When I moved into my SF apartment, I became friends with my roommate. The arrangement was that she’d only be living there for a month, and then would move out to live with her boyfriend, at which point my other friend would move in. We got along nicely; we’d even gone to the same (very large) college, and, though we didn’t know each other then, we realized we had a lot in common. When she moved out, we stayed friends. Which meant, we tried to see each other every couple of months, and usually one of us would have to bail or reschedule, which led to most of our communication hovering around trying to make plans. So when we did see each other, we caught up—on the same basics we covered each visit. We’d have a nice time. And then we’d say goodbye, only to go through the cycle all over again.
I finally realized that I was filling up my ‘social agenda’ with—and I’ll use the word politely here—acquaintances. I was spending time with people I cared about, but didn’t necessarily love. And it was taking time away from the people I did love. Not to mention, time away from myself.
Let me say this: she’s an awesome girl. Seriously and truly. I could ramble lots of things off about her—and other acquaintances I don’t see much anymore—that make them cool and worth being friends with. But it wasn’t about her; it’s not about them. We just never got to that place where we were going to be besties. I take responsibility for that, even though it’s not about blame.
I have a twin brother who went to college 20 minutes away from where we grew up. I, on the other hand, went to college halfway across the country. My parents liked to joke: Jeff lives down the road and we don’t know any of his friends. Lisa has friends in every state, and we’ve met them all.
They meant it as a compliment. “You have so many friends! How do you keep up?” they’d say. I’d laugh, brushing it off. In college, and for years after, it didn’t seem like a big deal. But as we got older, and as I grew up, it started to matter. A couple of times I had to choose between friend milestone events because they were on the same day. Or, I was so busy hanging out with different people all the time, I didn’t have time to catch up on the phone with my long-time childhood friends. Or, I was having trouble deciding what to do on any random Saturday night because I didn’t want to let anyone down, so I’d double or triple or maybe even quadruple book.
Not only was it exhausting, no one wins that way. Your friends are bummed if you’re leaving early or arriving late. I felt like they thought I was being “too cool” or “too important”, which, even though it wasn’t the case at all, felt awful. Instead, I was just doing too much. Trying too hard. It stopped being fun, and my core relationships were suffering.
Even just this past weekend, I was invited to the wedding of a friend I knew in high school and had recently reconnected with. But earlier on the day of the wedding, I’d be returning from New York. Later that same afternoon was my nephew’s birthday party. I thought, “I can do it! I’ll have to leave NY at 10am to make it to the party by 3. Then I can spend an hour at the party. Then I’ll drive to the wedding and I can make it if I’m a little late!”
The win would have been being able to see my friend get married—always an honor to be invited, right?—and it would have made them happy. Was that reason enough toexhaust myself and prioritize a recently rekindled friendship over my nephew and my family, with whom I’m very close?
I chose not to go to the wedding, but there’s no right answer. I felt bad about the decision, but I would have felt bad either way. And luckily, those decisions are coming less often, because I’ve made a conscious choice to do two distinct things:
1). Focus more on my long-lasting, long-term, meaningful relationships. The ones that have been around for a long time and always will. Or, the new ones that I know are different. This means, unfortunately, sometimes deprioritizing others, who may feel let down as a result. But it also means not getting carried away with spending time with people who don’t fall into this category.
2). Not feeling bad about number 1.
Look, it’s not like I’m saying I have a million people asking me to hang out all the time. I don’t. Some entire weeks and/or weekends go by without me having any plans at all. Nor is this about being popular. What does that even mean?
It’s just that, the older I get, the more I realize how important important relationships are. And that other relationships just begin to feel…extraneous. Fun, sure. But overall, I realized there were a good number of cool, nice people I knew, people I was spending time with, even though our relationships weren’t necessarily materializing into something…meaningful. And I don’t even really know how I’d define that. It’s just something you know, you know?
Years ago, I got some bad news. My good friend’s mother had died, somewhat suddenly. My friend had gone home to Florida to be with her, and she emailed me to tell me. I said, “is there anything you need? Do you want me to come out there?” She said, “It would be great if you could come.”
In 10 days, I’d be moving to San Francisco. I had a million things to do. I needed to pack up my apartment, hire movers, leave my job, go to goodbye parties, see my family—a million things. Obviously, it was not the best time. And I could have not gone, and she would have understood.
But I went. There was no chance I wasn’t going to go. My family thought I was a little crazy. I got in a little bit of trouble with my job. But it didn’t matter. She needed me, and it was important. I lay with her in the bed while she cried. I cleaned up the condo where her mother had spent her last days. I drove with her brother to the funeral. I bonded with her cousins at the party they had to celebrate her life. Alone in the chapel, flowers everywhere, the guests and family all outside, I watched my friend rest her hand on her mother’s casket and whisper goodbye mom, a moment that still makes me tear up when I think about it. Even now. The emotion, the humanity, the power of it, of what I was privy to witness.
Years later, when I officiated not one, but two different friends’ weddings: the honor of being the one asked to say the words that unite them in marriage. The honor of getting to see their faces up close when they say yes, the tears they can’t hold back, the smiles they can’t control. The honor of being a part of a milestone, a turning point in a life. The honor of those moments is more than friendship.
I’m no saint. Surely, other good friends could have played similar roles. I’m sure you all have similar stories. But that is the friend I want to be. The one who messes up her life a little bit so she can hold your hand. The one who, when asked to write and say the words to bond you in marriage, must think about what love means, really means, and who will tell you: we can’t ever truly know what it means, but somehow, it means everything. Love in all ways, of all kinds. That’s the friend I want to be; that’s the friend I want. And I hope I never have to prove it to you, as much as I hope that I do prove it, every day.