in the spirit of friendship

I'm not going home for Christmas this year, the first time since I moved to Illinois that I haven't made the trip. I've been looking forward to just spending time with Michelle and her family, having our own traditions: our little tree, making chocolate covered pretzels and baking cookies and other foods. While I am sad that I won't be with all my family and the hilarity that ensues over Christmas, well let's face it, any occasion with them, I am also sad I will miss seeing some of my old friends who I know will be home, as well. Typically when I go home for a visit, my friends aren't there or our schedules conflict. I'm never home long enough.

Stephanie Klein writes about friendships, losing the details of daily life that you once shared with one another so intimately. Because I moved around a lot as kid, I formed loose attachments to people. I'm not saying that I wasn't engaged or authentic, that I didn't care because I certainly did. But I also knew I would be leaving in 3, 4 or 5 years and that knowledge does something to you. Even as a girl, I knew connections with others came in all shapes and sizes. There were people who came and went from my life and I moved in and out of theirs. By the time I was in 8th grade, I was familiar with life in transit. I set down roots without meaning to, however, when I moved to Mobile for college. I met a group of writers, some in journalism, some creative writing who became like a family to me. It was a difficult time for me and they helped me through it. As we graduated and moved on I wondered what would become of us. I stayed close to a few of them, mostly because we ended up in our Master's programs around the same time. And I made other friends through my Master's career, friends I left behind when I moved to Illinois.

I am experiencing the kind of loss Klein talks about as my life gets busier and more involved. I feel fairly guilty that I haven't kept in better touch with my friend Maria. I've missed not only the details of her life but the big stuff, too and vice versa. I don't have a lot of old friends. My oldest friends I've known since college. It's like my friendship life started in Mobile. And if I'd stayed in Mobile who knows what would have become of those friendships. Sometimes friendships evolve with you. Sometimes they don't. In terms of the friendships I left behind that didn't continue, I don't think they necessarily ended because I left. I think my departure was just a catalyst.

Female friendships are an interesting phenomenon to me. I think society and the media create a set of expectations for female bonding. Read a Hallmark card or watch an episode of your basic cable show and you'll see exactly how we are supposed to connect. Of course there are some shows that attempt to subvert those expectations but even those end up creating new sets of expectations. No matter what community with whom you identify your female friendships SHOULD be like X, Y, Z. And when it doesn't work out the way we're told it should we aren't sure what to do or how to react.

I've had some pretty rocky female friendships, ones where I was doing all of the friendship work. I didn't have a lot of friends when I first graduated from high school and moved to Mobile so when I did make friends who then hurt my feelings or didn't call to hang out when I waited on them to make plans it stung deeply. I thought that because I was a good friend that other people would reciprocate. I put a lot of effort into these early friendships and they didn't always pay off. I learned about myself though and the kinds of relationships I didn't want to have.

I'm not big on fuzzy, gooey sentiments about friendships. But I do know how lucky I am in my friendships. It takes a lot to be friends with me. I expect my friends to get me, and be honest with me especially when it may hurt my feelings. I don't mind when my friends disagree with me but I want them to be up front with me. I need friends with patience because I have a tendency to hide out sometimes or as M calls it "going into my head." My friends make me laugh and they laugh with me and let me cry on their shoulder. They've loaned me money, a place to stay, offered transportation. More importantly they've shared themselves with me and allowed me to be part of their lives. I think that's all we can really ask of those we consider friends, to let us in, to keep us safe when we let them in. I try to be thoughtful and considerate and honest for my friends. I know it isn't always easy to be friends with me. But, I do try to be realistic about my expectations of myself and of my friends.

And even with all the digital ways to connect, I still feel like I'm missing out on knowing what's happening with people I know and with whom I used to be incredibly close. I know that time changes friendships and that we have to learn to adapt our relationships but still, like Klein, I can't help but mourn the things I feel I'm missing or think I'm missing.