5-year-olds and 25-year-olds look vastly different from one another, yet some people hold onto friendships for that long. My 26-year-old sister, who hated middle school and high school because she never fit in and her peers tormented her, still has a group of girls with whom she has been friends since the sixth grade. Whenever I meet people who have these decade-long plus groups of friends, it astounds me. Why don’t I have that?
I moved away from my hometown after high school graduation, purposefully, and I went to a new state in which I didn’t know anyone at my university. I wanted that fresh start. Long Beach was boring to me, and sticking around seemed like failure in my eyes. I had an English teacher who once warned our class, “There are some people who attend Long Beach Poly High School, go to Cal State Long Beach, and then become teachers at Long Beach Poly. Don’t be one of those people- broaden your horizons! Get out of your comfort zone!” His advice rang in my soul’s eardrums, and off to Seattle I went.
High school was a rocky start in which the awkward middle school years seemed to linger for too long. However, by the graces of a guy who wanted to be my boyfriend, I started to shake loose the self-consciousness and tried to emulate his gregarious personality. It paid off in that I gained a bunch of new friends and felt much more confident on the outside and the inside. I also learned an interesting quirk about my personality in that I tend to be friends with people from various groups; I’m not one to have a “clique” with whom I hang out solely and exclusively. Rather, I have one friend here, one friend there, a couple of friends over there, and then my birthday parties end up being a little awkward because none of my friends know each other. By the end of high school, I knew that I had made it when my eighteenth birthday dinner party consisted of a group of eighteen or twenty of my closest friends.
Today, four years after that dinner party, I would only consider a couple of those people to be my “closest friends.”
Some of them moved across the country for university, and only being able to see each other, on average, about once a year has made us significantly less close. Those are the kinds of girls whom I still love seeing and catching up with whenever we are able to, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that it is extremely difficult to maintain close friendships of that nature.
A few of them and I gradually and mutually stopped talking to each other, wherein I think that we just grew apart.
A lot of them stopped talking to me.
Perhaps it’s a recognizable story: I would start to realize that I was the only one making the effort to spend time with a friend, and that most of the time when I would ask them to hang out, they would be “too busy.” Eventually, I would stop trying; I didn’t want to beg them to hang out with me or be a part of a one-sided friendship.
It was really sad to lose some of those friends in the beginning. However, I just saw it as, perhaps, the course that life takes when people grow up, go to college, and make their way into adulthood. I guess people really do change.
I started to become concerned, however, when the aforementioned scenario kept happening to me again and again.
I had to wonder: is there something wrong with me? Why don’t I seem to be able to hold onto my friendships? Am I like Taylor Swift, who keeps writing songs about her horrible boyfriends breaking up with her, incapable of realizing that perhaps she is the problem?
I thought that I was a good friend/likeable person; I’m fun, easygoing, always down for an adventure, reliable, loyal, and, I’d like to think, a good listener. If you call me at 3:00 A.M. in tears, I will counsel you and not be annoyed. If you call me at 3:00 A.M. wanting to take a spontaneous road trip somewhere, I will also be down. Yet, repeatedly finding myself in a situation wherein I was the only one making the effort to maintain a friendship made me wonder if my friends actually thought I was weird/boring/annoying/not a good listener/selfish/whatever. Asking oneself, “Why don’t people like me?” has got to be one of the worst internal experiences a person can have.
However, as I look back at the past several years and even the past several months, I have changed enormously. I have moved, lived on my own, traveled to India, studied in Paris and traveled independently in Europe. I went through a devastating breakup. My father died. I am a lot stronger and more mature than I was in high school, than I was a year ago. So maybe it is understandable that someone who would want to be friends with 16-year-old me wouldn’t want to be friends with current me, because those two versions of myself merely resemble each other- they’re like cousins.
Perhaps the most significant change that I have recently undergone is being a lot more comfortable with simply being myself. I feel more capable of being vulnerable, honest, and emotional in front of others; I can say the expression, “When my dad died,” without the handicap of becoming petrified. Additionally, writing was something that I used to do in secret, and even having an academic essay peer-edited in class terrified me. A year ago, I performed at my first open mic, and I now do so regularly and have a blog. Being myself is still a struggle, but I feel a lot more unabashed about it than I used to. At the end of the day, caring about what others think of me is too goddamn exhausting.
And ain’t nobody got time for that.
Alas, allow me to end with another familiar phrase, the one about how it’s better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you’re not. It’s painful, but it is true; the process of learning to be yourself can leave you with fewer friends, but at least those friends love you for your real self. Being loved for your real self feels a million times better than having a bunch of friends who don’t really know you and around whom you must constantly act.
This video is also very, very helpful on the subject of being yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xx_pwu7n-Y