Being a Good Friend Doesn’t Always Come Easy to Me

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Written by Melissa Farley

Friendship has never been my thing. I’ve always wanted it to be my thing. I have fantasies of hosting monthly salons in my home filled with brilliant minds, of Christmases where I cook dinners not just for our small family but our chosen family of friends and of girl trips to Vegas and Cape Cod where there’s so much laughter and wine and womanly love it almost feels ridiculous.

But they’ve always been just that. Fantasies. The truth is that I share a trait with Glennon Doyle in that I have a deep love for humanity, but humans on an individual scale, I have a harder time with. This could be a result of my upbringing – I am an only child. I was born with an onslaught of medical problems, so much so that it traumatized my mother to not want to go through the experience again. Speaking of my mother, my parents are exactly “friend people” either.

My dad has men from work that he has regular lunches with and a neighbor whom he calls and talks about life with on the regular. My mom has always just had close bonds within the family – her mother, her older sister, me. When my grandmother and grandfather owned a home I can remember nearly every Saturday spent there playing games of Sequence and Mr. Mumbles, barbecuing out back with the tire swing and watching episodes of Johnny Carson.

Those who you think are supposed to protect you don’t always do that.

When they sold that house it was like the epicenter of our family dissolved. We all moved to far flung cities throughout the state, grew up and had our own families and rarely came together as one anymore except for holidays and funerals. So, even relationships with my own family have been hard to maintain. I have children of cousins of never met, new husbands or life partners I’ve never shaken hands with and this haunts me.

Another reason for my solitude may have been from damage caused by my other side of the family. I went through a lot as a kid. I learned early that those who you think are supposed to protect you don’t always do that. That people can use God and religion to manipulate you and hurt you and when you realize that, it can feel like not just losing the people who did the hurting, but God too. This deep knowing inside of me may have erected some invisible barrier to stop anything like that from ever happening again.

I thought that maybe my radar was set too high and that’s why nobody ever gets past the perimeter. I shouldn’t say nobody. I have exactly four close friends. Four. That’s it. One of known since high school and we’ve remained friends because she has a magnitude of grace and patience with me as I have continued to battle pulling away. Another I met right after high school and we clicked like it was love at first sight. We just got each other. Eventually we stopped getting each other and stopped understanding the choices the other made and we had a falling out, but we found each other again. Sweet redemption and reunion. Another I met through film and can honestly say I feel like a found a diamond in the rough.

To find someone true, someone genuine, someone so loving and lovely felt like winning the lottery.

In the entertainment industry there’s a lot of performing both on and off screen, so to find someone true, someone genuine, someone so loving and lovely felt like winning the lottery. And the last friend I met later in life. She also showed up in the film world but it was clear she had the light and the mission of someone who didn’t want to be a famous, but someone who wanted to change the world, and like a moth I was drawn to her flame.

These are the four woman I can call when I’m utterly depressed. The are the four women I actually make an effort with to text, to check-in with, to call, to remember birthdays (I’m horrible at that) and outwardly show I care about. When I got married I had two of them stand beside me because I hadn’t fully reunited or found the other two. When I make big life changes or need a Disney fix, these are the people I know who will be there. And I will be there for them – through breakups and career shifts and identity crises and everything else.

But I still feel like I’m a bad friend. I don’t really like going out and partying or doing the bar thing. Partially because I don’t drink and also because I’d rather meet for dinner and go share a cup of coffee at a bookstore and talk about life than try to yell out you over a remix of songs I pretend like I’m cool enough to recognize. I don’t know how to meld with other friend groups or fake it when I don’t like someone so this keeps our social circles eternally separate.

I’m pretty bad at reaching out when I need help.

I’m pretty bad at reaching out when I need help. In fact, I usually fill in the other person after the incident is over. I do this because I don’t like the idea of being a burden, but in the end it just makes the other person feel not included in my life. I’m trying to be better about that. I kind of hate it when people call me. Text me, for gods sake text me, but don’t call me. For an introvert, a call feels like an invasion. An alarm. Pat used to call me when we first dating and I’d answer frantically thinking that the only reason for a phone call would be an emergency.

“If someone was mad at me then I had lost favor with them and it was unrecoverable. I didn’t realize you could fight with someone and move on.”

If I were brave, I’d tell my friends straight out that if they call me, please don’t expect me to stay on longer than 10 minutes. This whole thing is draining to me. I don’t know why, it just is. And I wasn’t lying about the birthdays and dates – I’m so bad at it that I’ve had to program in reminders for all these important life events into my phone.

These bad friendship habits were really plaguing me as the pandemic reached the 3 month mark. I had a lot of time to reflect and think about what was important to me, who was important to me and the reality of my friendships failures came rushing in like a tidal wave. There were friends from school, people that I literally grew up with from preschool through high school that I let leave my life. I set let because I didn’t try to save them. Not even a little bit.

When I was young, I was a bit of an Anne of Green Gables. I felt deeply and wanted deeply and loved deeply and that included my friendships. When I let a friend in, I felt like it was this forever, die-for-each-other, exclusive type of bond. As I look back, I can see where this could quickly get smothering and suffocating and often times when a friend would “fail me” by making a new friend, leaving me out of something or some other such trivial thing, it felt like the end of the world. And there was no recovering. It was perfect or it wasn’t anything at all.

I also didn’t really understand fighting. I think that was totally due to not having sibling to fight with and still love and sit at the dinner table with ten minutes later. To me, a fight was a death sentence. If someone was mad at me then I had lost favor with them and it was unrecoverable. I didn’t realize you could fight with someone and move on. It took me well into my late twenties to come to that place of understanding.  So when a fight or disagreement happened in my early formative years, I mostly just locked up the fortress and receded into myself in silent and solitary defeat.

I felt like the odd one. The one lone red skittle.

I don’t think this is what happened with that one group of friends though. I know what happened there. I felt like less than. I felt like the odd one. The one lone red skittle. They all seemed to be on this life path that I couldn’t find the directions to. Within short periods of time, they became pharmacists or website designers, they got married, bought new houses, had children. Meanwhile I was going off to New Mexico to film a liberal movie about women and doing radios shows and getting body painted and I don’t know… I feel like I shut myself out and at some point, they just locked the door. And it makes me sad as I see them post pictures celebrating each other over dinner parties or even protesting together. I wonder what I could have learned from them if I had been more open and less judgmental about myself, about what they were capable of accepting.

These things rose to the surface when I was taking that Science of Well-being course and they talked about meaningful social interactions and connections. This was a necessary need for human happiness. What does it mean then that I’ve gone out of my way to avoid social interactions? At conventions or large events I often keep to myself, walk like I have a destination to be at so no one will stop me, I’ll write in my notebook so I don’t have to make small talk with the person next to me. I mean, I’ve actually been thriving in isolation during the pandemic. I like it. A lot. Last week I had Zoom calls everyday Monday through Friday and it overwhelmed me.

So I didn’t think pointless mingling and mixing would be a good resolution, I did, however, think that being intentional about nurturing the relationships that I knew were important to me seemed like a good starting point. Not just for my own health, but because my friends deserved that from me. They deserve my best and I’m fairly certain that is not what I’ve been giving. I was so serious about this that I ordered a book called “Big Friendship: How we Keep Each Other Close.”

I was hoping it would be sort of a how-to guide to be a better friend. It wasn’t. It was more of a dissection of one specific friendship in these two women’s lives and how they keep reiterating their friendship to save it. And that is the main theme and key right there – they actively keep choosing to fight for their friendship even when it gets hard or distant or weird. They treat it with as much weight or importance as a romantic relationship. This rang true for me. My dad always used to say that love is not a feeling, it’s a choice.

And love is friendship. The other part of the book I found interesting was when they explored the evolution of friendships in society. How in the past, where marriage was not often a union of love but of convenience or economic necessity, friendships were actually the fires that kept many people going. Women turned to other women and men to other men to have their emotional needs met, but with the rise of Christian concepts of marriage, that became no longer acceptable. You were supposed to have all of your needs met by your spouse at the expense of any and all other relationships, “forsaking all others” as some of the vows say.

The rest of the book made me feel like some sort of antisocial, abnormal monster. They talked about these strong social bonds of their twenties, yearly trips to Joshua Tree with dozens of women living their best lives, intertwined friendship circles of accountability, endless nights out making dinner for each other and essentially dating and identifying friendships as a crucial part of their own personal identities with such ease and normalcy that I felt like there absolutely had to be something wrong with me.

I spend my twenties focused on college and dating. I’ve hated almost every girl trip I’ve ever been on. We’ve already discussed that I don’t know how to insert myself into existing friendship circles. And I can count on my fingers exactly how many times I’ve crashed at a friend’s house and made them dinner or breakfast or whatever. And I’m almost 35 and married so what does that mean? I just missed out on all the blooming friendship years and opportunities?

Then there was this one paragraph about how deadly loneliness is. That chronic loneliness is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and can lead to heart disease and premature death. Holy crap, that’s powerful. So I asked myself, am I lonely?

No. No I am not. I have my four friends. My four fabulous friends. I have my husband and my parents and two dogs that I love more than anything. I am not lonely and I am not alone in this world. Maybe I’ll never be the kind of person that has 50 people show up for my birthday parties or remembers of the top of my head when your birthday is, but maybe I can be a good friend – the truest, most beautiful and loving friend I can be. Maybe all I have to do is ask the people I love how I can better show up for them. Maybe I can practice being grateful for the friends who have stayed, the friends who love the worst parts of me, the friends who have forgiven me and the friends who know who I am already and choose to be friends with me anyway.

I hope to meet more souls out there that light me on fire, that storm beyond the barricade, that love me and my sins. I hope to keep growing bigger and fuller and so whole that I can love more and more and give more and more and fight as freely as I love. I think that’s what I learned from all of this – to be open, to choose love and friendship and to stop trying to be someone that isn’t me because the real friends, they’ll love you in the silence and the pain, they’ll love you in the joy and the laughter, they’ll love you in times of abundance and in times of loss, they’ll love you when you don’t love yourself and they will already know your truth.

Written by Melissa Farley

August 14, 2020

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