Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Friendships

I'm amazed at how difficult friendships become after college. Until the day you graduate, you have been assured of meeting new people or seeing familiar faces every fall when you walk into the classroom. For hours a day, you have friends nearby or potential friendships waiting to begin. It's wonderful.

But upon your last day of school, you get a rough wake-up call. You go from being surrounded by people who are close in age and similar in goals and hobbies.....to the Real World, where you're lucky if you work with someone within 15 years of your age. Who has anything in common with you. And if you move away for that first job, your chances of knowing a soul in your new town are slim. You feel the first pangs of loneliness. For the first time in your life, you have to really start making an effort to meet people and make friends. They are no longer waiting in a classroom for you. Nothing you've ever done before has prepared you for this. It's a difficult skill to master, actually: making friends as an adult.

Now you have to approach strangers who seem cool. Hope that small talk turns into that wonderful moment in a new friendship where you're convinced you were separated at birth. You never turn down a single social opportunity, no matter how lame, because it is all you have. It's either that, or spend more time alone, and you just can't bear it anymore. You long for your old group of friends and the comfort that network had brought you. You begin to wonder why more people are not friendly. You begin to question who you are -- are you fun? interesting? nice? Why aren't you surrounded by wonderful, loyal friends who care about you? Has something besides your zip code changed?

It's a very difficult time, at least for me, anyway.

And as The Czarina has so astutely pointed out to me: "The only cure for loneliness is people."

In theory, making friends sounds easy. But throw an adult into a town where they know no one, and it is suddenly a momentous task.

As if that's not bad enough, the new town is probably just the first of several. Most people in their 20s move around a lot, and maintaining friendships becomes very difficult under these circumstances. I have lost several friendships because one of us has moved far away. And since friendships are often based on shared experiences, there is little hope for survival once one person moves away. It makes me sad to think about my old friends. I miss them very much sometimes. But at the same time, I understand. They have taken new jobs, gotten married or had babies. Or I have moved away. Or we just didn't visit each other to maintain the friendship properly. Soon, our experiences are no longer shared, and then it feels like you're talking to a stranger. Eventually, one person no longer sees the need to continue making an effort. Their life has gone on. They have, without any malicious intent, replaced you. As much as you can be replaced, anyway.

These, in my experience, have been the most painful friendship losses. To see them withering away and being powerless to stop it. "Why does it have to change? How can I stop this?" you might wonder. Desperately clinging on by your fingernails only delays the inevitable: the friendship is dying. For me, it feels like a milder version of grief.

An optimist would say that when one friendship closes, another opens. That the loss of one friendship opens up spots in your schedule for you to find new and maybe even better friends. I would have to agree that yes, this is luckily what has happened to me, for the most part. As I've aged, my friendships have grown healthier and deeper. The older I get, the more I can truly be myself around my friends, because I know they accept me despite my flaws. It is wonderful.

But a pessimist would point out that when one friendship ends, you are left with a hole of loneliness, because people are not interchangeable. To an extent, this is true as well. The inside jokes, the memories -- these are all gone. You will have to start over from scratch with someone else. If only people were like computers, and all you had to do was download the old files onto the new computer.....so that those memories never have to fade or lose relevance.

I am forever grateful to the friends who realize when the friendship is going nowhere. The mutual apathy which sometimes happens is such a blessing. There are no hurt feelings, no awkward conversations. Both parties just gradually stop trying. And both people are happier as a result. No one wishes the other ill, and therefore, running into each other is not terrible. The friendship has turned into what it always should have been: a friendly acquaintance, and nothing more.

There are other challenges as well. As we move and start over, gaining and losing friends, we will find ourselves with limited friendship options. Sometimes, all you can do is hang out with anyone who is sort of close in age and who is semi-interesting. Sometimes, you have to settle for average friendships. Maybe the other person is new in town, too. Maybe they have a schedule that meshes well with yours. In any case, the two of you begin to hang out a lot. And although your heart's not in it, you continue on, hoping to ease your loneliness or suddenly realize that you enjoy the friendship more than you thought.

Unfortunately, this rarely happens to me. Instead, I find myself growing weary of the average friendship. My loneliness has not been fully abated. My need for a great friendship is always lurking below the surface. But now, it's too late. They behave as though we have been friends our whole lives and that this is the best friendship they've ever had. Meanwhile, I am tired of trying to remain interested. It's exhausting, making sure you have fun with boring people or people who are very different from you. They think the friendship is great, whereas I am feeling drained. It is like friendship kryptonite. And since they do not see what I see, it makes ending the friendship extremely difficult, unless I want to be blunt or harsh. I could always start to lie about why I can't see them. Which is no way to treat a friend. Thus, they are rooted into my social life, and they are not going anywhere.

This is when the tables turn, and I now find myself trying to fade away. I feel trapped and I want the friendship to wither. In a way, I have moved on with my life, if not out of town entirely. We just do not have enough in common to make it last, and honestly, I'd rather be alone. The friendship is now a burden. And I can't seem to find a way out.

Gosh, this was kind of a depressing post! Sorry! I'm not sad or anything. I'm fine. My social life has been very busy lately, and so I've been thinking about my friends (old, new, good, casual, etc.) a lot lately. A lot of my friendships have changed in the past couple of years, and it's been on my mind a lot for some reason. I miss a lot of people I used to be close with. In some ways, it's my own fault. I have let them down. But there are other friends I want to stop being close with, and just cannot seem to do it. And I am so very grateful for the super fun friendships I have made in the past year or so -- MJ & KT in particular. This post may or may not make sense....take it for what it's worth. I'm sure we've all felt like this at some point, right?

Ugh, maybe I'm just crazy today! :)

18 comments:

Matilda Jane said...

are you breaking up with me?

LowTide said...

I think your break up with MJ is long overdue. The rest of us have been meaning to have some sort of intervention with you to discuss your need to break up with MJ. Just kidding. Whatever happened to the girl from your cake decorating class? I seem to recall you stalking some poor girl in your class and wanting to build a friendship with her.

Women are so different than Men. Guys don't even think about their friendships with other guys.

playtpus said...

I share your sentiments. I often think that there is no point in making new friends because I'm going to lose them anyway. Long distance friendships are the worst. I am plagued with guilt over the struggle to try to maintain the friendship, but I don't want it to die. And I know my local friendships are solely built on socializing together, and when these people get done with school and move on, that our friendships will fade into acquaintanceships (not sure if that's a word). Despite all this, I remain optimistic that all my friends bring something to my life (and I to theirs). (sorry for the long comment)

Becky said...

i can totally relate to this as i only stayed friends with a few people after i moved away from home and the friends i've made down here are more deep, true friendships:)

Virginia Belle said...

MJ, for pete's sake!!! *rolls eyes*

lowtide -- i have been trying to blow her off, but she just doesn't get it. ;) funny that you bring up the cake decorating girl. she ended up being very clingy and annoying, so i aborted mission pretty quickly. i felt bad, but it's better than dragging it out and not being able to say "no" after a while. and yes, most guys do not think about that too often. girls overanalyze, as we all know by now.

platypus & becky -- it's good to know i'm not the only one dealing with these feelings. thank you!

lilla said...

I moved to a new town this year, and it has been so lonely! I guess it has made me a stronger person though, because I've had to do things on my own. It's also a test as to who your real friends are - some friends who I thought would be around till we were old and grey have barely bothered to call...but thank goodness for the true friends, and loyal boyfriend!

Smug said...

I have often felt "dumped" by friends in my past and now I would say that I don't have many. I think that I don't even try to make new friends because it has always been painful.

I have one local girl friend now, and I am very close with my mother and sister. I also have my best friend (whom I have known since I was 3) and her sister, as we all grew up together (she and I, her sister and mine). But they are both out of state.

I try to feel blessed to have the close people that I do, and that I am not cluttered up with casual people that I don't feel deeply about - actually, I think this was a great post and my leap frog from it on my own as you have started me pondering!!

Phantom Hater said...

I disagree that guys don't think about friendships. Maybe not in the same way, but it does suck that as you get older you start losing touch w/people, especially as your friends move into the "married" category and are never seen again.

Just break up with your friend. Tell her "It's not you, it's me. I think we should be friends with other people." Or at least tell her to stop cutting herself and start taking her medication again so she isn't so lame all the time.

coffeesnob said...

i remember dr johnson saying friendship was something that needed to kept in constant repair.

is there a cereal-box-style prize for reading all the way to the bottom?

JP said...

You've summed up pretty well exactly how I'm feeling. I think a lot of unattached 20-somethings who have moved, literally, out of their comfort zones are feeling. How do you go about making new friends in a new town? I think about trying new things, but then I get scared that I'm going to look like a loser, going somewhere by myself. Suggestions anyone?

Susie said...

Uhhh I totally know how you feel. I have a group of girls I've been friends with forever, and some of them I just don't have anything in common with anymore. Many of them are disappearing into their relationships and I only have about 3 friends here that I really and truly care about. It makes me really sad but I guess it's part of growing up.

One of my friends and I actually contemplated "hitting on" girls in order to make friends, like you described approaching random strangers and making small talk. We couldn't think of any other way to make new girlfriends, which we both desperately want. Awkward time of life I guess...but we'll get through it!

Lala said...

This post really resonates with me. A year out of college, I find my friends going in all directions. Somedays I too am very pessimistic and question myself and why I don't have more friends. But other days are better. Very well spoken.

Megan said...

When I was in the 5th grade my teacher told me that I needed to make more friends with girls, because girlfriends are important to have. Well, I just rolled my eyes, but now...many years later I totally agree.

I can count my 'true' girlfriends on one hand!

Coco said...

You have just put into words exactly how I have been feeling. It's hard out there for a pimp . . . or for a single, adult girl who's friends are all either pairing up, moving on, or fading away all together. :) I feel. Possibly, all of us "lonelies" should start some sort of commune, then we'd have those ready made friends again.

RWA said...

Wow. That hits close to home.

An old friend called me a few days ago. We were close for several years, then she moved away, got married, had kids, got a new job, etc.

As most people do, we promised to "keep in touch." But we don't. An occasional e-mail or phone call.

I miss talking to her.

Matilda Jane said...

I have no idea how you feel. In fact, I hate all my friends... past, present, and future.

Sorry.... I just wanted to find a way to disagree with everyone.

Phantom Hater said...

MJ's just grouchy 'cause she's in loooooove. :)

FRIGGA said...

When I was a kid I moved so often that I learned very easily how friends can come and go without it having to be a bad thing. Now I'm an adult and you are so right, it's not easy finding friends, yet the going due to life changes still happens.

Thank you for saying it - reading your blog makes me feel more normal! 8-)