like when it comes to friendship, I have always given and given, and with very few have my feelings and actions been reciprocated. It still hurts when it happens because it is natural to hope to be treated the same way you treat another. But I've learned that being a friend is more important than receiving friendship and I don't get so depressed and self critical when it seems someone just isn't interested.

I've also learned to redefine friendship and that has helped. After being married and having children, the amount of time you have to spend with girlfriends seems to all but vanish. It has been more difficult to get to know women on the personal level I was able to achieve with some as a girl. But I have discovered that true friends don't have to be people with whom I hang out on a regular basis. A true friend can be someone I don't know very well at all, but who shows up to help bring dinner or watch my kids in difficult stages of my life. I discovered I had more friends than I ever realized when I went through my panic disorder a few years back. Everything in my perception seemed to change for the better at that hellish time. Strange how that works.

Lara Neves said...

Annette, I so could have written exactly what you did about my own high school friendships. I have one that really survives to this day, and the rest.....well.

This was a brilliant post, and I think more of us feel this way than we think. Thanks for sharing it.

Krista said...

Thank you, Annette. What a beautiful post. I'm thinking of my true friends RIGHT NOW! I feel so blessed to have them, because there are some petty people out there. I could write a book... hee hee. *eyeroll*

Julie Wright said...

We do need a new picture! And we were just together the other day too!

wendy said...

I liked this post as I coudl really relate to it.
I remember my best friend of 2o years moving only 10 miles away, after having lived that whole time just around the corner from me ---and I too walked away hyperventilating with wracking sobs.
and now I live 900 miles away....and am still sobbing. It is hard to be so far away from THAT kind of a friend.

I have also reconnected with my BEST high school friend here and it is sooooo wonderful.
REAL friends...are always still there for you

and even at my age-----one year away from 60, you still need that anchor of friendship.

Jessica G. said...

I have very few close friends. Most people are shocked by that because I always seem to have lots of people around me...but look closely...which of those friends are actually talking to me? Showing interest in my life? How many of them can I call in a panic early in the morning and have them drop everything to help me?
(And please tell Heather that I am very much enjoying her new book!)

Unknown said...

I think as I get older I both need friends less and value friendship more. I really only have a handful of friends in my immediate geographical area. Like, maybe two. And I have some wonderful women I've met through blogging, but who live far enough away that most of our relationships are online.

I've stopped expecting "friendship" from people in my ward, and strangely that has made it easier to like them. I'm not shy, but I tend to be more comfortable in large groups than one-on-one. Which of course makes it difficult for people to get to know me. I don't blame them in the least.

But all of that said, it means all the more that I have a couple of women who understand me and like me anyway. I think the fact that someone is willing to put up with what it takes to be my friend matters much more to me now than it did 20 years ago. It's certainly something I don't take for granted.

charrette said...

Kimberly (a true friend, btw) sent me a link and told me this was a must-read. I'm so glad she did! Thank you for baring your soul on both the angst and the joys of friendship. So much of what you've written here is exactly my experience...and I'm sure for many others as well.

I imagine that writing is such a strong bond because many of us share our deepest and best selves protected through this vehicle...a side of us an acquaintance will never see or know.

Terrific post!

Jenna said...

I think more of us than you know can relate to your high school and past experiences. Learning to know who your real friends are and what friendship means is one of the toughest lessons ever. And even worse, is watching your children learn that lesson. Oh, the heartache!

I've had a hard time with friendships since I moved to CA, for various reasons, but thankfully I have an arsenal of true friends scattered about the country that really have been lifesavers for me. I'm glad you have yours too. The four of you are an enviable group!

Sarah M Eden said...

This "friends" thing of which you speak sounds intriguing. I need to look into getting a couple of those. *wink*

Donna Tagliaferri said...

It is so interesting to me that we all seem to have what someone else wants. I would love to be a published writer as you are, and you would probably enjoy the friendships I cherish.

I learned long ago that we can't all have the same gifts or talents..if we could all make pizza who would fix the cars?

The best part of all is learning who we can depend on. And ultimately there is only one.

Donna Tagliaferri said...

I didn't mean for that to sound harsh..I think it was harsh. I hope you know what I was trying to say..I hope..

Michelle said...

Much too much to really write here, but I can relate to so much of it...from working too hard sometimes for friendships that weren't reciprocated, to being simply stunned at the blessing of finding true friends through this strange medium called a blog, to being grateful for friends who are True.

Shanda said...

What a great post, Annette. I knew after talking with you before our first podcast that we had a lot in common. Whenever I talk to you or read something like this, I feel it even more.

I've shed a lot of tears after discovering that my "friends" weren't as true to me as I was to them. Unfortunately, I think some people don't know how to handle or recognize authenticity and genuine loyalty.

That being said, these women (Heather, Josi, Julie and YOU) are four of the sweetest, most genuine and authentic women I have ever had the honor of knowing.

Melanie Jacobson said...

I think you totally nailed this. Friendship is on my mind a lot because we just moved (yesterday!) and I know I'm going to be experiencing new friendships. However, I have no anxiety about how long it might take or the quality of the friendships I'll form because I have blogging now. It makes me totally okay with however long my friendships may take with the people who are here physically because I have a lovely circle of blogging friends who are there for me emotionally.

Btw, I'm back, baby! And all caught up on your posts.


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