But What If I Don’t Have Any Friends?
It seems every day, someone is asking me to Share With My Friends. Share on Facebook. Share The Skimm. Tweet it. Post it on Instagram.
Every article I read tells me how much I need a strong social network to be healthy and live a long life. If I don’t, I’m warned, I will surely die a young, lonely death. But guess what? I don’t have friends. And I just can’t seem to make any friends.
Growing up, I never did have a whole lot of friends. In 6th grade, I started to realize there were girls who were cool and girls who were not. I was part of a group of five girls who were not. We hung out and played horses out in the field at the edge of the playground. We galloped around whinnying like fools, but we were so damn happy we didn’t care how foolish we looked or sounded. We talked about sex, how Christy’s mom and dad MUST have done it twice in a row, because her mom was pregnant with TWINS. We shared a love of Judy Blume books and writing poetry. We performed a skit I wrote in the talent show at the end of the year. They cheered me on when I won the school spelling bee, and out-spelled The Whole School.
Meanwhile, the cool girls all had Jordache jeans and these cool new shoes with a red or blue swoosh on the side that I later found out were called Nikes. I asked for some, but was told they were too expensive. My mom bought my clothes at garage sales, because I was always destroying them climbing trees around the neighborhood. My best friend Sylvia’s mother was skilled enough with her sewing machine that she made all of Sylvia’s clothes. We thought that was cool. We didn’t know that made us nerds.
The pretty girls played the flute or the clarinet in band — nice girly instruments that their mothers rented for them. I got to play my stepdad’s cornet, that he handed down to me in a case with a moldy purple velvet lining.
The cool girls, I’m sure, didn’t climb trees and play in the creek with the boys on the weekend. And they definitely didn’t play the cornet. That was a boy’s instrument.
So we five hung together all through sixth grade, happy and blissfully clueless about our social stature. And then life intervened, and we moved on. I moved from living with my mom to living with my dad and stepmom that summer, and changed schools. Everyone else went on to Junior High and we just… lost touch. This was the world before the internet, before Facebook, before social networks, where we only had the telephone. And I mean the one on the wall in the house, that most of us were not allowed free rein over. We all still lived in the same city, but it may as well have been a thousand miles apart.
At my new school, I made a couple of new friends. We had sleepovers, went to dances, memorized every song in the movie Grease 2, moaned over boys together and went to the movies. Life was good.
Then suddenly, I grew, or my mom shrunk all my jeans, or both. Kids who liked me when school started, suddenly started picking on my short pants and someone decided my back was too curved and my butt stuck out too much, so I was tormented about it. My two friends remained friends, but I didn’t make any more. It was the first time I really experienced how mean kids could be, but it definitely wouldn’t be the last.
The next year, we moved to a different school district, and I was grateful, and excited about the chance to start over with new kids. I made friends with the girl who lived exactly around the block from me over the summer. Her name was Heidi too, and we really liked each other, and became locker mates. I got to know some other girls and made some more friends, and ended up getting really close to Sherri, with whom I shared some of my deepest secrets. Including the secret that people at my old school had picked on me because my butt stuck out. I’m assuming she told all her other, more popular friends my secret so they’d like her more. Whatever the reason, I became the girl to pick on again. Mercilessly.
Heidi moved out of our shared locker, deciding that I was unworthy of her friendship, and moved in with Audra, the much cooler girl who lived across the street from her. I became The Loser. Problem is, I was always The Loser. I still liked books and reading and poetry. I still didn’t have Nike shoes and Jordache jeans because my family still couldn’t afford them. We shopped at K Mart. I still played with Barbies. And liked it. I wrote stories. I still climbed trees. All of these things didn’t make me The Loser when I was 11, but at 13 and a half, they made me a social leper. The weird girl. It was a harsh realization. But my problem was, I was unwilling to change, just to make these people think I was cool. I thought they were idiots. So I kept reading and writing poetry. I switched from playing Barbies to playing Atari, but I still did Barbie’s hair on occasion, because it was soothing. I played Michael Jackson’s Thriller album until the lyrics to all the songs were embedded in my brain. I made friendship pins and traded them with the three friends I’d managed to hang on to in my new school. And continued to be un-cool.
High school came and went and I stuck with my three friends. I made a few guy friends that I really liked, but those friendships were soured somewhat, because the cool kids all told each other I was having sex with them. I’d never had sex with anyone. So by the time high school ended, I had had an ass-full of “social networking” and was just ready to get the hell out of there, and not have to worry about what other people thought of me all the time.
It’s a lot of specific information to remember so well, isn’t it? I’m sure psychologists would say I’m deeply scarred by these awful junior high experiences and carry a lot of unresolved anger and bitterness. But I am not angry. I’m not bitter. It was junior high. It was high school. We were undeveloped, easily swayed humans — in other words, teenagers. I doubt these people even remember the things they did or said and probably don’t care. I saw Sherri about ten years ago, singing karaoke in a bar. She pretended she didn’t recognize me and grabbed my ass. Then she told me I looked just like the main character in the TV show Weeds. I went home thankful that she betrayed me and we didn’t stay friends. These people taught me a lot about what I didn’t want in a friend.
Right before I graduated high school, I met the boy I would marry, who turned out to be the best friend I’ve ever had.
But wait. The articles I read these days tell me I’m not supposed to be best friends with my husband. The “experts” say that’s dangerous and it keeps me, in some way, from being myself. But to call him anything less than my best friend would be an injustice. After 28 years, he knows me better than anyone ever has. And he still likes me. And my butt.
But as a result of meeting the guy who would become my husband and best friend, I left my three high school friends behind when we got married at 18. One of those friends went to college, and that winter, came to visit me while I was very pregnant with my oldest daughter (and very hormonal and prone to tears), and berated me profusely for not going to college, claiming I would never amount to anything. I called my father after she left and burst into tears, telling him everything she had said. He comforted me and told me to tell her to stuff it. I couldn’t help it — I chose marriage and babies instead. It’s just how I’m wired.
Another of my friends had babies, but didn’t get married. And the other one married her high school sweetheart. They divorced a few years later. No great loss, these friends. We just moved on. Well, most of us did. But I’ll get to that later.
There have been a couple friends in the twenty eight years since high school. And believe me, I have wanted friends. Sometimes so badly I could hardly bear it. The 1990’s and 2000’s seemed to be overrun with stories about great friendships among women. The Ya Ya Sisterhood! The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants! Truvy and M’Lynn and Ouiza and Annelle and Clairee and Shelby from Steel Magnolias! The girls from Sex In The City! Rachel and Phoebe and Monica from Friends! Mean Girls! Even Kate Hudson and her co-workers from How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, for God’s sake! I wanted what they all had. Okay, maybe not Mean Girls. But these fictional women all had these deep friendships that stood the test of time, they had girlfriends with shoulders to cry on, girlfriends to get drunk with and laugh with and go dancing with! But I never found them.
It must have been my place in life. Maybe it still is. I had three kids by the time I was 21. When everyone my age was either out working or in college or getting drunk or wasted or whatever you do in your twenties, I was raising humans and trying to keep a marriage together and run a household. When my kids were in elementary and middle school, people my age were working on their Starter Marriages and buying their first homes and just beginning to think about having babies. I had a hard time relating to other parents.
I made friends at my jobs. People I had something in common with, because we did the same job and had the same complaints. I found a group of four friends again, and we had girls’ night once a month, where we exchanged gifts if there was a holiday, celebrated birthdays, drank wine and shared our lives. It was an exciting time for me, and I fear I did very nerdy things, sparked by the books I was reading and movies I was watching. I looked up our Ya-Ya names online. I tried to share poetry that moved me. I tried to start the deep discussions about life that I longed for, to search for the answers to the great questions of our age! I was met with strange looks. They liked me, but they didn’t get me. They just wanted to play Euchre, and talk about work. About the guy one of them fooled around with, who had a curved penis. The good times they had at the bar, after they played golf. The problems at the job three of them still worked at, that I had tired of and moved on from a year previously, and simply didn’t care about anymore. I wanted so much to have deep friendships, to talk about books and feelings and life and God and, I don’t know… just deeper stuff than we were talking about. But they didn’t seem to have the ability.
And when my husband and I went through some very painful times, and I had to put all my energy into concentrating on and repairing our marriage, I left them behind. Sometimes we have to make hard choices. I had to put my family and my marriage first. So I did. As a result, my husband and I became the best friends we are today. And in the midst of the healing, we did the unthinkable. When our kids were 18, 19 and 20, we decided to have one more. So I had a daughter at 40. While most people my age were getting their kids through elementary, or junior high, I was up all night with a baby, breastfeeding, cleaning up puke and changing diapers, which, once again made it hard to relate to anyone my age.
When my kids were little, I was the odd man out because I was so young. I was the 23 year old mother of three at Story Time, among the thirty-somethings. Now that my daughter is 5, I’m the odd man out because I’m so old. I’m the 46 year old at Story Time, in with the twenty-something moms, accompanied by my 25 year old daughter and my one year old granddaughter. When we try to explain that the five year old is the one year old’s aunt, people’s eyes start to cross and they struggle to figure it out.
Don’t get me wrong. I try. I’m not shy. I speak up, and I’m nice. I always have been. But when I take my daughter to gymnastics and have the choice of sitting in the hot hallway that smells like stinky feet, to gossip with all the other parents, or going outside in the beautiful fall weather for a walk, I’m going to choose outside every single time. I can’t help it. Did I mention I like nature? And walking? Oh, and poetry? And reading? Yeah…I’m still a nerd.
What I have realized is that I may never have a huge social network. But I am lucky enough to have created my own friends in my daughters and son. My oldest lives outside Washington DC and works for NASA. She doesn’t want kids EVER, but does a great job helping her husband raise his children. She’s a good part-time stepmom. And she’s raising dogs. It’s enough for her. She’s creative and brilliant and is quick to tell me what apps I need to download, what beauty products I need to try and when I’m being lame and acting like an old lady. And she is ruthless and unafraid of doing crazy shit. Remember how I said not all my high school friends moved on? Recently the friend who jumped all over me for not going to college tried to get my contact information via my oldest daughter on Facebook. Knowing that we had nothing in common and I had no interest in rekindling that friendship, my daughter messaged her back and told her that I was shoveling snow off the roof and fell and died. I was both appalled and impressed. This daughter never ceases to amaze me.
My middle daughter is like me — the Sim with the family aspiration. She’s given us a granddaughter and will probably have more some day. She’s the one who kicks my butt out of the house for walks, who tells me to ditch the housework in favor of playing out in the sunshine; “It’s Michigan summer, Ma. You need to get out in it before it ends. The chores will still be there.” She listens to my endless stories — she hears the first draft of everything I write, and never tells me to shut up because I’m getting boring, even though she’d be right to think it. She’s figuring herself out, just like I am and I am honored to be able to advise her occasionally and have her close enough to me to watch her grow into the woman she wants to be.
My son is a hot mess. He’s a twenty four year old guy and he’s really good at it. He’s crazy social in a way I will never be. He loves his friends and can talk to people easily. He remembers the craziest, funniest lines from movies and throws them at me and gets me laughing. He comes to me for advice on vitamins and healthcare and decorating and whatever else he’s into at the moment. And he gives the best hugs. He’s loud and exuberant and reminds me that it’s okay to let loose and be yourself.
And then there’s my littlest kid. Almost six, full of energy, always wanting to play and learn and sing and dance and just be happy. She is like all of us and herself, all at the same time. She loves unequivocally, fiercely and dramatically. I am privileged to be the one teaching and guiding her through life, as I continue to do with her older siblings.
With so many personalities who require daily attention, I may not need friends right now. Or maybe ever. My cup runneth over. So to all the experts and psychologists and nay-sayers, let’s allow a little leeway on the whole “You Must Have Friends” issue. Maybe I’ll have more time for friends in about twenty years. You know, when my granddaughter has her own children and my youngest two have kids and my older daughters are grown and nobody needs my advice and input anymore. Gosh, I hope that never happens.