When you have an EMDR treatment, the therapist tells you that the memory you are reprocessing in therapy may come back to you a lot over the coming week, and that you should take that opportunity to continue thinking and processing, don’t resist the thought but just go with the process. My thoughts from my last session (detailed here) have left me pondering two interrelated ideas: abandonment and friendship. I’ve experienced a good deal of abandonment from numerous people throughout my life, and, partly as a consequence, I’ve had to constantly redefine what it means to be my friend.
Kindergarten was really the first time I ever met children my own age. And, so it seemed, everyone liked everyone else and played with everyone else. It didn’t occur to me that there were kids who didn’t like me. (Imagine my shock when I worked in a daycare, and the three-year-olds cliqued off Mean Girls-style.)
But then I got to first grade, and everything changed. The children grouped up during recess, and I was left out. You see, I was the boy who played with dolls, thus violating the strict gender-segregation codes instilled in us by the pink-aisle marketing mentality. (I will say this for my parents–they let me shop in whatever aisle I wanted.) On occasion, a girl might let me play with her, but for the most part, I was a pariah.
At this point in my life, “friend” meant “playmate”, and I didn’t really have any. Sometimes a fourth- or fifth-grader would feel sorry for me and tell me, “I’m your friend,” but, of course, they didn’t play with me. Now I understand the vast developmental differences that justify why they didn’t play with me, but at the time their words sounded hollow.
In second grade, I developed a strategy. I would befriend “new kids” their very first day of school, before anyone could turn them against me. And I would have a playmate — until my friend moved away, which always happened, often in a few months’ time.
By third grade, with a sporadic history of playmates, I altered my definition of “friend” to “someone who doesn’t make fun of you to your face”. That was fully half my class. I had a lot of friends.
In fifth grade, it was “someone who sticks up for you”.
In seventh grade, it was “nobody”. What friends I had in sixth grade were not in my classes, and had taken an interest in girls.
In ninth grade, it was “people who spend time with you” — not far removed from “playmate”.
The line between “friend” and “enemy” blurred sometimes. Some of the members of my church youth group bullied me, but the youth pastor said it was because they liked me. And so I let them bully me some more.
In Bible college, “friend” meant “someone to whom I can entrust my secrets” — and I was carrying the biggest whopper of a secret: I was gay.
At age 29, it was “someone who stuck with me after I came out of the closet”. For a while, that was two people.
At 30, it was again “nobody”, as I pulled up stakes under duress and moved to Minneapolis.
It stayed “nobody” for two years. Then I randomly fell into a large circle of friends. And we spent a lot of time together. And we played games. And we would entrust our secrets to each other.
And along the way, I joined Facebook. I reconnected to friends I had lost along the way. As well as a lot of acquaintances. But we don’t call it “acquaintancing” on Facebook. We call it “friending”. So in social media, the count of those who are considered my friend is artificially high.
But then, two years ago, I went back to school. For various reasons, I fell out of the circle of friends with whom I had spent time and played games and entrusted secrets. This hurt. I doubled down and focused on my schoolwork.
Now I look to relocate in a few months. And I find that my social life the last two years is nearly as bereft as it was my first two years in Minneapolis. I currently have some opportunities to develop new relationships, but it seems like a fool’s errand since I’ll be leaving them soon.
And I’m stuck wondering if this move will mean inventing a new definition of “friend” to tide me over until everyone leaves again.