If Only I’d Known. Letters to Lost Years: 1988.2

Dear X,

I’ll expand a bit on what I was writing to you about friendship.

Of course, we know our friends should be the people whose company we love, whose character we respect and whose support we depend upon.

But most of us, at one point or another, have wanted to be someone’s friend for other reasons.  Maybe we wish we were more like them.  Maybe we want to be included in a particular social circle.  Maybe we think we’ll be more successful if we surround ourselves with people who have a particular image

Who we choose as a friend is, in part, a reflection of how we see (or want to see) ourselves.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but if you find yourself unhappy, uncomfortable and trying too hard to win someone’s approval, then it’s time to take stock.

People young and old can suffer from “in crowd envy.”  There’s a group, usually pretty tight-knit, who always seems to be having the most fun.  To those on the outside, they appear to live in the best houses, have the great parties, go on exciting holidays and are always pushing the envelope. Being included and accepted by them can feel pretty good.

Except, when it doesn’t…

If you don’t actually feel accepted… if you don’t really feel comfortable… if you aren’t sure if someone truly likes you… if you find yourself doing things that make you feel bad to be part of the group, you need to reexamine “friendship.”

Shall I tell you one of my most ignominious memories of adolescence?  I wanted so much to be one of the “popular kids.”   After gym class, one of “those” girls asked me to roll up her jeans for her (as was the style).  There I was on my knees, literally bowed before her, while she sat like a princess on the locker room bench, and I rolled her jeans for her because I thought it would make her like me. In reality, she probably just made fun of me.

It’s embarrassing to share, but it should have taught me that she wasn’t ever going to be my friend. She certainly was never going to roll my jeans for me!

Whether you are doing something a little demeaning, like I was, or something that can be dangerous (like drinking, drugs or sex), if you are trying to prove yourself and pushing to be accepted, you’re wasting your time with people who aren’t real friends.

Remember, real friends are the people who accept you as you are and like you no matter what silly, awkward thing you might do.  Real friends stand by you; they don’t make you prove yourself.  Real friends make you feel happy about who you are; they don’t make you wish you were someone else.

Maybe you feel a little nerdy, dorky, or geeky now and you wish you were special.  Just hold on for a bit.  You have no idea what changes could be awaiting you down the road or what opportunities you’ll be able to pursue.  If you keep working to be the best “you” you can, you’ll find what makes you special.  I promise.

When that happens, you’ll be happy you’re sharing it with people who are genuine, caring and trustworthy.  You won’t worry about how people “labeled” you because you’ll see it’s all forgotten and never really mattered.  What matters is finding the people who will stay with you through your life and make every day better because you know them.

However you may look and feel now, you’ll be amazed at the power of time.  Anything is possible! Elisabeth Hasselbeck probably didn’t think she would grow up to be a TV star:

EH

And because life isn’t about looks, don’t worry if you don’t think you’ll ever be movie star material.  It doesn’t mean you won’t do something pretty amazing.  Most of the world admires what this kid achieved:

Bill Gates kid

 

BGForbes

The reality is that kids in schools label each other and there will always be cliques.  But when you worry so much about what other people think of you, you become your own worst enemy.  Ask yourself, “do I really like them?”  Figure out if you even want to be friends.  Do you have anything in common?  Would you have fun together?

If you could just see that in only a few years you’ll be through this awkward stage and everything will change.  You’ll begin to appreciate the people who accept you for who you are, and even better, you’ll start to learn to accept yourself.

By the time you leave school, you’ll see that everyone has changed and those cliques don’t tell us anything about how our lives will turn out.  The popular kids may or may not be successful and happy – and the same holds true for everyone else.

There’s a fun movie that gets at the heart of what I’m talking about.  Can’t Buy Me Love is about what happens when we turn our backs on our genuine friends in order to be accepted by the “in crowd.”  It’s about what happens when we want to be someone we’re not.

“Don’t change to try to please people.” True then, true now.  (And by the way, the kid who plays the nerd?  That’s Patrick Dempsey.)

So don’t waste your time wishing you were someone else.  You never know what’s really going on in their world; it may not be quite what you imagine.  There are too many stories of people who seem like they have it all, while secretly their life is crumbling.

Instead, figure out what you like best about yourself and focus on that.  Find the people who help to bring that out in you.

Which takes me back to my original point about friends.  Don’t judge anyone by how you think other people see them.  Decide for yourself, trust how you feel.  It’s all that matters in the end.

Even adults struggle with this.  Someday, you might worry that people don’t like the person you’re dating – maybe he doesn’t seem smart or rich and handsome enough.  You might consider throwing away a wonderful relationship over superficial qualities.

But life is long, so the person you choose to spend yours with better make you – and you alone – happy.  You better enjoy their company because if you don’t, no amount of admiration the rest of the world might hoist upon them will fill the loneliness you’ll feel.

But that’s a long way off – and a lesson for another day.

The best thing you can do for now is to appreciate the people who want to be your friend and learn to be the best friend you can be.  Accept yourself and others.  Don’t worry about the things you can’t control – like other people’s opinions.

Rather than trying to be someone you’re not, get comfortable with the real you (it’s a long road you have to walk). Spend your time making the most of who you are – your talents, skills, and interests.  Be grateful for the people who come into your life and see the best in you.

You are perfect exactly as you are, and the people who can see that are the people whose friendship will make your life richer.

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If Only I’d Known. Letters to Lost Years: 1988.1

Dear X,

You will often hear it said that friends come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Though perhaps a bit trite, it’s a helpful way to think about friendship.

My dad has a pin that reads, “Cor ad Cor Loquitur” or “heart speaks to heart,” an apt description of how I’ve met my best friends.  In an instant, I just felt comfortable, at ease and myself.

A bit shy and introverted, it takes me time to build friendships. But with these special few, it was different. The instant I met them, whether I was 6 or 36, I knew immediately they were to be true friends.

I’ve had to start over many times: changing schools, changing jobs, changing scenery. During transitions, it’s easy to feel anchorless and lost. Our history makes us who we are, so it can be lonely and isolating when you look around and there’s no one to whom you can say, “remember when…”

But true friends will get you through the ups and downs. They will always answer the phone, write the note, or come to visit (so you can laugh together and say things like, “remember when you used to wear upside down glasses?” or “look what happened to the cook!” or “show me your interpretation of holiday!” or “olive oil ice cream with little kid smiles,” or “time for dinner without the kids.”).

This kind of love is a special part of our experience and it is invaluable. Though few in number, lifetime friends are the most important.

So what of the other people in your life?

As you go along, you’ll find some friends are with you for only a short time. They appear in your world to help you through a particular situation and then vanish again, whether you want them to or not. Maybe they’ll teach you something about yourself. Maybe they’ll give you the strength to go through with something you didn’t think you could. Maybe their example will help you understand who you do – or don’t – want to be.

Some of these “seasonal friends” have given me the courage to change my situation when I felt stuck. Some have given me support when I felt alone and afraid. I may have thought that we’d always be close, but time moved on and so did they.

It can hurt when people leave your life, almost like a breakup, but sometimes you just have to let them go and understand that their purpose has been fulfilled. You can’t hold on to everyone, much as you might like to. Life is too busy, too complicated. The best you can do is wish them well and thank them for whatever you’ve learned from knowing them.

Once in a blue moon, you may have a strange experience when someone comes into your life for an instant, almost like magic, and gives you exactly what you need in that moment.

One day, I was as low as I could possibly be. I had left my job (encouraged to do so by my boss), my boyfriend had dumped me and my dog had just died. (I was a country music cliché.)

Early Monday morning, I went to the unemployment office – not exactly a great way to cheer myself up. But there, I met a woman named Elia. We talked all morning (we had hours to fill, after all). She was a couple years older and her stories of the things she’d done inspired me.

She helped me see that on the other side of this ending, inevitably, was a beginning… and beginnings are always exciting, because anything is possible. She gave me hope that things could and would get better. She reminded me that one never knows what the day will bring – a new friend, a new job, maybe just a new book. She told me to relax and enjoy myself… the pieces I was mourning would all fall into place again one day. And she was right.

Though we exchanged numbers, I never spoke to Elia again. She was a mysterious angel with a message I needed to hear. Four hours with her had a profound influence on the person I’d become.

I met her for a reason.

I wish I’d always understood the value of friendship. There have been times when I’ve had superficial reasons for wanting to be someone’s friend – popularity, for example (more on that later). But I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot since then.

In an enclosed world, it can seem the people around you will always be there (for better or worse); but it’s amazing how even some of your closest friends will drift away.

Eventually, you’ll look at your life and see who’s stuck by you… you’ll think about when you feel best and the people you most like. You’ll realize these are the people who deserve the time and love you have to give. When you identify these people, you’ll know what friendship is all about.

When a part of someone lives in you and you in them, you’ve found a friend.

Published in: on February 21, 2013 at 1:57 pm  Comments (7)  
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