Today I ran into an acquaintance I worked with back in my 20’s. She and I both had really good Golden Retrievers that we took to work so I felt compelled to tell her that I am getting a mini in the fall.
I expressed my frustration over naming the little fella and she gave me a hard no on my current best contender, Chief. It has two strikes against it for being 1) a recycled name and 2) being a name my ex-husband chose for a now deceased cat.
I’m still considering it and I’m sure Pablo would understand; a good name is a good name and he only named the cat Chief because it sounded like Sheaf, his favorite stout beer.
As she and I stretched next to each other on the floor of the gym we talked about friendships, social circles, and kids which led me down a somewhat emotional rabbit hole. That’s what I’m going to write about now.
FYI, this is going to be a long and boring post with no pictures of boobs. Sorry.
I am an only child and because my parents divorced when I was in the second grade, and because my mother was finding a new life for herself which necessitated moving around (and this is not a criticism), and because I moved back to Salt Lake City for high school, I was accustomed to changing schools every two years between 2nd and 9th grade.
Let me be clear, there are a lot worse things that can happen to a kid.
I’ve always felt a deep longing to be a part of a close-knit group of friends. I could have put it into words as early as the sixth grade. I would see knots of girls moving en masse from the lunch room to the playground to someone’s house afterwards to hang out and all I wanted was to be included.
At age 45 I still find myself longing for something that the seven year-old me wanted, and I find myself still as irrational and emotional about it as my child self.
I have never been a clique kind of person, not because I was above it, I just didn’t do the things that get you in one. I didn’t participate in team sports or dance club or cheerleading, I grew up in largely caucasian dominated areas (SF not withstanding) among children who didn’t know any better than to be wary of my otherness, it didn’t help that I went to a predominantly white and affluent Mormon high school when I was none of the above.
I had good friends – my childhood best friend being the most important – and I hung out with the freaks and geeks but I was never tight with someone. Never inseparable. It was fine for me in high school. Then I moved to Boulder and went to film school where most of the classes were at night and I always had to attend screenings that went until 10pm on Thursdays and Fridays, prime college hanging-out territory.
To this day I have no friends from college and I’m certain it had to do with the scheduling. When other students were socializing, I was sitting in dark rooms watching silent films.
Before this devolves into a pity party, I want you to know that I’m not trying assign blame, I’m just trying to understand my feelings so I can let go of them.
I have lived in Boulder since I was 19 but I feel like I started over when I was 30. My divorce separated me from my established friends with my ex then Loony and I quickly became pregnant and we did what most people do, we made friends with people who had kids.
When Itchy started elementary school we found ourselves dropped into a very robust social scene full of people that knew each other well from living near each other or having been friends from before having kids. Some even were college friends.
I observed their comfort with each other, the regular open-door happy hours they hosted, the combined family vacations and girls’ weekends, the sense that they moved as a group, everyone (in the group) was by default included. I felt that deep longing to be part of it.
So I tried. I tried with the school mom group, with the gym group, with the pole community, I always did my best to break in, to be included, to be a part of a larger entity. I felt that if I could only prove myself then I would be welcomed.
I threw parties, invited people over, participated in fundraisers, watched other people’s kids and with mixed results. With the exception of Sideboob and a few friends (and my pottery friends), I never achieved that feeling of acceptance, try as I might.
As my old acquaintance said this morning at the gym, “Don’t try. Never try.”
Here’s the part where I own it. I was being a phony. I didn’t want the friendships, I wanted the trappings of the friendships. I wanted the acceptance, I wanted the entree into their worlds, invitations to their parties and adventures, I wanted the network, I wanted the social capital.
This is not the same as making a real connection. It’s fake, it’s grasping, it’s contrived. If I am brutally honest, it’s mercenary. It’s no mystery why those friendships always felt quid-pro-quo especially when I was knocking myself out to be accepted but watched as the group departed on yet another social event (widely broadcast on social media after the fact) with not a word of it breathed in my direction.
I said this isn’t going to be a pity party and I mean it. I’m saying it all out loud so I can let it go. For better or for worse I have always felt like I have to prove myself worthy of people, that I must have something to offer. So I pull out the stops and eventually get exhausted and bitter from the effort, then I withdraw and wait to see who see who still comes around without the allure of happy hour or fun.
Just as I never show up on their doorstep just because I care, they don’t show up on mine.
I am disappointed and self-pitying when people – whom I have built a solidly transactional relationship with – don’t come around. Not because anything has changed, but because our relationship was never built on mutual understanding, connection, and genuine care for each other. My party friends don’t come around when there isn’t a party. Go figure.
I’ll admit that I like luxurious houses, lavish parties, and beautiful people, and I have allowed those trappings to spark my interest rather than something deeper and more genuine. People aren’t rejecting me because they are shallow, it’s because I am, or at least my motives can be.
I’m not this way 100% of the time but I’m calling myself out and asking what I want in a friendship. More importantly, who do I want to be in a friendship. I find it easier to be that person when what brings us together was something truly mutual, be it pottery, walking dogs, cooking, crazy middle-of-the-night text humor, kids, art, dance, music, anything is not just wanting in. You know, what friendships are usually based on and not rank insecurity and FOMO.
It doesn’t help to be in a world where social media rewards us for broadcasting what we did and who we did it with. I do it myself. But does everyone feel the sting of rejection of not being included? Probably. So why do we do it? Why do we follow people on Instagram and FB? Why do we torture ourselves?
Why do I torture myself?
I would like to be a more evolved person and perhaps the first step is to ditch my last social media outlet, Instagram, at least when it comes to following people in my town. You can’t be jealous of fat cats (well, maybe a little), cute animal pages, and people who live in other parts of the world.
I need to be honest with myself about who I truly connect with and who I keep around because I’m afraid of missing out. It’s not fair to them and it’s shitty of me.
So there it is, me being as critical of myself as I can be of others. The truth hurts but maybe it will make me feel better. This isn’t a call for my readers (all five of you) to tell me how great you think I am or I’m being too hard on myself. I don’t need or want that, I want to own my feelings and gain some control over my life.
I would also like to spend more time and energy with people I have a genuine mutual connection with, you know who you are.
PS: Long time readers may have heard some version of this before. What can I say? Practice makes perfect, I hope.