October 16, 2015

Make New Friends, Keep the Old


One of the more exciting occurrences since I made the move to New York has been the opportunity to reconnect with old friends. And by "old" I mean high school old -- people I met in Spokane. There's certainly an irony in having to move across the country to find the people I grew up with, but I guess all roads lead back to NYC.

I've noticed a funny phenomenon when it comes to considering old friendships, and I don't think I'm alone in thinking it: Rather than accepting that we simply fell out of touch, I always assume something went wrong. I make up all kinds of excuses why I ought not to "bother" people who, for one reason or another, fell out of my day-to-day life.

They've probably become a different person, I reason, or they'll expect me to be the same person, and they'll be disappointed with who I've become. 

I probably did something to offend them that made them stop contacting me on purpose. I shouldn't rock the boat.

Maybe there was some reason we never got along in the first place, and it came out in the wash already, and that fact has been lost in the tricky fog of friendship nostalgia.

Friendship Nostalgia: a longing for "the way we were;" the desire to return to a specific moment in time with a friend. Don't we all share a little of this?

Like most people, I'm not perfect. I have lost friends on purpose (and if you're reading this right now; no, it probably wasn't you!), and friends have probably lost me on purpose. In my younger years I wasn't very good at apologizing or expressing my own feelings of anger and hurt. I had two younger brothers who were always ready to punch it out, then forgive and forget without ceremony. There was an unspoken understanding that no offense would last through the morning, and for a while I applied that principle to my interaction with all friends.

Of course I ran into problems right away. I still remember a girl in elementary school who, in the middle of a dollhouse disagreement, serenaded me with a song about how to get along and talk about our feelings. I think she made it up. To date I can't think of a time I felt more uncomfortable around someone my own age. I actually wanted the floorboards to open and swallow me up.

On another occasion -- and this was in high school, mind you -- a good friend was irritating me at lunch. Some primal mode of sibling battle kicked in, and I struck her across the arm. What I thought was a light smack, like you might give a puppy when it pawed at a child's face, made my opponent reel back with an astonished "Owwww!" and I immediately felt embarrassed. Clearly this was not the way to solve post-pubescent problems. I'm lucky that this friend had a sense of humor and brought it up when I was too mortified to confront the issue. It gave me the chance to apologize like a rational human being, and today we're able to look back on the situation and laugh.

This is all to say I'm not pulling these excuses out of thin air. I've made mistakes, and because I am a perfectionist, I'm sure that every "straw" is the last when it comes to friendship disputes. But them I'm forced to question whether this sort of anxiety is universal... and something we're all just not talking about. This hearkens back to an earlier post on recognizing fear. When we own what we're afraid of and choose to face it, there's no reason we can't bear our souls to those we once related to and see if there isn't still friendship to be fostered there.

Curiously enough, the people who I have the pleasure to reconnect with in New York share a striking personality trait: self-assurance and the intrinsic ability to imbue it in others. Maybe this is less surprising than it seems; after all, it takes a certain kind of person to move far away from home and start their lives in an enormous city that regularly dashes dreams like bugs against its skyscrapers. But as someone who's lived under the tyranny of the infamous "Seattle freeze" for the past six years, it's tremendous to discover people -- not just one, but a whole collection of them! -- who are not only interested in what you want out of life, but will also go out of the way to help you realize it.

In a way, these are the people I've been looking for my whole life -- and how funny that they've been in my life all along. Somewhere along the way, we just lost one another's addresses.

I'm not ruling out the fact that reunion itself is a form of nostalgia. There's a certain excitement in suddenly being able to reference memories with someone who doesn't need the Cliffnotes version of your past. Still, whether we make a point to meet regularly or we lose one another once again in the throes of reality, I will never forget the people who came out of the woodwork this first month to make me feel at home.

If you have a chance to rekindle a once-cherished friendship, don't let anxiety get the better of you. Don't feel too cool for reaching out to someone who liked you even when you were a lesser version of yourself. Don't act like you've outgrown them (unless, of course, your therapist tells you you have.) You may be surprised how easily things fall back into place. Chances are they will remember your better qualities -- the ones that brought you together in the first place -- and be generous in reminding you of them. They will assure you that you'll be okay, because you've really been okay all along.

2 comments:

  1. This brings up another interesting idea, the modern friendship. How to support one another from afar.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! Again, I think having the bravery and vulnerability to reach out with genuine interest speaks miles in a friendship. Sometimes distance reveals who you truly need in your life!

      Delete