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:
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.
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.)