Friend Redefined

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.

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About Whittier Strong

Whittier Strong is an MFA student in creative writing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, with a focus in nonfiction. He graduated from Metropolitan State University with a BA in creative writing. He has special interests in sociology and philosophy.

Posted on 30 January, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I haven’t seen you in person in several years, Whittier, but wherever you go, please rest assured that I’m still your friend. And I think that even though you’ll be leaving to go to grad school, it makes good sense to put yourself out there and make those connections if you are able before you leave. Who’s to say what could come of it? If only to gain a long-distance friendship that remains throughout grad school, that’s still a benefit. Who knows if you’ll fall madly in love, as he will with you, and he’ll decide to move wherever you go? It could happen! You just NEVER KNOW. And even if none of that occurs, you’ll probably at least have some interactions along the way that are fun and memorable, so it’s still worth it.

    Unlikely things do occur. My husband and I had known each other only a few weeks when he proposed to me and we eloped. NOBODY else thought it would work; not one person supported us. It wasn’t a sensible decision, it wasn’t likely to pay off, but IT DID. More than twenty years later, we are still together and we are still friends, living proof that all those people were wrong — because we took that chance and stuck it out, against all odds. When you find people with whom you feel a connection, it doesn’t matter what others say, what seems logical, or what projected outcome the statistics support. You and I met through a person who no longer speaks to either of us, but despite that, we’re still friends, years later, even though we never see each other. You just can’t predict how things will pan out. The only way is to give it a try, my friend. Best of luck. 🙂

  2. I agree with u 100% Bree!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. And I’m stuck wondering if this move will mean inventing a new definition of “friend” to tide me over until everyone leaves again. (like u told me whit u aren’t leaving me ur only leaving minneasnowta and i will never leave u ur stuck with me so get used to it)

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