I am an only child and from the ages of 4 to 11, my family lived in an apartment. My own natural inclination was to play in my room by myself. I wanted nothing other than to be left alone with my books, my crayons, my stuffed animals, and my Fisher-Price toys. I could keep myself occupied pretty well that way, and nothing really made me happier. But my mother, being a naturally social person, was always after me to play with other kids. I guess she was worried about my social skills or something. Perhaps I would always ask her to play with me or to come see what I was doing and she wanted me out from under her feet. In any case, I always had this dread when she would pretty much force me to go outside and play with the other kids in the apartment complex.
My mother is also German. And the German way is for children to be out in the “fresh air” doing physical things as much as possible with other people. I think she often overlooked the fact that we were not in the temperate, relatively safe and surrounded-by-nature, Germany, but actually in Houston, Texas – where it is muggy and humid and paved over and hot and traffic-filled and the mosquitoes and roaches are ubiquitous and wearing army boots.
She has told me, after I informed her much later in my adulthood about the kids in that complex, that she wishes she would have just let me be. They were pretty rough kids.
I survived though, and after a move out to the suburbs I managed to make some good friends and graduate out into the world with some, hopefully, at least, semi-acceptable social skills.
However, my nature didn’t change terribly much. Okay – the depression I struggled with – from roughly my late junior high years – didn’t help me in wanting to be around people a lot, but I did, and do, have friends whom I enjoy hanging out with.
But the struggle to make them understand that if I needed to be alone, I really needed to be alone, has been frustrating for a long time. I’m noticing that my daughter and my son both have a similar genetic disposition for needing to hide from the world quite often.
Is it any surprise that I married a man much like myself? Homebodies, I think, is what some call it.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy parties and movies and concerts and travel (GOD, how I love travel!) and get-togethers and brunches with my buddies. But, I need recovery time from the physical doing of all that. Maybe more than the average person.
There’s also the sort of person that I am: absent-minded, forever struggling to take care of the adult responsibilities in my life (read: disorganized and terrible at managing time). I cannot lie very well. I don’t have much patience with shallowness, with “fake”, with superficial stuff. I have a hard time, at least it feels that way to me, with making “small talk”. I actually enjoy lengthy conversations about things that are both personal and universal – religion, politics, art, nature, psychology….
In fact, it’s a bit of a paradox that I enjoy talking with someone while simultaneously needing lots of space. It’s very weird that I’ve got no problem talking with strangers at all.
Of course, when I was a teen and in my early twenties, I was constantly on the phone. I think those ages are like that for everybody, really – needing confirmation and validation and advice and assurance and the “latest”.
But now that I’m way past those ages, I actually avoid calling friends just to shoot the breeze and catch up with each other because:
a) I think I have more confidence in my decisions than I used to
b) my life is pretty much “settled” – with the usual problems that every adult deals with of course (illness, money and the lack thereof, parenting, accidents, repairs, obligations and other shit-storms that come our way)
But mostly because:
c) I will talk until the sun goes down and literally nothing I need to do will get done.
Anyway, I found myself wondering a little while ago about most people’s expectations of friendship. I found myself thinking that maybe I was never really cut out for it, because of my tendency to retreat every once in awhile – especially into my head – and my tendency to frequently want to do my own thing.
Let me explain.
It seems to me that many people think of a good friend as one who communicates with you frequently; one who always remembers your birthday and does something in honor of it; one who often pops on over to your house because they are in the neighborhood; one who makes food for you; one who invites you to do things with them all the time; one who shows up for every important occasion and every event; one who hears you’re having a bad day and brings you some sort of treat to “cheer you up”; one who brings you things like coupons because, since you talk all the time, they know that you need them for that whatchamacallit you’ve been talking about or for that restaurant you like; one who always calls just to see how you are; basically – someone who is really consciously thoughtful about you.
And I’d say that I can’t argue with that. Someone like that is, indeed, a really good friend to have. Someone like that is a really good person; a really loving person.
I don’t think I fall into that category though. At least by those standards, it would seem I’m not such a good friend; not such a true friend.
I forget birthdays.
I forget anniversaries of important events.
Not because I don’t think they are important!! I just have a pretty horrible memory for and sense of dates and time passing, especially when there is some sort of stress going on in my life…and lately, that seems like almost all the bleeping time!
And maybe that makes me inconsiderate?
I am always late. No matter how hard I try – and believe me, I DO try – to be on time, I hardly EVER manage it. With anyone or any function.
And maybe that makes me self centered?
Maybe that means I think my time is more important??
I almost never send thank-you notes.
It’s terrible. It’s rude.
But it’s not because I didn’t like the present or didn’t appreciate the thought and effort!
Most of the time, after I’ve opened a present, I’m already composing the thank you in my head, and it’s gushing!! But I get hung up with finding the perfect words and …. the note never gets written and then too much time goes by and then I’m just frickin’ embarrassed. Same with some emails I never get around to responding to.
It’s an awful habit.
That makes me a bit of a spoiled ingrate, right?
I don’t think to make food for people or bring them baked treats.
For one thing, I do not have a history of cooking for important occasions, much less just cooking on a regular basis. I don’t enjoy it and I’m not that great at it and my mom never made me cook with her. She worked weird hours as a nurse and then long days after she left nursing and she just wasn’t the cookie-baking kind of mom. She once made brownies and milk for me to have after school during a brief stint at home; it was nice, but I never felt unloved because she didn’t do it on a regular basis.
And for some reason, my friends and loved ones don’t spring to mind when I’m looking at a case of cupcakes or strawberries or even bottles of wine…and vice versa. Food hasn’t ever been the “token of appreciation” or “comfort” for me as it is for millions of other human beings.
Perhaps I’m a bit …. weird???
Since my own family consisted of three people and my parent’s own siblings and parents lived far away, and since my mom was raised in Germany, the only time we ever made a big deal about any holiday was at Christmas. And even then, it was a traditional German Christmas – decorations go up and presents get opened on Christmas Eve. Halloween wasn’t fussed over much. I threw on something from my mom’s closet and make-up box, grabbed my plastic pumpkin and out I went. My dad would help me carve a pumpkin sometimes. Thanksgiving once consisted of just hot dogs in front of a football game that my dad was watching. So, I’m not the type of friend who particularly enjoys the fuss of holidays; I’ve gotten less and less excited about them as I’ve gotten older. I’m not the one to go around dropping off presents – or food (see: ambivalence to food and cooking/baking) – or doing any holiday-themed anything.
And maybe that makes me like Scrooge??
Maybe that makes me a wet-blanket?
I can be flighty. I can open my big mouth with some fantastic idea I just had about something without thinking it through in practical terms. I can agree to things that I find out I actually can’t do (see: absent-minded, unorganized and poor with time).
And maybe that makes me unreliable?
So – maybe I’m not good friend material.
That’s what I was thinking. That’s what I was trying to reflect upon.
But……..I will say this about myself and the kind of friend I can be:
I’m the friend you can call at 3 a.m. when you are having a really tough time and you don’t have to feel bad about waking me up, not just because I may actually still be awake, but because I seriously won’t mind. I’m the friend who will gladly pet-sit your animals. I’m the friend who will let you stay at my house after the party until you’re ready to go home (IF I got around to throwing that party… I know I keep planning to…) . I’m the friend who will let you cry and vent on her shoulder because I know that real life isn’t unicorns and daffodils. I’m the friend who will still be your friend even if you haven’t spoken to me for years. As far as I’m concerned, if I considered you a good friend back then, I consider you a good friend now and in the foreseeable future. I never wrote you off or stopped liking you. I’m the friend who isn’t going to hold it against you if you forgot my birthday or didn’t get me anything. I’m the friend who will do her damn best to bail you out of jail. I’m the friend who isn’t going to get sick of you being late for anything, because I know that things happen. I’m the friend who will understand if you have to cancel at the last minute, and there isn’t some sort of quota on that. I’m the friend who will forgive you for loving country music or for hating the Talking Heads. I’m the friend who will give you the tickets for free for the thing I can’t make it to. I’m the friend who will pay for your meal, your ticket, or the really important thing you need at the moment, and not expect or want you to pay me back. I’m the friend who will help you bury the body. I’m the friend who will help you dig up the body. I am the friend who will help you move the body to another location. I’m the friend who will hide you from whomever is after you. I’m the friend who will drive you to and from the airport so you don’t have to take a taxi. I’m the friend who will tell you that you have the toilet paper on your shoe/the spinach between your teeth/the bird poop on your shoulder/the skirt that got caught in the back of your pantyhose or God forbid! if you’ve got all of that at once!! I’m the friend who isn’t going to be put out if you’d really rather stay home today. I’m the friend who isn’t afraid to hash out disagreements – and hash it out and hash it out until we both understand each other. I’m the friend who will give you space if you need it for whatever reason. I’m the friend who isn’t afraid of apologizing. I’m the friend who wants to sit with you while you are getting chemotherapy. I’m the friend you can talk to about anything – ANYTHING – at all.
This happens to be one of my favorite Flight of the Conchords songs. I think it covers true friendship pretty well: