I stayed up late last night, watching the movie “Stand by Me” on TV. Dan happened upon it while flipping channels, and I was sucked in quickly because I have such vivid memories of it from my adolescence. One of the last parts of the movie struck to the core of my heart:
“As time went on, we saw less and less of Teddy and Vern until eventually they became just two more faces in the halls. It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant."
I am in a season of my life where some friendships are dying off. There are numerous reasons for this, and I am partly to blame. But it pains me to lose friendships that were so intimate in my life.
I have always envied my husband. He has three boys he has known since early elementary school (*) and they have stayed friends for more than three decades. They went to college together and two of the three live nearby. The boys have matured into men and then fathers. We see them often, and our kids adore their kids. I always wanted to have a friendship that started in my toddler years or grade school and continued on to my adult years. The closest I’ve come is getting back in touch with the woman who was my best friend in 4th and 5th grades. My other “oldest” friends are my best friend from high school and my best friend from college. I connect with the former a few times a year. I haven’t spoken with the latter in years.
These were women who were mirrors of my own heart for a specific time of my life.
I think about other stages of my life, and there is a friend who matches each of them. I had a best friend at each of my jobs; my “work wife,” if you will. These were women who knew the inner workings of my life. One of them knew I was pregnant even before my husband knew! (Albeit just a few hours before him!)
When I became a stay at home mom, I developed a new set of best friends through my mom’s group. These women saw me at my worst and still encouraged me and loved on me. We spent countless naptime hours on the phone, chatting and sharing childrearing tips. But the babies grew into school-aged kids, and my intimate friends evolved into acquaintances. Right now, one of those friendships is on its last legs and it upsets me. I keep trying to resuscitate our friendship, but it just. isn’t. working. The truth is our lives have simply changed and there is no one reason why the friendship is faltering; it’s dying because of distance and time and the lack of both.
On the surface, I have a hard time letting go because I feel like I’ve failed at friendship with her. But when I dig a little deeper, I also realize it’s hard to let go because I feel doing so will create another occurrence in a pattern of my life: am I a Serial Friend? Do I make intimate friendships only to back off when the relationship gets too vulnerable?
That thought makes me shudder because it runs tandem with one of the biggest fears of my life: that I will become my mother.
Some people collect stamps or coins or programs from Broadway musicals. My mother collected friends. She never met a stranger, and embarrassed me endlessly in my teenage years when she would talk to any-and every-one within ear shot at the grocery store. She was friendLY and also a good friend to others. A truly beautiful friend. When you needed someone to swoop in and save the day, Brenda was there. She was known to secretly fund people’s college educations. She let friends move in with her when their own lives hit the skids. She showed up unannounced to one friend’s final court date when the friend was getting divorced. She knew how to be a presence in other people’s lives, and gave without hesitation. What a beautiful role model for me, right? Not quite so fast.
My mother was a pro at being there for others but really really bad at letting others be there for her. She didn’t let people in the inner sanctum of her heart. No one got in: not me, not my siblings, and I’m pretty sure not my father. Friends were people SHE helped, not the other way around. She just couldn’t be a recipient, only a giver. When she was dying, she asked my sister and me to keep her friends away from the hospital. She didn’t want anyone to see her in such a needy state. Oh, boy, were her friends angry at me and Mary! They would say to us, “But she’s my best friend!” The sad thing is she never would have said that in return because she didn’t have a best friend. When she died, Mary and I decided to give her eulogy because none of her friends knew her as well as she knew them.
I vowed to keep that from happening to me in my friendships. Doggone it, I want to be overly vulnerable with my friends! I want someone who can give a eulogy at my funeral! I’ll share my pain and the heartache, and help them through theirs as well. I cry and vent and rejoice and celebrate with my friends. And through the years, some of my friends have come to replace the family I lost. (The only problem with this is when my friends’ family events roll around, and I realize I am relegated to “friend” status in their lives, not family. That stings a bit.)
Now back to the Serial Friend question. Am I overthinking things? Am I exhausting and demanding of my friends (as those high school and college best friends so sweetly called me previously)? Is it not only okay but perfectly natural to have “busboy” Serial Friendships?
And doesn’t anyone want more, or is it just me?
*There is one footnote to this story. Remember those three boys my husband has known since early elementary school? True, I don’t have a friend from that long ago, but God has given me with the next best thing: friendship with the wives of those boys. My relationships with the friend-wives has run the gamut from faded to intense on its own long journey, but God is using these women to help me glimpse His presence. Through them, He shows me what endurance and faithfulness looks like. They are a blessing to me!