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Sunday, May 19, 2013

"It's no good trying to keep up old friendships. It's painful for both sides. The fact is, one grows out of people, and the only thing is to face it." --William Summerset Maugham

Last year I realized a few things:

1. My family has some wonderful people in it--and some less than wonderful. They communicate with me infrequently and are not usually around when I'm in need, but they still consider me an integral part of the family structure, meaning they claim me as family even though I'm not really that important in the scheme of daily life. What that means is that I have a place in my family, such as it is. Not everyone has that. I need to be grateful for what I have.

2. In the past seven years I have met person after person with whom I have fallen in love. I've wished those people were my REAL family. For awhile, as with all friendships, those people were excited to spend time with me, wanted to know about me, and checked in with me when I had difficulty. Some of them paid me the beautiful compliment of saying they considered me a part of their families. But the truth is, we all have our own families and nothing changes that.

3. No matter how much I love someone, no matter how much I would love to spend my life interacting with them, I can't make them want the same thing. Tolkien Boy told me that years ago. Well, not exactly that. He said, "Sam, you can't ask people to feel the same way you do." So...during the ensuing years I have worked very hard to allow everyone I know to feel what they do, regardless of whether or not it's what I want.

When I realized that for much of my life I had been seeking parents and a family who wanted me, I was mortified. I wanted to need no one. I wanted to be independent and self-sufficient. The last thing I wished was to acknowledge I wanted people in my life--permanent people who wanted me back. However, part of being honest with myself meant looking at the things I'd been hiding from--so I did. And in doing so, I identified those people I would keep forever. But I also knew quite a bit about friends, which was what those people were.

Friends are an essential part of life. They keep us from being lonely, expose us to a variety of personalities and opinions, and they help us learn who we are. But friends aren't family. We don't wake up to them, share daily meals with them, or take care of them in the way we care for family members. They offer us sympathy and cards and flowers when sad things happen, but they don't stay with us day after day, watching us dig through the sadness, sometimes with less grace and dignity than we might wish. They don't sit up with us night after night because we can't sleep. They don't go grocery shopping, clean bathrooms, or do laundry with us. Friends are social constructs that have infinite value, but really aren't part of the nuts and bolts of our lives.

Knowing this, I tried to make those people I loved, those who would be my friends, become more than that. I wanted them to have importance and intimacy beyond friendship--and I wanted to give that in return. I wanted a family who was involved with me, as my family never had been. And I pursued this for about six years.

Then one day I came to my senses. Tolkien Boy's words came back to haunt me, loudly. I realized that what I wanted didn't really matter. Reality is reality. The people I love are my friends. I needed to allow and honor that and stop trying to make it something it was not. I suppose Tolkien Boy is also the one who taught me this lesson with the greatest impact. As he goes about the process (one started two years ago) of making his own family, I understand how far removed I am from the real lives of my friends. I really don't know anything about them. For awhile, Tolkien Boy and others shared many details of their lives, with the intent of our getting to know one another. I mistook that intent as a desire to have that interest and intimacy permanently.

I have thought about this a great deal in the last year. I came to the conclusion that it's disrespectful for me to wish for familial relationships with friends. There are many different levels and types of friendships:
1. Passing friends--those who make an impact briefly, who bring us happiness in the moment, but who, for many legitimate reasons, must not be present often, or sometimes, ever again.
2. Good friends--those we turn to when we need to talk. They give good advice, listen with integrity, and genuinely care about our feelings and experiences. They're usually in contact with us frequently throughout the years and know our spouses and children. We keep in touch.
3. Best friends--often these are friendships formed in childhood. These are friends who know the good things and very embarrassing things about us and who continue to choose us over and over again. They're the ones who attend our weddings and help raise our children. We think of them and want to share both good and bad times together. They share their families with one another and sometimes spend extended time together. They might seem like family, but they're not.
4. Lifetime friends--the ones we've known forever in varying degrees of closeness. They'll attend our funerals and reminisce even if they've not seen us for years. They send Christmas cards and sometimes phone on a whim. They're the ones who, when we get together after years of absence, feel close almost immediately and the time we spend together feels joyful. But they're also the ones who are comfortable with limited contact. They stay in touch, but don't really know anything about us.

I didn't want any of those things. I wanted siblings who knew me and parents who were proud of me. People who shared my blood and my life.

I freely admit that I was wrong to seek for that among my friends. I also understand that my reasons, however invalid, were tendered under the best of intentions. This year, finally, I was able to let those needs go. I had to honor the friendships offered me, regardless of the temporary or intermittent nature of those. I needed to let my friends be separate from me, to live lives without my involvement, to be who they are--which did not include being my family members.

So I've worked on that with a fair amount of success. The success might not be apparent in my contact frequency with those involved, but it's becoming more and more clear in the way my heart perceives them. They are my friends. Friends are a very good thing.

I have built my own family. I have a husband and children who love me and wish to be intimately involved in my life. I'm hopeful this will always be so. They belong to me. As for my first family, I no longer worry about being in their lives. I don't have the time or energy to make certain it happens and if they're unwilling to put forth effort to meet me halfway, I'm okay with that.

And what I'm realizing about friendships is that because of their transient natures, they might not last, but there always seems to be another waiting in the wings. One day I'll be ready to embrace that. I'll learn how to mourn losses less deeply, and seek out new people to fill the needs created when one friends becomes unavailable. Or I'll learn to fill those needs through other means. This is what real people do all the time. I'm pretty sure, with a bit of practice, I can do it, too.

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