“‘I wonder what Piglet is doing,’ thought Pooh. ‘I wish I were there to be doing it, too.’”
— Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
As an adult, that small word has meant many different big things. It’s meaning has evolved into something much more complex, and at the same time– the definition has also revealed itself to me in much more clear-cut terms than it used to be when I was a child navigating the social hierarchy of public school. Loaded, while still remaining something utterly simple and pure. It still sparks my curiosity to think to that some people–with whom we at one time or another, felt so in tandem–seem to, in a flash, easily slip through our fingers. I am also perplexed by some of the friendships I’ve maintained because the sheer amount of distance between us or because our naturally opposing personalities would suggest otherwise. The same goes for those particular individuals who keep popping up at the most random moments and whom you didn’t realize until you’re standing face-to-face with them, that you’ve actually thoroughly missed their presence in your life and you pick things back up like no time has passed. I guess there is just not an exact formula for friendship and the way it magically appears and disappears in our lives, although I wish there were…
Have you ever seen Inside Out? It’s one of my absolute favorite Disney/Pixar films because it so eloquently handles mental health. The movie centers on a character named Reilly. One of the imaginative devises the film uses was to give Reilly different “islands” in her brain, each representing various core components of her personality. There’s Friendship Island, Hockey Island, Honesty Island, etc. With that to say, the reason I’ve been examining the nature of friendship lately is because my “Friendship Island” appears to be Closed for Repairs. My question is: is it even possible to make substantial, meaningful friendships as an adult? Or are the best friendships only derived from childhood– making everyone we meet later in life mere acquaintances?
“The companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain.”
—Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein
I remember in my freshman year at Belmont, someone in my class of theatre majors said, “High School is where you meet the people you invite to your wedding. College is where you meet the people that will be in your wedding. And also your husband, obviously”. Well by that logic, I guess my best friend, Robert–who I met in high school–will have to be the bride’s maid, entire bridal party, sole attendant, and a weird sort of platonic husband… My friend Robert and I have the most bizarre friendship story. We were neighbors, classmates, and fellow theatre dorks. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that we were “boyfriend and girlfriend” all four years of high school. This minor detail is particularly interesting because my best friend and former high school sweetheart, Robert, is now the author of the blog, The Gay Virgin…
Those four years were… confusing.
But the thing is– Robert was much more than a fleeting high school boyfriend. Our lives were so completely intertwined in every way possible from overlapping classes and carpooling to school, to playing opposites in community theatre productions and pranking our neighbors in our spare time. If I wasn’t at his house, he was at mine. It went beyond things such as temporary infatuation or the necessity of a date to prom– the typical initial sparks of a fledging relationship between teenagers. Robert was family. We broke up like a million times. In fact, we have a history of being quite severe to each other with blindingly brutal honesty, jokes that borders on upsetting and a period of time where we actually didn’t speak. Freshmen Year of College Gina was quite heartbroken (and surprised for some reason…?) by Robert’s coming out and needed time to be broody and angry… And yet, we always came back to each other because at the end of the day, our friendship was (is) invaluable.
“She recognized that that is how friendships begin: one person reveals a moment of strangeness, and the other person decides just to listen and not exploit it.”
—Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings
When I first met Robert, it was the first day of rehearsals for a youth production of Godspell. I hadn’t wanted to sign up, but my family had just moved to Nashville and my mom thought it’d be a good way for me to make friends (funny in hindsight, because I’m now make a living as the Director of Acting at very similar kind of organization). I observed him with his gang of friends and thought, “whoa these kids are loud”. Painfully shy and awkward as hell, I kept to myself and didn’t dare approach those kooky kids, even though I kind of wished they would come over and talk to me.
The first time I actually talked to Robert was outside of school, at a homecoming function. Some popular girl– who knows what her name was? It doesn’t matter– hosted the entire freshmen class at her enormous McMansion where we were to eat pizza, socialize (if that was something you did?), and decorate the freshman homecoming float. Same uncomfortable awkwardness, different day… only this time instead of lip-syncing to “Day by Day”, I was halfheartedly gluing bright blue and yellow tissue paper onto an unsightly float that I guess vaguely passed for a bruin. When I spotted Robert and noticed that his usual flock of intimidating extroverts were no where in sight, I immediately made my way over to him because I figured I would look less awkward if I was at least trying to make conversation with someone I kind of knew. I don’t remember what we talked about. I don’t remember anything at all about that exchange or the remainder of the homecoming event, but I do remember thinking: “I really want to be friends with this person.” And within minutes I was laughing and opening up and I thought: “I really want to be best friends with this person.” And the rest is history. Now our friendship has extended into too many cities to count and three different countries. It’s quite out of control.
Robert can annoy me to the point of literally pulling out my hair. Robert can make me laugh until mascara is streaking my face. Robert has the potential to hurt my feelings worse than any one else because he knows exactly what my darkest insecurities are. Robert’s seal of approval carries a ton of weight in my decision making processes. Robert has stuck with me through every phase and every up and down since I was 14 years old. Robert doesn’t know this, but he can make me happy-cry every time I listen to a particular song he wrote– a song about me moving far away and being successful, just like I planned when we were day-dreaming teenagers. You’re probably thinking, “No one person should have this much power”. Well, you’re wrong. A best friend does.
“The best kind of laughter is laughter born of a shared memory.”
—Mindy Kaling, Why Not Me?
This brings me to my current dilemma with friendshipping in the adult world… While Robert is the kind of friend who understands that our schedules never align, (he’s in a demanding grad school program and I work full-time) so he calls to leave me 4 minute long voicemails to update me on his life… and calls back to finish his rant when the machine cut him off, Robert is very much in New York City and I am in Nashville. That said, we are still in communication a lot. Probably more than most with their long-distance friends. In fact, I have quite a few friends that I consider dear to me, but they all live in other states and we unfortunately don’t stay connected very well.
Fact: I have very, very few friends that actually live in my city, so, I socialize almost… never.
When I did theatre I had a built-in community of artists to organically pursue a friendship with. When I was in college, it didn’t seem so awkward to ask your classmates to eat lunch with you at the Caf between classes and the before you knew it, you were hanging out all the time. But as an introverted adult who works a full-time albeit artistic, but definitely “normal” job in comparison to performing, how the hell am I expected to cultivate friendships?
Here are some obstacles with friendshipping in the adult world:
- Most of the people you are friends with or could be friends with are either married or in a serious relationship. This means they are very infrequently not otherwise occupied with spending time with their partner.
- You yourself are either married or in a serious relationship and you feel guilty spending time without your partner. This is especially challenging for me because while I live with my boyfriend, we have completely opposite schedules and when we can be together, I want to take advantage of that.
- The only friends you have are your “couple friends” that you share with your partner and only hang out with them in the presence of your partner (i.e. you don’t have any of “your own” friends).
- You and the people you are friends with or could be friends with have a busy work life.
- You and the people you could be friends with are coworkers and is it weird to be friends with people you work with directly? Don’t they always say you shouldn’t add your coworkers and your boss on Facebook? Does that extend to getting coffee?
- You and/or the people you are friends with or could be friends with are broke so you can’t exactly say “Yas, girl!” to a night of socializing over $13.00 cocktails.
- There’s no longer an organic reason to request hang out time with the people you are friends with or could be friends with (i.e. there’s no test to study for or no mandatory organized gatherings that you can mutually resent and bond over).
So, what’s the solution here? I’m lonely. But at the same time, I’ve been lonely for so long and satisfied without socializing for so long, that it seems like an enormous amount of effort to take the first step towards pursuing new friendships. I am, however, self aware enough to know that this defeatist attitude is not helping in any way, shape or form and furthermore: what I’m doing now– going to work, going home, rinse and repeat– is definitely not working.
Solution: I’m officially going to start trying. That means, as awkward as I might feel, I will be the one to reach out to those that I think I could be friends with/ already am friends with but whom I don’t connect with frequently enough. That means I also cannot take it personally and give up when one of the obstacles above crops up, because they will but that does not mean that people don’t want to be friends with me. Because I’m a nerd and like to approach difficult tasks like these with a degree of theatrics, I’m going to label this new tactic in eliminating loneliness as “My Experiment in Adult Friendshipping”. I’m going to do the work: reach out, make the first move, create space, open up, and dedicate the time to developing friendships and see if I don’t feel just a little bit better.
Readers, stay tuned! I will report back with my findings.