The Art of Friendship

I miss having a close girlfriend. I’ve had some great friends in my life, but I haven’t been very successful at maintaining friendships with females, in particular, long-term when that span of time includes moves and major life changes. It’s much easier to nurture a relationship when both people live close together or share some common place or activity, for example coworkers, teammates, classmates, roommates, etc. Most times, friendships start because of these shared interests or locations. They build over time after finding more personality and interest compatibilities and as both people invest time, sacrifice, and care into the friendship. I’ve been initially successful at maintaining nearly all of the close relationships I’ve built with former school friends, teammates, coworkers, or other friends from past life phases even once one of us have graduated, no longer eligible for the team, on to a new job, or otherwise moved from the circumstances under which we became friends. The relationship can drastically change quickly, but I’m persistent about keeping in touch up to a certain point, and then it seems nearly all of my friendships that at first withstood a major move or change such that we no longer can feasibly see each other regularly eventually fizzle out.

Some of this, I imagine, is normal. After all, relationships organically evolve and change, and I guess end, in some cases. I think the latter is especially common with major life changes that don’t happen in parallel between both people (one person getting married, having children, etc.) coupled with one person relocating far away. The friendship may no longer support the needs of both parties enough that the interest in suddenly needing to invest much more work, effort, and perhaps money/time (for travel costs) isn’t sufficient to continue nurturing that relationship. Although sometimes tacit, both people gradually reduce the frequency with which they communicate and see one another until eventually, so much time has passed since the last meaningful interaction that it becomes less awkward to just not reach out anymore, saving the need to have to rationalize being so out of touch (even though that responsibility is a two-way street). In my observations, it seems, in most cases, there are no hard feelings between the two formally-close friends who have naturally aged out of their friendship and watched it naturally dissolve to some degree. There are so many people in my life that fall into this category—people that I care for very much but I’m no longer close with or in touch with at all, except perhaps tangentially through social media or other impersonal avenues.

My post-high school life has been characterized by a lot of moves; I haven’t stayed put anywhere for very long except for New York City, but that city takes the scale of relative distance and massively shrinks it down such that even a move a few blocks or a change of workplaces in the absence of any other change feels as significant as a much greater move or major shift in life outside of the five boroughs. The population and activity densities and speed of life in New York City must contribute to this disparity. That said, I moved a bunch if times in Manhattan and changed jobs several times as well. I didn’t spend all four years at one college, and since leaving NYC, we’ve again moved around every couple years. This constant uprooting doesn’t lend itself well to forging strong, lasting friendships for someone as introverted and socially uncomfortable as me. By the time I warm up enough and feel connected with people in my new life, the months remaining before my next move can be counted on my fingers.  I’ve made some close friends in my adult life despite my social issues and the greater inherent challenges of making friends as adults compared to as children. Some of these wonderful people I’m still in regular contact with; I cherish them and I do my best to demonstrate my dedication to holding up my end of the relationship. My reluctance to travel and rigidity don’t lend themselves well to being an actively-engaged friend in terms of face-time, but I’m always open to people visiting me and I try to compensate for these major weaknesses with frequent deep conversations via phone, email, or text and a practice of reaching out with regularity to convey that the other person is in my thoughts and heart. I know it’s not the same, but it’s a start and I’m working on developing my social skills and forcing myself to be more socially “normal,” comfortable, and fluid.

Other friendships have ended prematurely or in a way that could not be described as amicably. I tend to blame myself for these losses, and likely that onus upon me solely is deserved. Thankfully, aside from the loss of my absolute best friend in the world growing up that occurred shortly after college, these major friendship “breakups” are few and far between. Since that dear friend, who felt like a sister, “divorced” me and asked that I never contact her again, I have learned to be a better friend to those friendships that I’ve formed subsequently. I still grieve the dissolution of that close relationship because I didn’t see it coming and I loved her as much as you can love a friend and had for nearly ten years. It’s strange because even though we don’t communicate anymore as I respect her wishes (though I do send birthday wishes) and haven’t for years, I find myself thinking of her rather often and wishing I could call her and ask her how she is. She’s also in my dreams probably once a week, which seems like a lot for someone with whom I have no interaction with and who clearly must despise me if she doesn’t ever want me contacting her. I guess I have a pretty big gaping wound there in my heart that never healed; perhaps it never will because I honestly did care for her like one of my sisters.

It’s mildly comforting to me to hear from some of my new autistic female friends that they have also carried the responsibility of ruining a beautiful friendship. Of course I’m not happy that other people have suffered the heartache of losing a best friend and the guilt that comes from understanding that it’s all your fault because it’s an exceedingly deep pain, but I suppose it’s helpful to talk to people like me who can relate, especially in cases where, like me, the women had yet to grasp that they were not being a good friend or didn’t know how to be (but thought they did). I truly wish I had had the benefit of participating in the social skills therapy I do now when I was younger. Not only did I desperately need the one-on-one instruction and group practice, but I lacked the awareness of truly recognizing my social deficits and issues. I hated socializing and was always so anxious in social situations, but I would have been hard-pressed to articulate why, which I now know is largely because it’s so unnatural to me that I constantly mess up and feel inadequate or humiliated. I’m still far from the great friend I’d like to be, but I’m developing my skills and practicing them with the friendships I am fortunate enough to have.

Someday, maybe I’ll be lucky enough to have a best girlfriend again. I’m in no rush though because I see the progress I want to make and respect the time it will take to “learn” the social skills that don’t come naturally to me. It’s hard when your heart cares so tremendously but your ability to execute friendship on a practical level lags far behind. It’s like a young kid who runs toward something they love with unbridled enthusiasm, but they face-plant because their little legs and neuromuscular system are not yet developed enough to physiologically carry their body at those speeds. It’s reassuring to feel like I’m moving in the right direction though, as I can already see the manifestations of my social skills work from the last nine months in terms of bettering myself as a wife, daughter, and friend. I just hope that I’ll keep improving and learning so that I can make up for my deficits. Time will tell. My heart is so ready to be a best friend; I just have to train my brain accordingly.

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