These are the Friendships of Our Lives
Last week I was clinking a glass of wine with a new(ish) friend. We’d been chatting about the friendships of our lives and how they’ve changed. Suddenly I realized that my university days of playing pranks in dorm rooms and the ease of accessible friends were far behind me.
I remember my mom pointing out her bridesmaids and staring at her wedding photos with wistful nostalgia. I haven’t seen them in years, she’d say and I’d think to myself that I’d never let that happen to me — I wanted to live in a mansion with all my best friends and each family would have their own floor. We’d share a giant kitchen and a backyard and live the rest of our lives together in harmony. Although I still secretly wish that dream would come true, I understand that our friendships ebb and flow as we grow up. As we start families. As we spend more time in the office or enjoy the silence of living alone with a cat.
I’ve lived in Spain for over three years now. Each summer a close friend moves back home, leaving me another year older and my circle of kinships a bit more depleted. As expatriates, the concept of a friend takes on a heftier meaning. The friends you make while living abroad become your actual family. They’re who you turn to when you’re sick and haven’t got the energy to cross the city in search of chicken soup. They’re who you dance with until the sun creeps up on Saturdays and who you Netflix with on sleepy Sunday afternoons. They’re your moms and your dads and your brothers and your sisters. Your crazy aunts and sometimes the awkward uncle in the corner of a party (that’s me). You turn to them for comfort and support. For tax advice and dating woes. And the longer you live in a different country, the easier it is for your friends back home to slip further away as time differences and 12 hour flights obstruct daily contact.
“I was wrong about you at first,” my new(ish) friend admitted.
“I thought you were just this blonde from California, a bit quiet around the others.”
Our conversation morphed into the slow friendships that build. How, depending on the group I’m with, I can be shy or overzealous or naïve or sage. With some friends I’m self-conscious about saying the wrong thing. With others I reveal my inner weirdness and feel safe to talk about my love of weasels (say it out loud, it’s the best word). Some friendships take time to grow, for both parties to open up and share who they really are. Other friendships are formed in a first conversation over cheap burritos and salted margaritas.
We’re not in second grade anymore… it’s not as easy to make these types of relationships in our late 20s going into our 30s and 40s. When I moved to the Bay Area, I joined Bumble Friends in hopes of finding like minded gals after being heartsick over leaving my BFFs behind. Unfortunately, my Bumble Friends circle turned out to be a cosmetics pyramid scheme… It wasn’t until I arrived at a “party” turned sales pitch that I realized the mistake I’d made. I was so focused on the bowls of chocolates and flutes of sparkling wine, that I’d missed the red flags of weaved eyelashes, lip-plumping gloss, and the sign that read Welcome to Mary Kay! Those 27-year-old homemakers weren’t interested in my friendship, they just wanted another body to climb over in the hopes of earning a chrome pink Prius. I ran out of that dining hall before they could grace me with a “free samples” bag and I strayed away from Bumble… well, at least from the Friends side of it. I spent most of that year hanging out with my coworkers and driving three hours back up to Sonoma County to be with the people who I knew and trusted.
I’ve found that it’s easier to make friends thousands of miles away in Madrid. We’re all alone here. We all have to take a deep breath, go out on a ledge and say, “will you be my friend?” At home our circles have already been constructed and we’re not actively searching to expand our groups once we’ve built our convents. If you’re new in a city (cough cough San Francisco), it’s not easy to break into an already established gal gang. Expats’ clans are consistently inflating and deflating, we’re always on the lookout for a new weary traveler to join us. Although, I do suspect it’s more difficult for the men who have to set up “bro dates,” pretending to be interested in football just for the comradery and pretzels.
These are the friendships of our lives. I know these roles intimately, because I have been each one at some point in my life. I’ve taken on a different role depending on the person I was with. I’ve been a good friend and I’ve been a friend who made a bad decision. I’ve gossiped about friends and I’ve walked into a room to discover that someone I’d trusted had revealed my secrets. I’ve lost old friends and I’ve made incredible new ones.
The question to ask yourself is… which kind of friend are you?
The Coffee Date Friend
You don’t see each other very often, but when you do it’s as if no time has passed. You catch up on work, friends, lovers, and family. You share a cheesecake and order a second then a third cappuccino. You eventually start talking politics and you feel seen and validated. You keep your phones tucked into your purses and hours pass before you realize you’re late for another commitment. You split the bill. You hug each other goodbye and leave feeling buzzed and rejuvenated.
The Connections Friend
She knows everyone from shady bar bouncers to job connections. You turn to her in times of need, whether it’s for a night out, an interview inquiry, or the number of that cute friend of a friend. She hosts elaborate dinner parties and has a plan for every night of the week. She’s not only the life of the party, but she’s also genuinely interested in the lives of her web of connections. She remembers your birthday and tags you in memes that remind her of you. You’re in awe of her energy and inspired by her empathy.
The Favor Vortex Friend
The friend who always needs a “small favor,” whether it’s buying her a box of tampons or editing her resume. You like helping and giving advice, but you leave feeling emotionally drained. When you ask for the same support or favor in return… she’s absent or distracted. She gossips about other friends and sucks you into it as well. After hanging out you feel guilty and wonder what she says about you when you’re not around. You learn not to trust her with your baggage, but you keep her around so you don’t feel so alone.
The Childhood Friend
The one who has stuck by your side (figuratively) for years now. By this point you’ve rid yourself of the old friends who post ignorant and racist memes on Instagram. You’ve finally blocked the ones who wrote slut on your car and made up nasty rumors about you in 11th grade. This is the true childhood friend who you message immediately after binge-watching “Pen15.” You live on different sides of the country (or world), but you know she’s always there for you. She’s seen you with braces and acne and that mole on your face. In middle school she sat on a roof and talked on the phone with you until the wee hours of the night (11 p.m.) because your parents were, like, so unfair. She knows your family’s quirks. She’s the only one who calls you out when you’re dating a piece of shit. She knows who you were and has seen who you are and roots for who you will become.
The Cumulonimbus Friend
She’s constantly complaining about her relationship or being vegan or the people who have wronged her. She lives in a world with a thick gray cloud hovering over her head and she likes it that way. It’s true that strange things happen to her, like the time she brought home a sexy stranger and woke up to find that her laptop and phone had been stolen. She sends text messages that are English essay length long. When you’re telling her a story you can sense that she’s just waiting for her turn to talk. Let’s be honest, she’s Eeyore… It’s always something with that chick.
The Work Friend
You roll your eyes together about the weirdo coworker who stares at you and tattles like a 5-year-old. She’s got your back when you’re stuck in traffic and 10 minutes late. She helps you write a passive aggressive note when someone microwaves fish yet again at 11 a.m. You cry at her desk during the break to let it all out before anyone else can see you. You celebrate little victories with just a look from across the room. You bring each other pick-me-up coffees and candies. You’ve never met each other’s partners, but at work she’s your knight in shining armor.
The Bat-Shit-Crazy Friend
She had sex with Mickey Avalon on vacation in Vegas. She disappears for months on end and turns up at your front door with a multicolored poncho from Machu Picchu. Sometimes her eyes glaze over when you’re telling her a story and you can tell she’s not really present. You’re not sure what her job is or how she affords her lifestyle. You live for her stories, you question how fabricated they are, but you love her passion. At times you’re jealous of her freedom, but she makes you appreciate the stability and comfort of your own life.
The New Friend
You agree to go to concerts at 10 o’clock on a Wednesday night because you still feel that you need to “seal the deal.” Every hang is as exciting and nerve wracking as a first date. You feel oddly left out if you see she’s with other friends, and are eager to say yes to picnic invitations on Sundays. You clean your home for three hours before she comes to visit and you make a charcuterie board to serve with California wine. You finally open up about past relationships and traumas and she puts her hand on your arm and accepts you.
What other types of friendships have you known?