Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Relief of Abandonment

I am very, very accustomed to being left behind.

It took quite a while to realize that abandonment, often perfectly benign, was an integral part of my life. A general list:

  • My dad (Al) died of leukemia when I was 3
  • My best friend in kindergarten (Missy) moved away the following summer
  • My best friend in first grade (Betsy) moved away the following summer
At this point things stabilized... but I never had another best friend. I don't THINK it was a conscious decision; there just wasn't anyone I clicked with in the years that followed. I went through grade school and high school with many of the same classmates, but none really close.
  • My adoptive stepdad (Chuck) left when I was 17
This I didn't mind at the time; none of us were happy, and he was too strict and broken himself to really be able to show us any affection. But it did mess up the family dynamic; I felt that our stability had left with him.

College was where I actually started to make some good friends; none of them were "besties" but they were consistent and I saw them daily for several years... but as the only one of us actually from Nashville, when school was over, I stayed there... and they all left, to return home or continue their education elsewhere.

I made new friends at my first real job, then went back to school to get a 2nd degree and made some ALMOST best friends with 3 other women. We called ourselves the Honda Club, and they were the closest I've ever had to something approximating best friends. But within a few years, they all left as well, to different cities.

I got a long-term job working with computers at a talent agency, and started making friends there. There were 5 of us who got together frequently for dinner and movies, and we called ourselves Movie Club. But one by one, they left town (except for one of the women, thank God!)

I feel like I have formed and lost and reformed and lost so many friendships in my life that I'm honestly perturbed when someone actually STAYS. So many times I have been told by a friend that they are leaving town, and I go to the farewell party or give them a parting gift or help them pack... but on a certain mental level, after the sad, weary acceptance of another loss, I'm relieved. I don't know why; in some twisted, broken way... it is what has always happened, and so I don't know how to build a friendship beyond a certain level of development. And now, with their departure, I won't have to deal with the harder, more work-intensive aspects of the natural growth of a friendship.

Now that I'm much older and stable in my society, people from my peer group are proving more likely to stay. And I am beginning to realize that there are aspects to my friends that can annoy and disappoint me, (just as I can definitely annoy and disappoint them!) But never having had to work through this more advanced friendship stage before, I don't quite know how. I'm glad that I am older and wiser enough to be conscious that nobody's perfect, and that this is actually what is SUPPOSED to happen... but I'm afraid of messing up.

And don't even get me started on my incapacity for romantic relationships - at the developmental rate I'm going, I should be ready for dating and marriage around... 70. ;)


Mike Howell said...

Intriguing title. I find it a little difficult to believe that you are only now developing friendships at the level of realizing that people are annoying or disappointing. Either they really don't stay around terribly long or you have an unusually high tolerance for how annoying and disappointing most people actually are. I do not exempt myself from either.

It has been my experience that longevity of a friendship is not necessarily connected to the depth of the friendship. I have had some friends for 20 years and we have barely scratched the surface, and others with whom I have connected at a deeper personal level within a few days. Even with the closest of friends, people change and friendships fade into obscurity. I have two very close friends who live within 10 miles of me, and I have no desire to see either at this point. I am ashamed to say that I have seen each of them in the past year or so and have literally changed direction to avoid contact. I don't harbor any disdain for the person. I just had no real desire to reconnect at that moment.

So what's the moral of the story? Beats me. People are broken and friendships are fleeting and unpredictable. Enjoy the time you spend with people at whatever level you and they are comfortable. Don't worry about messing it up because they are not set in stone even when you do everything exactly "right."

Susania said...

Perhaps I should explain further - I have had friendships with people for decades... but it never approaches the degree of intimacy of a best friend or a relative. And I have made plenty of friendships within a day, especially during my time in the theater when you have to get very comfortable with your fellow actors REALLY fast...

And it's not that I haven't had meaningful and deeper conversations with many of my friends as well... I'm talking about the degree of intimacy when you've moved on past the "romance" part of the friendship and are into the "ok, I'm going to have to work to make this stick!" where you have to deal with the things that drive you nuts, rather than abandoning ship because cutting off the friendship is easier. A bit like a marriage, I would suppose.

I guess that this problem is incomprehensible to married people, because they've been plunged into intimacy with another person on a level that we single people don't usually get. When all of the worthwhile (but potentially difficult) relationships in your life leave, or you can easily leave yourself, then you have no muscles for staying and working through the more unpleasant aspects. And why would you bother, if you know you have at least a dozen friends who are available for a good lunch conversation?

I feel like I need a few really good friends who I can count on through thick and thin, as opposed to the 2-3 dozen friends who I hang out with a few times a year. Too many 3rd and 4th tier friendships. Because I am tired of having no-one to go on vacation with, or someone I can call without reluctance when I need a ride to the ER.

Jeannette said...

I DO sympathize; really, I DO! But I grew up always being the "leaver," due to my father's job, so I learned early on to not invest myself too heavily in friendships. Reading became my escapist "drug" of choice. As you might imagine, marriage required quite a readjustment for me! (Fortunately, my husband had a similar upbringing, realized what was going on, and could deal with it constructively.)

NOW, with the help of the Internet, I am reconnecting with LOTS of people from my varied past, and generally, enjoying the experience.