I was thinking a lot about friendship this morning. I should be thinking about how many "heavy duty hoodies" I need to place on my spirit order, but instead I'm thinking about friendship.
Friendship is a very complex thing. I also think that understanding that comes with maturity. My daughter struggles weekly (if not daily) with friendship. She's still at the age when the "popular group" matters. I have tried to talk to her about the popular group and why you don't need to be in it. I was never in the popular group (or I was the popular group and didn't know it). I was kind of rebellious of the norm. I spent plenty of time wearing the exact same sweater and the exact same shoes (we had uniforms so this was our opportunity to be unique) in 7th grade for sure. In 8th grade I had my first boyfriend and having the same shoes as everyone else became a little less important. By the time I was in high school everyone called my shoes "HO shoes" and I don't think that was necessarily because those were my initials. For a variety of reasons I realized that I was never going to fit into the norm (or conform) and if that was what it took to be in the popular group then that wasn't for me. Actually I don't really think there was the popular group, I mean in 5th grade there was, but then there were always these fights. I did not understand why you would fight with a friend. I mean you might disagree with someone but why would you fight and why would you then start trying to turn everyone against that person. I never really had to worry about that because I was the fat country girl and didn't really fit in (initially). So I became the mediator between the groups and I made friends with the boys. I figured it out. Anyway, I have watched both the popular group and Mollie's understanding of this begin to evolve. I told her if you limit yourself to just one group (or spend all your time obsessing about being in that group) then you will miss out. She tried for a while being a part of several different groups but then one group would have inside jokes she missed out on while with the other group and they wouldn't explain them. She has come to understand that each girl at an individual level can be nice and be her friend. That doesn't help though when she knows they are all together and not texting her back to tell her where they are. I know from experience once she gets there she will be fine, but still she has to be invited and can't just show up (we have yet to prove or disprove this theory). Fortunately for me I lived "out of town" in the country and didn't have social media or a group walking by my house that she has. It wasn't in my face as much. It's one thing to know something is happening without you, it's another to watch it.
When we moved to Terrace Park it seemed we were surrounded by groups. We would go to the pool and there would be groups gathered around tables with picnics and coolers. I longed to be a part of one of them. I have come to the conclusion that you can wait to be invited to be a part of a group, invite yourself to be a part of a group or just make the damn group yourself. Making the damn group yourself is what I studied in grad school, though we called it "Community Organizing." So when we were not magically absorbed into one of the pool groups, I made my own damn group. I invited all the moms on our block for coffee. Then I invited all the families on the block for a happy hour. Then we rotated houses--putting a giant beer bottle out in whoever's front yard who was hosting the happy hour. As everyone took turns hosting, they would invite friends from off the block and so it grew and grew to the point where people would come up to me randomly and say "I saw the big bottle out, can I come to the happy hour?" And there we had it, our own damn group.
Of course the group changes with the seasons. Some people go away for the summer, some people move away (to the other side of the park ;), some people play a different sport. We came to embrace the TP culture of casual gatherings planned usually on that day--got no plans? Let's barbecue at your house after the baseball game! (if it ever freaking ends!) In many ways this is how our children's friendships were initiated. We were friends with people who had kids our two kids' age (one or both). Our kids' friendships have grown and evolved and so have ours. There was definitely a rough patch when so and so were no longer joined at the hip, but forced to have dinner together because we parents were having dinner together. But on the other hand, when we all went out to dinner after the interminable baseball game--everyone was happy to be together. I hope that it showed our kids you can enjoy someone's company and not have to be their "best friend" or "in their group." Also I should stop making fun of those baseball games for without those lengthy, painful games we might not have forged such strong bonds.
Friendship is a fluid thing. And just because I don't spend every Friday night with you and you don't invite me to every dinner (or any dinner) at your house and I don't invite you to all of mine, doesn't mean we aren't friends. Friends fit a variety of emotional needs and even practical needs. I know a lot of people who play tennis. They have tennis friends. People who go to school outside of Mariemont/TP have school friends. Some of these situational friends are people you might never be friends with (or bonded with) outside of being in the same place at the same time doing the same thing. In New York I had my "dog" friends, we knew each other quite well from the time standing around watching our dogs run around. Some of them I knew for years before I learned their name, some I never knew their name. Some I keep in touch with because we were meant to become friends beyond the dogs. Same thing happened in the playground. Though the playground definitely divided people by parenting styles. That's probably a whole other blog post though.
There are friends that you can see after 30 years and it's like not a day has gone by and they become once again an important part of your life. I have many friends like that--especially now in the time of Facebook. I feel like I am a part of their real life, even though I'm getting cyber updates (or texts or emails). There are many friends I get a Christmas card from once a year, but the bond of college or the early New York years keeps us in touch. I know I could go pick up a conversation with them right where we left off. There are friends you think maybe you aren't close with anymore, but in the blink of an eye are there for you in tragedy or sadness. (That's why you always go to the funeral -- yet another blog post to be written -- or maybe I already have.)
I also have a very special and important group of friends whom I've never met in real life. We all met 14+ years ago when we were pregnant with our July babies. This group of women bonded over the fact that we have babies who were born in July. We live all over, have families of 1 - 6 kids and do a million different things. We have provided each other with a safe space to discuss a variety of topics we might not with other people. It is a weird, wonderful, unique group of women (no one is weird it's just a little weird how close you can feel to someone you've never seen in the flesh) whom I've grown to count on in ways I wouldn't have imagined-- starting 15 years ago when I sat in my office typing away over a dial up connection to women half way across the country worried that I could never love another baby as much as I did my first.
Friends meet a variety of needs, that's why I scoff at the notion that there is one best friend. Well scoff probably isn't the right word because who am I to judge others' friendships. I think to call someone friend you need to understand their limitations, their quirks and that special thing that puts them in the category of friend. Having unreasonable expectations of a person, limits their ability to fit in the friend category. If you are constantly disappointed by someone because you expect them to act in a certain way, you will never grow in your friendship. I always say "to know them is to love them." Some friends are always late, some friends show up all the time, some friends are 50/50, some friends remember your birthday, some friends remember to ask about things, some friends are just there to listen, and some friends are there for you to listen to (hey it's good to know other people have issues too!). I know pretty much who is going to fall into each category and because they are my friends (and I want them to be my friends) I understand and go with it. If I let it annoy me then I'm not really their friend and they probably won't be mine for long.
It's ok to have differences. I know that my politics are quite different from several of my closest friends, so we don't talk about politics. Simple as that. If I spent all our time together trying to convince them to change their ingrained political belief, I wouldn't be much fun to be around. I learned very quickly when we were applying to nursery school in NYC whom I could talk to about it and who I couldn't. I'm pretty quickly getting that about college too.
Sometimes I still go back to that junior high mind set and over think the group thing. Well sometimes I wonder if it's my fault that Mollie isn't in the popular group because I don't try harder to be friends with the moms in the popular group. It's not that we aren't friends or friendly. It's just that we have our own inner circles and without doubling the group we can't really expand. Maybe that makes sense, maybe it doesn't. I mean I always have room for new people in my life. I remember reading somewhere that people in their thirties raising young children don't have time to make friends. They have their friends and they aren't really looking to add more. It's just too much trouble. Well I wonder if that was a New York thing? I moved here when I was 40 and whether or not I wanted new friends, I needed them and thankfully people here made room for me in their inner circles. Actually we call that group "the usual suspects." I believe that term was coined by the person who taught me the importance of having people you call "girlfriends."
I had a number of friends in high school whom I was close with at different times. In the years that have passed they sort of all meld together. I'm fortunate enough to get to spend time with some of them and their families (both their parents who were an important part of my formation and their kids who I'm happy to say my kids call friend). So I'm going back to high school. Back to the time when a song meant everything. Kenny Loggins' "Whenever I call You Friend" was one of our theme songs. I'm pretty sure we even had a dance we did to it. It's funny just now looking at the words I realize that he and Stevie Knicks were talking about "doin' it" and we were talking about what ever we were doin' that weekend.