BFF January 11th, 2010
Today begins a four-part series on friendship. For the next four weeks I will dedicate one post each week to exploring the many facets of friendship.
There are many kinds of friendship. Probably as many as there are people in the world. And I don’t claim even to begin to understand them all. But throughout my life, my own friendships have tended to fall into one of two categories: immediate and intimate, or slow and superficial. Perhaps I should elaborate.
Immediate and intimate. I call these the summer camp friendships. A strong bond is formed early and they develop quickly after that. Intimate depths are explored. I feel like I’ve known this person all my life, but yet wonder how I’ve made it this far without her. Given the ferocity of the connection, and the intensity that develops over a matter of mere weeks or months, I’m always quite sure that this will be an enduring friendship; one for the ages, for certain. And yet, the summer camp friendship almost always flames out. You leave camp, or Yellowstone National Park, or your summer internship, and without the artificial trappings that birthed the friendship, it fades. Perhaps you stay in touch via e-mail, or if you (and the other person) are very dedicated, a periodic phone call. But ultimately you go back to whatever your normal life is, and that person just isn’t a part of it. And you aren’t a part of theirs. And the friendship that seemed so elemental to your life just a short while ago, has become nothing more than a BFF at the end of a letter written in four different colors of pen (if you’re 12 and just got home from camp) or an annual Christmas card or birthday phone call (if you’re 32 and BFFs are a little passé).
Slow and superficial. This category holds the majority of my friendships. These are the friends from school and from work, the neighbors, the people you see regularly. And you trade books, recipes, parenting tips, and birthday lunches. These friendships are reliable and consistent and throw very few curve balls. And everything is polite and pleasant and really there’s nothing to complain about. But yet the friendship lacks that visceral connection, that feeling of simpatico. You want to dive into the summer camp friendship depths – to confess your biggest dreams and frailest vulnerabilities. But you’re afraid. You don’t want to walk out on that limb alone. So you continue to play it safe, and so does the other person. You appreciate the steadiness of the friendship, but you yearn for it to be more.
And so it is that I have come to accept female friendship as one of the great challenges of my life. I find intimacy that flickers and fades. Or I find something on solid footing that never digs deep. And I struggle with how to bridge the two. Should I work to elongate the summer camp friendships into something more enduring? Or should I take a leap with the everyday friends and hope I don’t cross some unstated line of propriety? The fears either way can be paralyzing. With regard to the former, it goes something like this, “What if it didn’t mean as much to her as it did to me? What if she’d rather just leave it behind? Do I seem needy and desperate if I try to sustain it?” And with regard to the latter the monologue goes, “What if she doesn’t want this kind of friendship? What if I freak her out? What if I put myself out there and she doesn’t reciprocate?”
Despite one or two valued and enduring friendships, it’s only been in the past couple of years that I’ve had any success with a happy medium. I have a group of girlfriends from graduate school with whom the gradual evolution of the friendship has taken on more depth and significance with time. Perhaps this is due to a greater level of maturity in our 30s than what I experienced as a teenager and younger adult. Perhaps it’s because pregnancies, childbirth, career transitions, and all other manner of joy and strife have put us through the trial by fire which forges something true. Like most of my friendships, I don’t entirely understand why it works or doesn’t. But it seems to work. And for that I am utterly thankful.
I continue to wonder what other people’s experiences are in this realm. And I wonder if it is something specific about me that has led to this set of experiences, or is it more universal than that? I’m sure I’ll continue to search for the answer, even if the search continues to be fruitless.