Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Song That Friendship Taught Me

Moving so often as a child was hard. School after school—new friends and more new friends. Sometimes I found my niche right away and sometimes I never really fit in. Many of the kids I wanted to befriend were fine with a casual friendship, but made it clear they didn’t need anything more. In other places, I would bond with someone quickly, only to be ripped apart a year later when we moved again.

Over and over again, I experienced not fitting in, not being needed, not being good enough, not being anyone's first choice. It didn’t take much for that message to resonate in my heart.

To dig in deeply. 

To make me desperate to figure out where I belonged.

The first stable social group I had was my friends at boarding school. My Sophomore year I spent most of my social energy on hanging out with a bunch of kids who were in full-blown rebellion. I wasn’t far from that point myself and I loved the attention I received for breaking the rules. Most of them were expelled from school that year and I had to “re-group” my Junior year.

Most of them. There were two girls I met that year that I became incredibly close to. Tami was my roommate and Wendy lived across the hall. We shared the typical dormitory confidences and some disagreements, but we were definitely fixtures in each other's lives. My friendship with Tami and Wendy formed the framework for female friendships that sustained me over the years. I learned about the importance of honesty and vulnerability from them. And I learned about the hurt of broken confidences and forgotten promises. They taught me the strength that comes from being woven into each other’s lives and the emptiness you feel when you realize you’ve unraveled. I let them down sometimes, but they didn’t let go of me—and vice versa. 

Wendy and I remained close friends after graduation. She understood when I was sad and discouraged, and she never stopped loving me, even when I wasn’t the best friend she needed. To this day, I can look forward to the occasional comment on my Facebook page reminding me that we have a lasting bond. Tami and I were close for a few years, but in adulthood we drifted apart and my attempts to stay in contact with her were unsuccessful; I gave up several years ago. 

Over the years that followed, I had many more transient female friendships. Some were intensely important for a season, but most just grew out of common activities like church or our children’s social groups.

But then two special friends came into my life. We met through church and school activities. Through our volunteer work at our kids’ private school, we developed a friendship that deepened when they helped me through a family crisis. Once again, I had friends who would make me their first choice. And I grew more and more dependent on their friendship.

The first heartbreak came when one of them moved--sixteen hours away by car. 

I cried when she left, because I suspected she was the glue that held the three of us together. Once she was so far away, the two of us talked less often, but our conversations were always meaningful. We could go months without talking and pick things right up where we left off. To this day, we can just look at each other and know that our hearts are still connected.

My other friend and I grew closer after the move—talking and texting every day. Other friends moved in and out of her life (she was seriously the most popular person I knew) but our friendship was steady and strong. At times I would get a bit jealous of all the people who wanted to be part of her life, but we maintained an active and growing friendship throughout the next few years. And through her I made other friends who became very important to me.

And then she moved. And I cried again at another loss. 

She was only a couple of hours away, so it seemed completely doable to maintain our friendship. After all, it was a place I travelled to frequently, as my children were nearby. For a long time, we continued talking almost daily. We often stayed at her home when we went up to visit. There was always time for coffee and conversation.

Until there wasn’t. 

We were visiting and had gone to church together. She said, “You don’t mind if I go and sit with _________. I don’t get to see them very often and want to catch up with them.” 

I said I didn’t mind. But I did. A lot. After all, I didn’t see her that often and those people lived right there in the same town. 

I was fine with moving from “BFF” to “close friend” most of the time. But again and again during a visit, she would leave me to go and hang out with someone else. I was so insecure in my ability to find a new best friend that I convinced myself that everything was OK.

All of that changed in September 2014. It was the weekend of the Proverbs 31 OBS Retreat, which just happened to be near her home, and I had emailed her a couple of months prior to see if we could have a “girls’ day” on the Thursday before the retreat started. I knew September was often a busy month for her, so I was careful to ask if she had other plans. After a few days, she replied that she was free and we planned the day. 

Thursday was wonderful!  We went for a drive and shopped and talked and ate and had so much fun. We stayed up late talking and I looked forward to spending the morning together the following day, before I left for the retreat.

After breakfast on Friday, she asked me when I planned to leave, because she had some friends coming over so they could all leave together for a girls’ weekend. It was pretty clear that she needed our visit to be ended by the time they arrived, so she could focus on them. She knew a couple of them really needed to talk. I understood, didn’t I?

I understood. I was no longer her first choice. I packed and was gone within thirty minutes. I knew it was done. I was done. I was tired of not being good enough to spend time with when someone better came along. I treated myself to a fancy lunch and a couple of glasses of wine. I was so sad and felt so unnecessary. I had become someone who was easy to leave behind.

I headed to the retreat with a heart that was heavy. I felt unwanted, unimportant, and definitely not good enough for anyone to invest time and energy in.

And that day I met Wendy. And everything I knew about friendship changed.

How ironic that as this friend drifted away, another Wendy told me she’d never give up on me. But that's another story...