Situational Friends vs Real Friends: An Anecdotal Post

I’ve had a lot of friends in my life. Some have stuck but many have not. It wasn’t until I read This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales–a wonderful book which has many clever insights about friendship–last month that I was able to articulate the exact reason that happened. That is when I came up with my theory that everyone has “real” friends and “situational” friends.

What follows is a very long but vague account of some of the friendships I’ve had and the various ways they’ve lasted. Or not. What I realized is that some friendships–situational ones–need a context to make sense while others can exist in any situation because they are real friendships that are meant to last.

I spent a lot of years feeling a lot of angst about the dissolution of my high school friendships. For my entire high school career, these were my close friends. We were a unit; everyone knew that. Even teachers.

Until, suddenly, we weren’t anymore.

I’d already gone through this in middle school (and I suppose to some degree elementary school although in grade school I feel like friendships never really have an expectation of extending very far–at least mine didn’t. I don’t think I even knew every friend’s last name.). My middle school friends were an interesting bunch. We enjoyed each others company, we sat together at lunch, we were friends in most of the ways you expect. But then one time I planned a rather elaborate party and every single one of them cancelled. The day before. It was devastating in a way few things are at the age of twelve or thirteen. But I let it go because I let a lot of things go back then. I was the friend who never held a grudge. I wonder sometimes what would have been different if I had.

Anyway, my middle school friends all went to different high schools–some with each other. (I was the odd one out staying at the high school that was connected to our middle school.) Their friendships got stronger. I think two even went to the same college though I’d have to check Facebook before I could be sure. Sometimes I’ll get a group message on Facebook (when I’m on Facebook so for at least five years I don’t know if these meet ups still happened) from them trying to plan a get together. Sometimes I’ll even go. And I’ll wonder why we aren’t better friends now. More often than not it will fall apart. The last one was scheduled the week before my mother had a doctor’s appointment that led to her hospitalization and brain surgery. I don’t regret backing out to spend the day with her instead.

I was so sure high school would be different. I tried so hard to be friends with people and find a group. A new girl came into the school my freshman year and she had a group of friends in no time. It was, somehow, the same group I never quite managed to join. But eventually I found people to call my own. I had friends in classes and to eat lunch with. My school was small so I was friendly with probably 80% of my graduating class–I never felt lonely even though later I would wonder what I did wrong.

My high school was small so by the end of senior year we were all wandering the halls signing yearbooks and making declarations that we would be friends forever. At the time I thought I meant it and I wonder if other people did too. I think the answer might be no because by the next fall all of my close high school friends had stopped talking to me. Not in a malicious way. Just in a “I’m not interested in this conversation” way. By the next year I was thoroughly disillusioned when I realized said friends were keeping in touch with each other. The only one left out was me.

And for a lot of years I blamed myself.

Obviously I was lacking. I did something wrong. I failed in some fundamental way and they all knew that.

It hurt but I moved on. I made friends in college. I started grad school and I made friends there. I deleted Facebook and stopped worrying about it.

Then I got Shiny New Job and came back to Facebook and all of the old doubts came back as Facebook told me People I Might Know. (I still hate Facebook by the way. I’ve reconnected with a lot of people and only two of them are people I’ve actually talked to and even then only twice.) Then I read This Song Will Save Your Life and I realized I was thinking about this all in the completely wrong way.

Maybe it was different for everyone else, but all of my friends in middle school and high school were situational. We had school in common. Out of that context there wasn’t much there. Now maybe if I had grown up later with more social media and texting that would have made a difference. But I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 16 and Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist yet.

The same thing happened with a lot of my college friends. One of my closest friends in college was a year behind me. We tried to stay friends but it just didn’t work–eventually things fell apart with a huge blowout over something that was ultimately stupid. Sometimes I’ll think about her and feel terrible about the way it ended. Then I’ll also remember that I didn’t like myself very much back¬† then, in the context of our friendship, and I’ll continue wishing her well but without trying to reconnect.

Then there are people I knew in high school and college who I desperately wish I had been friendlier with. But there’s no good way to say that in email or on Facebook so we just make promises to get together in real life that we inevitably won’t keep.

Work friends were also situational until Lousy Retail Job at the bookstore. There I met two of my really good friends–one who I text or email sporadically without feeling like an imposition and one who has moved out of state and is now a penpal. There were other friends who I thought would be better ones but again out of context it fell apart (or sometimes there was too much context but that’s a different story).

My only other work friend is Kiki Couture who I’ve known since 2005. She lives way uptown and I live way downtown so she never makes plans with me. Her job has terrible cell recpetion so we don’t text much. Still, somehow, I know she’s a friend even if I can’t explain how or why that works. Every other time I’ve tried to make a work friend into a real friend it fell apart sometimes rather horribly.

The friends I have now, the ones I know are real friends who make sense without any context are a mixed bag. Two girls from college who I dearly love but rarely see or talk to for reasons I can’t always articulate. Nicole who I am so lucky to have met in grad school. And my two bookstore friends. There are other acquaintances mixed in and the people I wish I were friendlier with. And, at the risk of shocking everyone, I have some online friends too–in Brazil and Europe and Canada, a famous actor’s second cousin in the US. I don’t think we’ll ever meet but we talk all the time and they are there for me which is what matters.

And of course there are friends who don’t fit any traditional context–my friends on twitter, the other bloggers I know, even some authors. Again, these might not be friends in a traditional sense but that’s okay somehow. I’m already planning who I’ll be able to meet at BEA this year.

I’m still holding out hope for some of the supposed “missed” connections on Facebook. Maybe I can finally get back in touch with the musician guy I knew in high school or the girl who was my perpetual roommate in college when we traveled (who still has photos up online from the two trips we were on together–something that was surprisingly touching for reasons I couldn’t entirely say). Maybe some of the friends at Shiny New Job will eventually not need that work context. Who knows?

A grad school friend, one who isn’t on Facebook and who I sorely missed, emailed me when she saw my posts about my mom on here. We’re seeing each other for the first time in two or so years next week. Another example that some friendships can and will make the leap from their original context and beginnings.