Posts Tagged ‘friends’

Friends and Lovers

As you all know, from my Dixie Land post, I recently moved to the south, from the Midwest. While there are a few cultural differences (see the post), generally we’re all the same. “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Yet, I’m still finding it difficult to make friends. Mostly because the majority of people I work with are from France, Belgium, Spain or some other Spanish-speaking country. I don’t fit into this group because a) I don’t speak French or Spanish and b) I’m from the United States and therefore not an outsider like they are and, finally, c) I started in January and all the other new teachers know each other already and everyone knows, bringing new friends into the group is hard. Especially when they don’t share a similar background.

To counteract my lack of friendship in the workplace (I’m also one of the only unmarried American staff members (can’t break into the international or local cliques) and considerably younger than the other unmarrieds which makes it that much harder to connect) I started using Meetup.com. A place to meet people of similar interests, etc. I went to a board game meetup, because it’s held at the coffee shop with the best Beignets in town and because I like board games. Surprise, surprise, I was expecting “party games” (think Last Word, Balderdash, Apples to Apples, Trivial Pursuit etc) when in actuality, most group members play strategy games like Settlers of Catan (and this is the only one I was familiar with and therefore remember). Luckily, all was not lost. There was a new-to-town couple there as well, and the wife and I bonded over our newness.

Saturday night we met up for a drink near my apartment. I was so nervous going into our dinner engagement, I felt like I was going on a date! And honestly, I’ve never had a “date” go so well. Maybe I should become a lesbian (I’m sorry, I realize that was probably very offensive). I’m sure this sounds very weird. We all know what it’s like to meet guys and to have to put yourself out there, and make yourself vulnerable, but you’ve always had your girlfriends to fall back on. Imagine trying to find that support system and making yourself vulnerable, with no one to fall back upon. That is what I am going through now. Sure I have my girls (Cornflower and Sapphire included) but they don’t know exactly what I’m dealing with, nor the people I’m talking about, so it’s not the same.

On a different, but related note, I’ve recently reactivated my OK Cupid account. I figure, I’m putting myself out there to meet platonic friends via the Internet, why not romantic friends? It’s not like I can go out to the bars with my friends or meet my friend’s friends. Yet, every guy I find physically attractive is a “60% or less match.” I know I shouldn’t but I take their little algorithms seriously, but I don’t understand why the cute ones have some sort of fatal character flaw (homophobia, over sexualization*, too religious etc). Sometimes I message them anyway (if they’re cute enough) whereas I get messages from perfectly normal men and ignore them because their pictures just don’t do it for me. This is the problem with meeting people virtually. In person, their personalities can make up for lack of physical attributes, but I’m sorry, that doesn’t happen over the Internet.

So, basically, I’m a at a standstill. Either the cuties that I emailed need to email me back (since heaven knows I’m not going to put myself out there more than once!) or I need to meet guys and girls (friends of all kinds) through work and maybe my new game friend.

* Seriously, the questions they ask… I understand the reasoning behind some of them. If you’re waiting until marriage but the guy who just messaged you thinks 3 dates=sex, well you might have a problem. But so many of the questions are sexual in nature. I just don’t get it. Aren’t these the kind of things you’re suppose to slowly learn? I have learned, however, that OK Cupid users are very concerned about sex (many of the questions are user generated). Also, a shockingly large percentage of the male users only brush their teeth once a day. I have no idea who came up with that question, but I like it.

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The other weekend, I was sitting on a friend’s couch, listening to her romantic woes and about the two biggest relationships she has had to date. Like any good friend, I payed attention to the details and on a personal level, I was fascinated by what were at times unbelievable actions and conversations between my friend and her significant others. You see, I find what some would call gossip enthralling. Since gossip isn’t gossip unless you pass it along or use it for nefarious purposes, I like to think that my interest has more of a psychological or sociological bent. I like to know what is going on in other people’s lives, why they do what they do, and hear about stories that are almost always crazier than anything I could hope to imagine in my own life; I even have a friend who is known for such stories. When asked by a mutual acquaintance if this friend embellishes some of the events she retells, my words were that “this shit is so bizarre, it has to be real!”

So, it is established that I have the predisposition to listen to friends’ problems, out-there stories, and relationship disasters, but apparently, I also give amazing and thoughtful advice. I’m not sure what kind of advice I’ve given to friends in the past that has been useful, but maybe just lending a shoulder and pep-talk goes a long way. I’ve been told many times these exact words: “You’re such a good listener and you give such good advice.”

Ok, I’m flattered. Were I to do college and my career choice over, I might consider becoming a psychologist, so these compliments actually mean a lot to me, besides boosting my sense of what kind of a friend I am to people. Everyone wants to know that they are there for their friends and that they can be trusted to be dumped on by the heaviest burdens and to share them. That’s what friendship is all about.

Sigmund Freud

"And how does that make you feel?"

So, where am I going with all of this? Well, ever since that conversation on my friend’s couch, I’ve been thinking a lot about experience and the capacity to understand events one hasn’t participated in. Maybe distance gives me an objective view of things friends are too emotionally involved in to process. Whatever the explanation, the conversation about my friend’s past loves ended and was finished with the appropriate request for me to reciprocate by sharing my romantic follies.

When I was obviously caught in a situation where I had nothing to say, I did what I always try to do, which is to tell the truth. I told this friend that I didn’t have anything to share and was given a kind, but puzzled look in return. The dialogue that followed was along the lines of “you’re better off” and “men are too much trouble anyway,” but I couldn’t help but wonder what she thought of me. I felt the need to justify what she might have thought was a tight-lipped attitude with an explanation of my dateless existence, just so that she didn’t think I was being rude or one-sided in the swapping of personal details.

So, if I’ve had no real experience of my own, what makes me such an insightful sage that many of my friends seem to feel comfortable talking to? I’m not really sure, but I’m positive that my whole situation is proof positive of the saying “those who can’t do, teach.”

Tooting my own horn for a minute, I have to say that I’m pretty good at the friend-cum-therapist shtick. I listen attentively, ask the right questions, and give the right amount of sympathy and well-meant advice. I can see the path of a friend’s relationship for what it really is before even they can and I’ve predicted the death of numerous relationships and flirtations with a 90% accuracy.

Why then can I not figure myself out? I have no freaking idea!

For now, I guess I’ll just indulge in my hobby and be an ear to friends in crisis. I may not be able to help myself, but apparently, I understand what it’s all about. So let me know what’s troubling you, or give me some explanation for this phenomenon. The doctor’s in!

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Today is a gloomy, rainy Sunday in Boston and the meteorological atmosphere matches my mood. It wasn’t more than a week ago that I celebrated the farewell of two of my dearest friends. These most recent leave-takings are not the first in a string of going-away parties that I’ve had to cope with over the last couple of years though, and are indicative of my age group. The twenty-somethings are a time of change, self discovery, and trailblazing that lays the foundations for the settled decades to come.

I’m proud of graduating from college, twice, excited to (eventually) start a professional job, and having a blast making new friends and exploring the world around me with them. But, with the variety of people you meet in college and first jobs, there is a looming inevitability of losing the people you have grown so close with over the formative years of your adulthood. Only one of my undergraduate friends is from my hometown in New York and friends I have made since that first day in my freshman dorm hale from California to Tennessee to entirely different continents. Eventually, school days end, people move back home, and take jobs out of necessity in different far-flung towns across the globe. You expect goodbyes to come at the end of the four years at college, but then prepare again to say farewells to grad school buddies and chums who have new opportunities for professional advancement. The latter two circumstances are almost even more unexpected and upsetting because there is no deadline to your living arrangements like there are in a four year college. You don’t know when exactly friends will relocate because work and life is unpredictable, especially in this economy.

Which brings me to my maudlin mood. It all started, of course, with my graduation almost three years ago from college in Boston. My closest friends were going back to New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and the Massachusetts suburbs (which really are a world away when you have no vehicle). We had a stellar string of celebrations combining graduation with promises to keep in touch and plans to visit each other. For the most part, all of us have been keeping our word to stay connected through Facebook, e-mails, phone calls, Christmas cards, and rotating visits to hometowns. My local friends and I have been diligent about having girl’s nights, brunches, and shopping trips between work, school, and family engagements. That being said, it is difficult to lose all of your friends at once. All of the sudden you go from living with these people, seeing them at least four times a week, doing everything together, and sharing loads of firsts with them to communicating every so often and having a long-distance friendship. I can see why relationships usually don’t last the long-distance test, because out of sight is often out of mind, and for romance, that is not usually a good thing. But, at least with my friends, we can go without talking for months and still pick up where we left off. Maybe living so close in such an intensive environment brings people closer together, and shared memories of literally the best time of your life build a bond strong enough for the eventual separation. You know each other, have seen each other at your best and worst (holding back someone’s hair while they expel a profusion of alcoholic beverages brings people together), and can probably state three or more embarrassing facts about one another. Friendships like this don’t go away without a fight and losing college friends to post-graduate life is sad because they are not only your comrades, but represent the golden years of your life that you will look back on at your 50th birthday party and say “boy, didn’t we have fun!”

Now, post-graduate friends are equally as special, but are made from a different recipe in the batch of cookies that are life. By the time I got to grad-school, I had gotten over the graduation diaspora from my undergraduate days and was entering a new environment where I had a lot more in common with people I was sitting in class with. Grad school is different this way in that everyone in your program has similar interests. At library school and in an Archives program, it was pretty safe to say that everyone had an interest in books, history, and was probably either a little OCD and/or nerdy in some way. Grad school is like internet dating for friendship. You start out with a pool of people who have the same interests, ambitions, and dispositions, and who therefore will probably hit it off. None of my undergraduate friends had the same majors as I did. Somehow I ended up befriending a handful of scientific-minded people. I know way too much about lobsters than any layperson should, got to see firsthand the pressures of scaled grading, and was palpated*. At grad school however, I met people who I could drag around museums, historic sites, and athenaeums without worrying that they were bored, people who think my attempt at making a historically accurate Halloween costume of a Jane Austen character is cool, and people who sat through a three hour murder mystery cocktail party complete with 20’s decade clothes, vintage radio, and prohibition booze served in tea cups (I go big or go home!). Not to say that my other friends are not interested in those things or that we have nothing in common, but grad school friendships tend to be born from shared interests rather than shared experiences.

So, now that grad school is over, I have to say goodbye to my new set of friends that I made. It is almost worse letting go of these friends because in comparison, the grad school departures are gradual and contingent upon job placements rather than at a known and prepared for date. It started with Cornflower’s move to a job in the South via her hometown months ago and most recently ended with Indigo’s move yesterday. I have a friend going as far as Pakistan but some moving back into Boston. It is a time for change again and I can’t help but be saddened by the second round of losses. Gone are the days when people’s social circles were limited to the surrounding fifty miles and families stayed in their hometowns. I appreciate the ability to travel and to meet people from all over the world, but sometimes I long for eras-gone-by when people stayed in their birthplace and grew up with neighbors. People didn’t have to prepare for separations because they never left, but built a life around their family and friends where they were born. This may sound small-town, but there is a charm in knowing and depending on people staying put.

Goodbye from Train Postcard

"Farewell my friends! Parting is such sweet sorrow... but isn't my hat fabulous?"

With so many farewells, I feel like I’ve become the “goodbye girl” lately. I know I’ll see my friends again and talk to them via some form of technology, but it isn’t the same face-to-face society available when you all live in the same city. Furthermore, I worry about making new friends in such a different environment. There are no more classes to bond over or legitimate excuses to strike up a conversation with a stranger. What works in an educational environment makes you the weirdo on the T talking to people you don’t know. All I can say is that my goodbyes have made me appreciate my friendships and my advice would be to cherish the time you have with friends you make in college.

May your twenty-somethings be as rich and joyous as mine have been so far! Feel free to commiserate with my sad, lonely self below.

*Sounds like a dirty doctor game, right? It wasn’t. It was actually painful at moments, especially near the shoulder blades, but I helped out a friend with her anatomy and physiology studying.

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I apologize in advance, this is kind of long and there are no pictures. I couldn’t find any that worked!

Let me paint you a little picture. My apartment is on the top floor and next door is the rooftop deck of the neighboring building. I’ve lived in this apartment for the past two years (as of June 2nd). The past two summers I listened to my neighbors laugh and converse and they tempted me with their grill-icious scents. I always talked about making friends with my neighbors, because a) you can always use new friends and b) rooftop deck?! Yes please!

Finally, last night I decided to do something about my deck-lust. I was lying around in my apartment after spending an afternoon out in our first lovely day, and heard some male voices. Considering their volume I knew these voices emanated from the neighboring rooftop deck. A glass of wine into my personal happy hour (cheese just calls for wine, duh) my immediate reaction was to don a cuter outfit and move to the chair near the window. Because I’m passive, I positioned myself facing the window and picked up a book that did not scream YA (i.e. not the latest Princes Diaries book). I sat there continuing to “read,” waiting for one of the young men to move and work the grill again. This way, he would be above the fence line and I could make eye contact, or at least be visible. I knew that eye contact, over a balcony, would not be enough, but I hoped that inspiration would strike, and at least they could see me when I decided to talk.

However, as I waited and waited and started to smell their delicious food, I soon heard female voices. And then I knew that my grand plans would not succeed.

I am a dichotomy in many ways. I am sure I will discuss my subdued version of a split personality someday, but today, I’m thinking specifically of my tendency to make friends with guys. But, I do not make friends initially with guys. For example, I work in a high school and when I first started I talked the other female teachers. Fast forward to the second school year, and at a recent work party I found myself surrounded by my male coworkers. I walked into the bar and looked around for the people I felt comfortable with, and actually wanted to spend time with outside of school, and they were all male.

I cannot explain this, nor do I know why boys appeal to me as friends. I’m not saying I don’t have girlfriends, but in each new chapter of my life I find myself surrounded by a new group of male friends*. The guys tend to fall into “in-the-moment” friends while the girls, although fewer per any given location, generally become lifelong friends.

Bringing this back to my neighbors, I started wondering about my reaction to the women on the deck. Probably 10 minutes later I moved from the chair, relocated myself to the couch (away from the window) and got myself a glass of water. I like to think I’m a confident woman—am I pretty? Yes. Am I an awesome person? Yes. Yet, other women intimidate me.

Do I want to date these guys next door? Not necessarily. I don’t know them and for all I know, they could be complete assholes. Do I want to meet new people and expand my last Boston summer opportunities? OMG yes. Do I want the opportunity to spend time on their rooftop deck? Hell yes. Yet, somehow, even while leaving this situation in the “friend” zone, I felt that if girls were there, the guys would not be interested. The immediate assumption is that the girls are the significant others of the guys, but even if they’re not, dealing with girls and guys is difficult. Perhaps it is my experience with my girlfriends, but I know that girls can be very, very, protective of their guy friends (and there probably is some unrequited interest lingering in any given group). Also, to be completely honest, it’s incredibly intimidating to try and break through that wall.

Can I become friends with one of those girls? Yes. Can I become friends with one of those guys? Yes. Can I become friends with the group as a whole? That is much more difficult. Does this say something about my relationships with men? Possibly. Is this a negative aspect of my personality? Maybe. But maybe not. I honestly do not know. Nor can I pinpoint the appeal of male friendship.

* I’m not talking a pack of men following me around, I’m talking a group of 2-3, more only if I’m also hanging out with their friends.

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Bosom Friends

I tweeted this yesterday morning–“my best friend is engaged! so happy for her! (actually happy, not freaked out and kind of happy)”.

As soon as I posted this tweet, I started thinking, is she really my best friend?  I met L when we studied abroad in England.  We studied abroad through the same University (neither one of us attended said University) and were put up in a hotel near Kensington Garden for that first night.  A representative from the University took us (and two others who we never really saw again) to dinner and went over boring administrative stuff along the lines of “all your grades will go to the university in PA and then you have to transfer them to your home university; don’t go into places where you feel uncomfortable (insert scary story here), blah blah blah.”  After a long day of traveling and boring administrative stuff, not to mention a major time difference, L and I were exhausted and looked forward to a good night’s sleep.  Imagine our surprise when we get to our room and find that, yes, it does contain two twin beds, but they are pushed together to form one big bed.  Well, nice to meet you (practical) stranger, I guess we’re sleeping together…

We burrowed into bed, fell fast asleep and the next morning we boarded a train for Lancaster, England.  We were pretty much inseparable during our entire semester in England, and we talk at least once a month now, often times more.  But, is she my best friend?  Do I have a best friend?

I’m actually not sure I’ve ever had a best friend: “A bosom friend–an intimate friend, you know–a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul” (Anne of Green Gables ch. VIII).  All through elementary school my best friends were triplets.  I never had a favorite, it depended on the day, month or year.  I had a best college friend, but is she my best, best friend?  Right now I count five girlfriends who are really, really close and important to me, but it seems against the rules to say I have five bosom friends.  In Boston, I still have one of the aforementioned five, and several second tier friends and acquaintances, so I’m not lacking for social interaction and friendship.

But does it matter? Do you need a best friend?  I’ve gotten through life just fine without a best friend.  Will I someday find that person who will play that role in my life?  Who will be the obvious choice for Maid of Honor at my wedding?  Will my future husband be my best friend?  Is that even healthy?  I often wonder about people who say that.  On the one hand, it seems like a great thing, to be married to your best friend, but on the other, don’t you need that kind of support and love and encouragement for growth outside of marriage?  Don’t you need other relationships? But, who knows, I am certainly no expert!

I know this isn’t really boys, books or bygone times related, but I had to get it out there.  What do you think?  Do you have a best friend?  Do you need a best friend?  What do you think of significant others being your best friend?

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