On Friendship

May 10, 2013

Hello, wonderful readers! Today I want to share some beautiful, bracingly honest words from my friend Pamela. Pamela blogs here and is truly gifted when it comes to the written word. Today she’s writing about friendship, and how the landscape of friendship changes as we age, in unexpected ways.  I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section (and I know Pamela would, too.) As I read her piece, I found myself nodding in recognition.

Please make her feel welcome and enjoy!

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For most of my life I’ve been a “girl’s girl.” In my twenties I rarely had a boyfriend and I was always up for anything: a run, a trip to the mall, a night out in La Jolla for drinks. I was surrounded by an extensive circle of women I loved, and because of this, I’ve had an irrational self-confidence in my ability to make friends. I was absolutely convinced that I would remain single forever, but in terms of other women, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling lonely.

 

Somehow, during my thirties, this all changed. I did finally find a boyfriend, and married him. We had a baby and then another. But my husband is also in the Navy, and because of this, we move every two years. Soon, my close circle of friends was miles away. Some were in San Diego, some in Philadelphia, and some in Palo Alto. At first I didn’t think this would be a problem. “I’m really good at making friends,” I told my husband during our first move.

 

What really happened was that when I took my toddler son to the park, he had a huge tantrum over another child’s dump truck and suddenly, instead of invitations to play dates I was receiving those looks. One woman came over to me and gave me the name of a book that she said, “might help you.”

 

On another day, I was talking to a woman who I thought could become a friend. She seemed to have a liberal bent so it seemed safe to confess that I was very much against George W. Bush’s politics and the current war, when suddenly, she yanked my arm and pulled me off to the side of the sand box.

 

“You should never criticize the president,” she hissed at me. “Or even the Republicans. They’re the ones approving our husbands’paychecks.”

 

I walked home that day feeling a bit bewildered. In my twenties, I followed the “Sex & the City” rules for friendship, the first of which was that the bond between girlfriends was stronger than anything else. Now, I seemed to be living in a 21st century version of“Thirtysomething.” Somehow friendship had become imbued with politics and parenting. With husbands.

 

Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose begins with the line: “Now I believe they will leave me alone,”which has been my approach to friendship ever since. It wasn’t that one incident of course, but many of them, piled on top of each other, making the trip to the playground or school drop-off sometimes seem as intimidating as approaching my high school locker room mirror, where the cheerleaders used to spray their salon-sized cans of Aqua Net.  And to think I used to be so good at friendship.

 

 

 

I am lucky enough to have a great friend and former cross-country teammate who will always be a jewel in my heart. I have another friend from my twenties who is like a sister, and a dear friend from DC who is incredibly intuitive and unfailingly kind. Through blogs, I have “met” several amazing women and we write to each other, like modern pen pals.

 

But even old friendships aren’t immune to the ravages of time and changing values, children and money issues, religion and politics. During this past year, one of my very dearest and oldest friendships began to fray and snap. I held on as long and as tightly as I could, but it was becoming clear that both of us were suffering – from distance, disconnection, and an old theme of competition. One night, after a phone conversation with Margaret, I went for a walk because I was reeling with sadness and hurt. I felt attacked and betrayed, and a bit confused. As I walked through the cold night, I thought about the agenda my friendships seemed to be based upon, which were qualities that were important to me at 21 but that I no longer care about now that I am 40.

 

When we moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina to live on the Marine base here, a few people said that I would probably be lonely in the strange southern town I now find myself, which is not so much a town as it is a cluster of tattoo parlors and used car dealerships, sad little gatherings of storefronts where Spanky’s Sports Bar squats next door to God’s House of Deliverance. There is a gentlemen’s club called The Driftwood, which advertises that Luscious Lucia will be dancing tonight, and the windows of the Waffle Shoppe next door are too greasy to see into.

 

And yet, this town holds as much kindness and grace as I would expect to find in an ashram along the Ganges. I teach at a yoga studio in one of these strip malls, right next to a notary and a cat clinic, a paint store, and another evangelical center of worship. The students trickle in with their smiles and their mats and during savasana we listen to the silence and the boom of artillery on Camp Lejeune that punctuates the quiet.

 

Dani, who owns the studio, is a former school guidance counselor and a single mom. Last spring, she left her job and used all her savings to open the studio, which she runs by herself, and I am constantly struck by the fact that although she has given every cent she has to her dream, she is rich with a liberating sort of happiness. I hadn’t expected to find yoga in Jacksonville, or a person as joyful and generous as Dani, but then again, I hadn’t counted on the power of kindness. How could that have not been on my list of what is required in a friend?

 

Yesterday, my next-door neighbor Remy came over and asked if we wanted to get together and grill tonight with the neighbors across the street. Remy, who is from Saipan, is making red rice and guacamole, and Lisa, who grew up in Germany, is making some kind of potato salad and dessert. Scott and I took the ten pounds of homemade sausage someone recently gave to him out of the freezer and I made tofu kabobs.

Someone asked me recently if I was lonely here, without friends, and I answered honestly that I am not. I live on a street where a quarter of the men are gone, off to a war that still exists, even if no one talks about it anymore. And although it sounds old-fashioned, the women stick together. We take each other’s children and make each other dinner. I take Remy’s daughter to story hour and to the park and when she goes to Sam’s Club, she brings over a hunk of Gouda cheese, a box of whole-grain crackers, or a package of sprouted tofu. Last fall, I woke up one day to an ambulance in Remy’s driveway and watched from the window as they loaded her son in the back. Cowering in my kitchen, I sent Remy a text, asking if I could help, while Lisa strode across both of our lawns, found the keys to Remy’s minivan, and drove Remy’s four other children to school. This is what military wives do for each other. This is what neighbors do for each other. And this sounds an awful lot like friendship to me.

 

At noon today, I picked the last of the lettuce from my garden to make a salad for tonight. A little later, Oliver and I will go to see the Camp Lejeune High School production of “Godspell,” in which Remy’s oldest son will be wonderful as Jesus. Teenage voices will fill an auditorium and we will marvel at how well they did, how many lines they had to memorize. Later, when the temperature drops, neighbors who feel like friends will gather on our yard and eat. There will be two grills in Remy’s driveway, a front door propped open, salad dressing in mason jars, and a tub full of soda and beer and juice boxes. Camp chairs will be set up and maybe a tent. Kids will ride on bikes and scooters and push each other on the tire swing. They will leave most of their dinner on their plates but then come back for cheesecake and berries. Finally, I will take my own tired boys into the house and get them into the shower. They will ask for toast, and I will get out the butter, the cinnamon and the sugar. Later still, I will go for a walk and see a raccoon run behind a dumpster and into the woods. He will be running low, his back hunched against something worrisome that might happen, and I will find a certain kinship with him. I will realize that I too am a scavenger, finding friendship in the most unlikely of places.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon May 10, 2013 at 7:11 am

Lovely. Just lovely. And so true.

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Jamie May 10, 2013 at 7:55 am

Great piece! Even though I’m younger, I’ve had a similar experience trying to navigate friendship at my first “real” job as a teacher.

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TKW May 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Jamie,

Gaaa, don’t even get me started. Those veteran teachers were HIDEOUS to me for two whole years before they’d even be cordial. Scary that people like that are in charge of teaching our kids how to navigate life. xoxo

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Gibby May 10, 2013 at 9:05 am

Wow. This really resonated with me, what a fantastic post!

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TKW May 10, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Hi sweet Gibs,

So glad to see you here! I’d love an update on what’s been going on in your neck of the woods…(hint). Email?

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Kate @ wifemotherexpletiving.blogspot.com May 10, 2013 at 10:55 am

wonderful…sort of wistful for the community, but might need to look a bit closer at what i have here before i indulge in my wist. (?)

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TKW May 10, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Kate,

Move here. I live in Stepford. We can wear ratty sweatpants to the bus stop and swill wine on the porch at 5 o’clock. I’d love a partner in crime.

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Tiffany May 10, 2013 at 11:05 am

Beautiful. Just beautiful. I am noticing that I have fewer friends now…but better friends than I could have ever imagined.

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TKW May 10, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Tiff,

You deserve good friends. Sometimes quantity isn’t quality (chiche, I know, but true). I’m honored to count you among mine.

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Katrina Kenison May 10, 2013 at 11:25 am

Pam, I read this through tears, deeply honored to be able to call you a friend of the heart if not the neighborhood. You have a great gift for both friendship and words, and both are gloriously displayed here. How is it that every time I read one of your posts, I’m sure it’s my favorite ever? Now I just have to say, they are all favorites. Happy to see that raccoon in retreat. Don’t think you’ll be seeing much more of him. . .xoxo

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TKW May 10, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Katrina,

That Pamela is pretty dang amazing, isn’t she? This post knocked my socks off.

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Jessica Halepis May 10, 2013 at 11:30 am

This sounds an awful lot like friendship to me, too. I absolutely loved reading this! Thank you for sharing this.

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Stacey May 10, 2013 at 11:39 am

Pamela, I found myself nodding and then nodding again as I read your wise words. I too used to be surrounded by friends, seemingly without trying. We moved 5 years ago when my girls were 4 and 1 and honestly no myself, 40, I am still working to find true connections. Having left college friends and the ‘new motherhood’ friends behind, it has been a new and often challenging adventure. You write important words here.
Thank you for sharing.

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TKW May 10, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Stacey,

Pamela nails it, doesn’t she? I, too, read this with nodding and tears and a wistful heart. It’s kind of a secret that nobody talks about, don’t you think?

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Alana May 10, 2013 at 11:40 am

Oh tears here too. I agree with Katrina – every time I read your words I think it’s your best yet and my absolute favorite. But they keep getting better and I love them all. I feel honored to call you friend too – even if it is of the modern day pen pal version for now. xoxoxo

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TKW May 10, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Alana,

Never underetimate the value of modern day pen pals. Sometimes those women are your lifeboat. Thanks for your words.

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Alana May 10, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Oh absolutely! Some of my closest soul sisters I’ve yet to meet in person. The gift of the online world…

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Colleen May 10, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Pam, Followed you over here because I love your writing and your spirit so much. Thanks for this truthful, heartfelt post. Life is so full of changes and twists and turns, and the friendships that help us navigate them may be lasting or not, but the connection and the memories stay with us. That we were connected and got through with the people that we did, that stays with us. So, grateful to have found your insight into life and yoga and everything in this virtual internet world. Thank you for your grace.

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Lindsey May 10, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Oh, Pam!!! This is so, so wonderful, so TRUE. I’ve found friend-making has changed greatly over time, too, and I’m always wondering why. When I reflect it’s interesting that certain times in my life seem to have been particularly fecund for making friends, and others equally arid. I’ve been blown away by my blog friends, by a community I never once expected but which has become immensely important to me. I’m honored to call you chief in that group for me. Thank you. xox

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Pamela May 10, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Thank you for these lovely and kind comments. Isn’t it great to know we are all on the same big lifeboat now?

Thank you for hosting me Kitch! It was awesome to be here!

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Tammy May 10, 2013 at 8:09 pm

My years as a Navy wife were some of the most difficult I have ever lived through. We moved five times in six years. It was so hard to expend the energy to make friends knowing that in 4-7 months we’d be moving again.

The one thing that saved me were my friends from high school, who I could always count on to be on the other end of the phone or to be my penpal. They kept me sane.

I’m so glad you have found a community that works together and supports one another. Sometimes small “towns” are good for that.

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pamela May 14, 2013 at 10:17 am

Hi Tammy, thank you for reading and writing. It’s so nice to connect with other military wives. And it’s nice to know you made it out in one piece:)

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Alison May 11, 2013 at 4:53 am

Beautiful piece, Pam.

My friends, my true friends, are all oceans away. It pains me that I barely see them, and that we have to connect via the virtual world.

Having said that, some of my most recent, strongest friendships have been made online.

I’m glad you’ve found your tribe.

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pamela May 14, 2013 at 10:19 am

Hi Alison, Thank you! I too am finding online friendships to be strong … maybe we reveal more in online friendships? I hope you get to see your faraway friends too. We need both!!

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Katybeth May 11, 2013 at 7:08 am

What a lovely story about the different kinds of friendships and how they change over the years. Kids, marriage, moving changes so much, some of my friendships have survived others have not, but I like to think each one has helped me become a a better friend and helped me learn a little bit more about myself.
Your community sounds very friendly, they are lucky that you and your family have joined them.

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pamela May 14, 2013 at 10:20 am

Hi Katybeth. Thank you! I love knowing that I am not alone in that some friendships just don’t make it. And thank you for the perspective – you are right – we learn from everything, don’t we?

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Barbara May 11, 2013 at 10:22 am

Well, we were in the Air Force for a few years so I kind of “get” that moving part. I also get the making friends part. Was hard after my divorce, moving with three little kids to another state, new schools, making new friends. It’s hard, and frankly, easier to do with a husband than single. Still the case, actually. And now, at my age, friends are getting old, dying, moving back to be with their kids, life always presents challenges. Be active, stay busy, treasure the friends you have left and stay on loving terms with your family.

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pamela May 14, 2013 at 10:21 am

Hi Barbara, I bet it was hard to meet friends as a single mom! My goodness, you did so much on your own. Wow. Great advice too – thank you!

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Barbara May 11, 2013 at 10:24 am

And Happy Mothers Day!!!

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Francie May 11, 2013 at 3:14 pm

It truly resonates. I remember when my kids were young and I had so many friends and we would get together all the time. My kids are gone-and my friends have gone as well. The only friends in my life are those I teach with. You have to stoke friendship’s fire, and I have not done that. Wonderful piece.

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pamela May 14, 2013 at 10:24 am

Francie, I too worry about whether or not I do enough as a friend. There are times when our own cups are too empty to fill another’s so I get that. Sometimes too, we are at points in time when we don’t really “mesh” with anyone. I think that is part of life. Sometimes there are droughts or many of our friends are far away. It’s definitely tricky and it used to be so simple!

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Velva May 12, 2013 at 6:41 am

Wow. This was real and it was beautiful.

Velva

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pamela May 14, 2013 at 10:24 am

Thank you Velma!

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Likethewrap May 13, 2013 at 11:04 am

I feel like I’m in the thick of the thirtysomething friendships. Some have children, some don’t. Some are single, some are married, and a handful are getting divorced. I am sadly clinging to a friendship I started in 8th grade with a woman I felt knew me better than myself at times. She told me that we have nothing in common anymore and thats why we aren’t friends. What I have learned through the friendships that have stood the test of time, distance, and renewal is that friendships are based on kindness. Kindness that is reciprocated back and forth. Lend that supportive shoulder. Its unfornate that she doesn’t see that. Thank you Pam for reminding me that this is the right path.

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pamela May 14, 2013 at 10:30 am

It’s hard, isn’t it? I never thought friendship could be so political!! I am sorry you are experiencing the end of a friendship. Oh, that is painful. Once, when I was going through a breakup with a guy, a friend said I was too depressed and she wasn’t going to be my friend anymore. I definitelyWAS a mess, but the breakup with my friend ended up being worse than with my boyfriend.

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TKW May 14, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Likethewrap and Pamela,

My best friend dumped me because I “reminded her of death.”

Niiiiice.

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Privilege of Parenting May 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Hi Pamela & KW,

As usual, late to the party, so I hang in the kitchen as you guys clean up and give you both a virtual hug and toast to friendship.

XO, BD

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pamela May 14, 2013 at 10:30 am

Welcome Bruce! We’ll let you dry the dishes. xo

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Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri May 14, 2013 at 1:05 pm

I loved this piece. I find that my notions of what constitutes a good friendship change as I get older. In my life, kindness is what matters in a true and reciprocal friendship.

Kitch and Pamela, many thanks for this post.

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Missy K May 16, 2013 at 4:27 am

Thank you for this lovely piece– and for reviving my hope in friendship, which has often been a bumpy road for me as well.

It strikes me that these words themselves are very kind.

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Pamela May 16, 2013 at 6:11 am

Thank you Missy. Don’t give up hope! Watching my kids play with their friends i am always reminded how bumpy the friendship road is for all of us.

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Evie May 16, 2013 at 10:28 am

I sometimes mistake my need to surround myself with kind, authentic, enbracing friends with shyness or exclusivity. Then I remember what my mom always said: if you can count your close friends on one hand, then you are lucky. In other words, it is quality not quantity that matters most. I am inspired by the connections you have made. Connection is the root of strong friendship not competition.

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Betsy Marro May 19, 2013 at 9:39 am

Friendship journeys are incredibly deep. Pamela, your account of your own travels with friendship strike a chord with me. This seems to embrace every definition of the relationships we form with others at different stages of life. Lovely.

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Nina May 22, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Great piece. I find certain times in life are easier for making friends. Sometimes it’s the circumstances (first year of college) and sometimes it’s our frame of mind (like when a friend moves and suddenly a new “slot” opens.) Other times I’m more closed like when I’m fiercely protecting my time.

I chuckled at the story of the lady who yanked your arm. YIKES!

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Lisa Ahn June 4, 2013 at 8:35 am

Pamela,
Such a moving essay, and powerful. I love your description of Jacksonville, and your tracing of friendship’s journeys. It’s true for me too, that the agendas and values I had for friendships in my 20s are different from the ones I have now, in my 40s. Like you, many of my closest friends are spread across the world — friends from grad school and various other chapters in my life. I have those soul sisters too. And then I have friends closer to home. Each friendship has a different shape and resonance. I’m grateful for them all. Thanks for this perspective.

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mb June 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm

what a beautiful post, pamela, and it it one i can completely relate to. where i live, there are also slim pickings for friends, if one’s criteria include liberal non-christians. i don’t include those in my criteria anymore, i too have decided that kindness is much more important than similarities, and that there is more common ground than we ever knew if we just open up to it. beautifully written as always! xoxo

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Titus Hauer October 15, 2019 at 4:32 am

Good Quality Post! Looking forward to reading your other articles, Keep it up!

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