Friday, November 25, 2005

Who Will Be My Friend?

When I was small, I had a book called Who Will Be My Friend?. It was, predictably, a story of a kid going to kindergarten who was scared about his first day and his mother described for him all of the wonderful things that he would do there. I can still picture the play dough cookie that he made with a bite out of it that looked like a crescent moon. I assume that at some point the mother assured the boy that there would be plenty of kids that would be his friend and, in the end, he found at least one.

This book has been a bit of a touchstone in my life. I've always felt so much better when I've known what to expect ahead of time. When I was in the third grade, I remember freaking out about going to camp, crying in the dark of my room before I went to bed. My mom came in, held me while sitting in my chair with the lights still off and described some of the things I would do. I also wanted to know who would be my friend then. Oddly, camp that year is one of the few experiences of my childhood where I ended up in a "popular" group, simply because of the way our cabin assignments worked out.

My first semester at college was extremely tough because it seemed like everyone made their best-friend-forever in the first weekend and since I don't make friends very quickly (I'm pretty bossy and sarcastic and it takes people awhile to decide if they like me, plus I'm a little judgmental and have to wait until time overcomes my first impressions of people, which are not
usually generous, much to my shame), I missed that opportunity to pair up. By then, there was no room in all those couples for a third. Meals were especially hard because for some reason I had a huge block about walking into the dining hall by myself and either sitting down at someone else's table or sitting by myself. I guess I thought that if I gave the impression that I had no friends, it would be like a self-fulfilling prophecy and no one would want to be friends with the girl who had no friends. So, if I couldn't find someone to walk with me to meals, like my roommate, any of the girls on the floor, or a classmate from a class right before lunch, I stayed in and ate macaroni and cheese that I made in my hot pot. Puh-theh-tick. I met Susan when she confronted me in the bathroom, both of us wearing our robes and she with a towel on her head, demanding to know if I had done Dramatic Duet Acting in high school and when I confirmed her suspicions, going on to tell me that she competed against me and how much she loved my Holocaust survivor character and how it made her cry. (I was later to learn that a lot of things made Susan cry in a very charming way, but this did not lessen my feeling of being appreciated.) So, when I met Susan, who actually lived in the room next to mine, in the second semester, things got easier. I had my best-friend-forever. But Susan lives in Geneseo , so I don't have her to hang around with all that often.

This idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy actually had quite a history in my life before I went to college. The lunchroom fear, in particular, was always there on the first day of school. However, I don't think I was alone because I remember lots of people asking excitedly which lunch everyone else had. However, before college, this fear was a one-day only affair, since adolescent socialization requires that after the first day of school, certain groups of friends can be found in the same place at the same time every day. I had routine to fall back on. But the idea that if I arrived by myself somewhere I would be giving off a message that I must not be worth befriending since no one had bothered to do it yet reaered it ugly head in other parts of my life. I remember freaking out in the fifth grade because I didn't have anyone to go to the Fun Fair with. My mother argued with me in bewilderment because she couldn't see where this frenzy of worry was coming from. I'd been dropped off at Fun Fairs before. In reality, I guess that I had started hearing that kids were going together, maybe even in pre-date kind of setups and maybe someone asked me who I was going with. But I could never express these kinds of social pressures to my mom. I just felt them. So, finally, we called my friend Alina, which was a little odd, because I think we were in a stage in our long friendship where we weren't talking. But I had someone with whom to appear at the Fun Fair and I would not be alone.

When my friend Tiffanie had a coming-out party when she was 16, again I could not simply be dropped off at the hall by one of my parents. Tiffanie was the only person to have a coming-out party so I had no idea what to expect. This time, there was no rocking me in the dark and explaining what to expect. My mother didn't know either. So, if I was going to walk into this blind, I wanted to be in the company of others, so I could observe their behavior and mimic it. Since I didn't have a best-friend-forever that was going to this party, I had to repeat the earlier Fun Fair Fiasco and call around to various acquaintances to see if I could get a ride. I procured one with a guy named Steve, who was a senior and in the choir I was in. He was also giving a ride to at least two other people. The combination of these variables - acquaintance, older boy, other people - meant that it was almost inevitable that he would be late, but at 15 years old, I didn't know that. So now you must picture the pathetic sight of a young, awkward girl with long, straight, dark hair, dressed in a white lace formal dress, her first formal dress. She is sitting on an old church pew, looking out the window for any sign on a beat up old station wagon to pull into the driveway. Every once in awhile she gets up to make sure the front light is on and to catch a surreptitious look at the clock. Her mom kind of hovers without hovering because every time she asks if I'm all right or if I'd like it if she just took me, I bite her head off and although she probably knows that it's not her, it's my state of mind, she thinks that she's just making it worse but she doesn't know what else to do. It was pretty awful, on the adolescent scale. Finally, Steve shows up and we go to the party and everything is fine. I don't let on to the people in the car that I was upset or even waiting very long because that would imply that I was reliant upon them and if you show neediness, that's another huge sign that you're not really worth befriending. Scoff at the silliness, but how many times have you complained to a good friend about another friend or acquaintance who was just too demanding, clingy or persistent?

I am happy to report that one of the huge benefits that I gained from my time on the island was a complete sense of self-assurance and confidence. In a conversation with Faith once, I described this sensation of finally sitting down into the chair that was myself. She asked me how old I was and when I told her I was 27, she sat back in her chair, looked across the table at me and smiled. She explained that astrology has a phenomena called Saturn Returns. It happens every 28 years or so and it is marked by sense of self-knowing and new decision-making that sets us back on the right path. Now, I certainly didn't get here all at once. I felt a similar sense of comfort with myself when Dennis loved me and I had him for a partner. Then, I didn't need to prove or pretend that I was friend-worthy; having Dennis caused me to know I was and so I could go into new situations by myself because even if I self-destructed in that situation and nobody liked me, I was coming home to Dennis. Why I didn't feel that same kind of assurance coming home to family, I don't know. I certainly knew that they loved me no matter what, but I guess I took them for granted. Because their love was unconditional, it didn't really count in terms of making me feel like a worthwhile person. I was always the best singer in the choir to my father, despite the fact that he couldn't actually hear me over everyone else and even if he could, he's pretty much tone-deaf. His approval was no gauge for how well I actually did. But once Dennis left, I was back to, well, not square one, but at least square ten. Being on the island gave me the time to heal and to open me up for Saturn's Return. Jeff's love and the easy friendship of so many people there helped tremendously. But because we parted on good terms, I was able to take that assurance with me when I left instead of having to let Dennis take it with him. I also experienced a huge upwelling of God's presence, which reminded me that He also loved me no matter what.

So, in starting out this new adventure, I am confident that I will be able to walk into new situations and make friends. If there is a concert I want to go to or a restaurant I want to try, I will go try it, even if there is no one to go with me. The problem is that there is nothing I want to do. So, I've been worrying a little bit about how I am going to make friends, which is why I started writing this post in the first place. I won't make friends other than my brother and my roommate if I don't stop watching The West Wing and leave the apartment. But I have no desire to go.

Some of this reluctance is adjusting to the amount of energy that my job needs. Some of it is that I'm applying to grad school and need to start studying for the GREs. But the fact remains that I'm a little worried that I am coming back to my old fears of Who Will Be My Friend.

I started thinking about this because as I have begun looking for a church, one has been recommended to me that is just down the street. It's new and aimed at people my age. I met the pastor while I was at the conference last weekend and it was recommended by someone I work with. A family friend who is my age goes there. I would probably make a lot of friends. But, I realize that I'm reluctant to go. One reason for this is that my whole family has attended a service at this church and no one was impressed. They found it simple and with the goofy "contemporary Christian" worship rituals. I like traditional services. I like old hymns. I like semons that take scripture, study its historical context and apply that lesson to our modern lives. I also like elders. This church has no elders. But, mostly, I'm a little hesitant because right now, if I started attending this church, it would be my only outlet for finding friends. And, frankly, I'm not sure that I want to be friends with other Christians.

I know, I know, that sounds awful. But I've gotten used to being the only Christian in my group of friends. I like having conversations with them about their concepts of the church and Christianity and knowing that they will actually listen and be interested in what I believe because they respect me, my experience and my intelligence and know that because of that intelligence I'm probably not just parroting lifestyle beliefs dictated from a pulpit. When I talk about my faith with other Christians, my unorthodox beliefs label me in their minds and I almost always feel a palpable shift in the relationship as I become, in their minds, one of the lost sheep as opposed to being part of the fold. Although most of them will continue to be nice to me because Jesus says we should be nice to everyone, my experience is that I'm not really enjoyed. And, if I'm not really enjoyed by someone, I don't tend to be able to really enjoy him or her and real friendship can't be created.

As I write this, I realize that I made these decisions about other Christians years ago and in closing myself off, I am allowing myself to be prejudiced. I have created my own personal stereotype and being my own kind of bigoted. If everything else in my perspective has changed over the years, why wouldn't I test the waters on this one and see if the water hasn't, in fact, warmed up a little? Ugh. Self-reflection sucks sometimes.

I guess I'll go to this church. Maybe not this Sunday, though. I have a lunch date with a friend this Sunday and this service doesn't start until 11:00. Since I started thinking about how I would make friends, I've talked with my little brother about it a little. He was very nice and assured me that I would, in fact, make friends. He would tell me if I wouldn't, so it's actually comforting to hear him say that. I mentioned that at some point here, I would probably start reading the Chicago Reader so that events actually had a chance to spark my interest. He also recommended finding a coffeehouse that I liked to spend a couple hours at when I have days off. He said if I created a routine of being at the same place, people would actually start to talk to me. He also, reluctantly, said that he would probably start bringing me around his friends a little more, too. That's pretty nice of him.

I want to conclude this post by saying that my mother always did the right thing when I was freaking out about friends. She let me see that she was bewildered. She liked me so much and she just didn't understand why the other kids didn't see what she saw. She never left me completely to my own devices. She backed off enough that I was allowed to experince these crazy emotions by myself, but she was always close enough that I didn't feel like I had to cross a great divide to go to her for comfort. She let me yell at her and held me when I was done. I guess that I don't and never did completely take hers or my father's unconditional love for granted. The fact that I'm here, engaged in this act of self-reflection, rather than being trapped in an unbalanced morass of uncontrollable emotional reactions is proof that the emotional foundation that they built for me is about as stable as any mortal can build for another. Only God can build a stronger one and we messed that up in Eden so I'll have to wait for the afterlife to experience that. So, even though it's not Mother's Day, thanks Mom.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite lines so far of the blogs based in Chicago is:
(I'm pretty bossy and sarcastic and it takes people awhile to decide if they like me, plus I'm a little judgmental and have to wait until time overcomes my first impressions of people, which are not
usually generous, much to my shame),
Now that one made me giggle.
I love you, the dad