“Molly Countermine once said, ‘Childhood friendships are a key building block for relationships in later life. They hone skills for future relationships, demonstrate the importance of emotional commitment, facilitate the separation from the family, safeguard against feelings of rejection and loneliness, and ease the transition to adulthood.’
friend (noun): one who listens, doesn’t judge, and somehow makes everything all right
Anne Katherine was my first best friend I could remember. I don’t remember our first words we said to one another or what our first play date was like, I just remember being around five years old and moving in next door. We somehow became two peas in a pod. In fourth and fifth grade, I was sure we were going to be living next door to each other as adults, married to the loves our life: Danny Wood and Jonathan Knight (from New Kids on the Block for all you 90’s babies). If not them, then our elementary boyfriends, Mark and Zack. What I was even more sure of was that we were going to be like DJ Tanner and Kimmy Gibbler from Full House. We were going to live next door to each other forever and be best friends until the end of time. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
It really saddens me when I hear people speak of their best friends and how they’ve been best friends since elementary or middle school. Like, how? I literally want to know. Did you live next door to each other your entire life? Did you take every class together? Were you into the same style of clothing? Did you want to be in the same professions when you got older? I’m legit asking how. Because that did not happen to me.
Middle and high school and even college are such a blur to me at the ‘old’ age of thirty-four; I don’t even recall who my best friend was through those years, much less what ‘clique’ I was associated with. I think I was more focused on working for money, playing sports, and probably day dreaming about boys who were way of out my league.
Let me put it this way, I didn’t even attend my ten-year high school reunion. Simply because I had no desire to go. I hadn’t talked to anyone since graduation and refused to go to a gathering and carry on conversations with people I hadn’t remained in touch with. Facebook was still new and it told me everything I needed to know about the people I was once acquainted with. I knew Laura had 3 beautiful children and was living her best life in South Carolina as a real estate agent. I saw Josh had recently made the brave decision to admit he was interested in people of the same sex. And noticed all of Beth’s hard studying paid off because she was now a doctor at a top hospital in Tennessee. Facebook told me everything I needed to know. Basically.
Most of you are probably thinking, ‘Geez, Sandi. No wonder you don’t have friends…you didn’t make time for them, and you just didn’t care.’ Touché!
Towards the end of my college career, I entered into a very serious relationship with a guy who I had dated on and off for the past few years. This time, it lasted about 5 years and eventually turned into an engagement. I should have been a little leery when I realized I wasn’t allowed to have friends (but that crazy thing called ‘love’ got the best of me.) ‘Everyone was fake or using me’ were the words I often recall hearing. He sometimes called me ‘Sam’ because my hair would be in a hat or ponytail, and I would be wearing yoga pants.
Let me quickly add that is was not a physically abusive relationship, but mentally it was, and THAT is still uncalled for. I eventually realized I was never going to be accepted for who I was and wanted to be, nor be supported in life. I knew I needed to end this quickly. It was time I started living for me and finding people who I could turn to and vent. I had NO ONE to talk to when I ended things. And who would even want to listen? I hadn’t given them the time of day for the past several years, therefore, why would they give me an hour?
I don’t regret that relationship. I really don’t. At that time in my life, I wanted it. But as it neared the end, I realized an important lesson. I wasn’t being true to myself. I wasn’t being who I wanted to be, and that was not fair. It wasn’t fair to my old friends, my family, my co-workers and most importantly, to myself. January 11th, 2011 was the day I took my life back and decided to do what I needed to do. I (very immaturely, if I’m honest) ended that relationship. I wanted to find a group of friends, or at least one friend, who would, without judgement, let me wear sweatpants and hoodies and my hair in a hot mess to the movies and not bat an eye. I simply just wanted a friend.
Six months later, I found her. I found that friend. Nicole. Such a God-send. I was giddy about her. She took care of me. She babied me like I was her own child (she’s younger than me and at the time she was pregnant with her first). She helped me reach my goals for myself in that first year after I called off the engagement. I called her my best friend, and she called me hers. That was all I truly wanted. I wanted to be someone’s ultimate best friend. We took way too many selfies together, we weirdly wrote friendship love messages on one another’s others Facebook wall, and I had way too many to count belly aches when I was with her because of the amount of laughter we shared. We even got matching tattoos together that meant ‘friendship.’
Just as quickly as our friendship blossomed, it wilted. A serious relationship emerged (honestly, thanks to her). I had changed careers, and the serious relationship eventually turned into marriage. With those changes, it meant not seeing Nicole as much, due to different schedules. I found out I was pregnant in June of 2015, and in that same week, we said some harsh words to each other that pushed our friendship back yet another notch. We slowly worked it out, but things were never the same.
Several months later, Grace popped out of my belly, and with that, becoming a new mother changed my schedule even more. I had become that NEW mother, the tired mother, a stressed mother ,and soon enough, a full-time working mother. I soon realized I didn’t consider her my best friend anymore, and I wasn’t hers. She had advanced in her career and met some new friends who more aligned with her personality and family. I wasn’t upset we had lost that connection, but I did find myself becoming really hurt and angry when I would see pictures of her and her new best friend with quotes, such as ‘My brownie. Her blondie,’ or ‘Every blondie needs a brunette.’ I was once her brownie. I was once her brunette. I wanted that back, but not with her.
Let me add, before I move on, that Nicole and I have talked. She is still very much in my life. We went nearly a little over a year without seeing each other and barely speaking to one another. We’re trying. We’re trying to regain that confident friendship we once had, but deep down, we both know it will never be as it once was. I still consider her a very dear friend and forever will. Again, a different story, another time, but I will always tell people that without her, I would not be married to the love of my life and have two beautiful daughters. Without her, I would never know what a true friendship was. She gave me what I had always desired.
While struggling with losing the 2nd best friend I had ever had, I had been building a friendship with two other girls I worked with. And this time, it was unlike any friendship I had never had. These girls were slightly younger versions of myself. I felt as real with them as I ever could be. We talked about numbers, we spoke about the dirty parts of life (sex, poop, bullying, etc.) and most importantly, we inspired each other. We were a tribe. Three is a hard number for a group of friends. Seriously, who has to sit by themselves when it comes to going to an amusement park and riding a two-seater rollercoaster?
We had it going for us…until other people we worked with began noticing just how close we really were. One of the tribe members was our supervisor. Of course people would be upset. Of course there would be jealousy. I understood it. I had been in that position before, but I’m a firm believer that when you spend more than 50% of your time at work, working closely with people, they become the important people in your life. So, as a tribe, we had to start ‘hiding’ our friendship. We couldn’t post our adventures on Facebook. We couldn’t post about our large group date with our husbands, bowling the night away. We just simply couldn’t. And that started breaking us.
One Saturday morning, about a year ago, at work, I noticed something was ‘off’ about one of my tribe members. She simply wasn’t speaking to me. Later that day, another co-worker approached me and said, ‘What’s going on with you all?’ I didn’t know, and to be honest, I still don’t know to this day. And just like my first friendship, just as quickly as it blossomed, our tribe wilted. Except, I was the only part of the tribe that wilted. The other two remained a duo. Why? I was starting to feel something was wrong with me. Was I not communicating effectively? Did I say something wrong? Did I do something wrong?
As the next eight months chugged along, I found my why. I am too hard on my friends. I have very high expectations of people in my life, and I don’t know why. It is because I learned the value of friendship when I had been in a mentally unhealthy relationship and wasn’t allowed to have friends? Is it because I feel in my heart I would do absolutely everything possible to help the closest ones in my life, yet if they are unable to help me out one time, I begin pushing them away? I don’t know why I am the way I am when it comes to this. It’s still something I struggle with daily.
I remember growing up, and my mom always talking about her friends. ‘Oh, Sherri is one of my very best friends.’ ‘Honor was one of my best friends in high school.’ ‘I’m going out with my friends (plural) tonight.’ My mom has friends. And she has MANY of them, many of whom she says are her best friends. But, why am I so jealous when someone who I claim is mine, claims another is theirs?
As the past year has happened, I have learned more about myself than I ever thought possible. That tribe friendship failure hit me hard. I cried so much. I pushed people away in my life who didn’t need to be pushed away. I wanted to quit my job, just so I didn’t have to face the people who knew the most about me. I didn’t take drama class in school, so I was completely unable to hide how I felt at work. Just as people turned on me, I turned on them. I dreaded going to work, and the job I once loved so very much, I didn’t enjoy anymore.
I brought those problems home with me, and it took a toll on myself and my family. The anxiety that I thought I had controlled, turned out not to be controlled. I went through a state of depression, even to the point where twice, I questioned why I was still even here (on earth) and if I truly meant anything to anyone. I never thought I would experience anxiety, much less depression. It was real. It IS real. I knew during this time of struggle I would look back on that time and regret dwelling on it so much. I told people I knew I would regret it, but I still couldn’t get over the hump of actually letting it go.
Towards the end of those first eight months, I remember walking into my boss’s office and talking to her more about it, and she simply looked at me, and said, ‘Sandi, you’re going to have to just get over it. You’re going to have to.’ That next morning, I felt really good. I woke up saying to myself, ‘F*ck it.’ (Sorry for the profanity, but it’s what I said to myself.). I dropped my girls off at the school. I was driving down Citation Boulevard, jamming out to the music on K-Love and enjoying the beautiful sunrise. I thought, ‘Thank you, God, for giving me this sign that I am going to be okay.’ BAM! A deer ran out in the road. I swerved to miss him or her. And I did, but little Bambi’s two other friends weren’t so lucky. The both rammed the side of my vehicle. Great! What was the Lord telling me with this?
During my time battling with the anxiety and depression of losing two more important people in my life, another one came in to it. We knew each other from when she used to work with me. Our girls were two days apart in age. She was this quiet soul who I couldn’t figure out. But, somehow, she slithered her way into my life. We shared the same zest for life with our girls and our futures. Our husbands are good friends. Our friendship quickly blossomed as well. And it has yet to wilt, and I pray it doesn’t.
We have our ups and downs as she helps me battle anxiety. She’s helped me overcome certain situations in my life and has always just been that listening ear when I needed her. She hasn’t judged me and is quick to call me out when I’m wrong. She believes in grown up friendships and less drama. She does not hesitate to tell me that I’m stealing joy from myself and others. She doesn’t hesitate to tell me I have too high of expectations of relationships, and she is real with me when she tells me she doesn’t have time to reassure me that she’s who she is in my life.
And she’s right. She shouldn’t HAVE to reassure me. SHE hasn’t done anything to prove I shouldn’t trust her, trust our friendship. I do steal joy from myself. But here’s the thing. That last friendship with my tribe, REALLY hurt me. I was not who I thought I was to those girls. It tore me up. There’s no other words to describe how much the ending of that friendship hurt me. I have a wall up. I’m scared that my friend today will be my enemy tomorrow. I am so terrified and scared to let anyone into my life like that anymore, because again, what if I am not who I thought I was to them? What if this friendship fails, too? It will break me. I can’t let it, and I won’t let it.
I am not perfect. I am not the perfect mom. I am not the perfect wife. I am not the perfect sister, daughter and co-worker. And I am definitely not the perfect friend. When I pass away, I DO want people at my celebration. I want people to speak highly of me, but only if they are telling the truth. I want people to say I crossed the ocean for them. I want someone to do my eulogy, or just a speech about how I was the best friend they ever had.
As I write this and I reflect on the many friendships I’ve had, and honestly, the many friendships that have failed and sunk, I know one thing for sure: I need to become my own best friend. And if I do, I won’t need to seek the validation from the wrong sources because I realize I am the only approval and validation I need. I need to learn to treat myself with kindness and be gentle with myself. I need to believe the best in myself. I need to take a look in the mirror.
Daily, I am reminded of the type of friend I do and don’t want to be. And if I want that belly ache laughter back, and the gross poop talks, and the joy back into my life, I need to first become my own best friend. So, that’s going to be my resolution for the rest of this year. Can you handle me?
And to every friend I’ve ever had, currently have, and will hopefully eventually have, please know this. Your friendship has helped me grow, kept me grounded, lifted my spirits and brightened my life. As my favorite television show, ‘A Million Little Things’ quotes, ‘Friendship isn’t a big thing, it’s a million little things.'”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sandi Chambers. Visit her website here. Do you have a similar experience? Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
Read more from Sandi here:
‘I am a C-section-having, formula-feeding, disposable diaper, working kind of mom. I do not regret it.’: Mom explains her parenting choices, but says, ‘Please respect my parenting views as I’ve always tried to respect your parenting views.’
‘I was at your house earlier getting my car seat and I just can’t believe how messy your house is! I don’t know how you all live like that!’: Working mom gets receives criticism on her ‘messy house’ at worst possible moment
‘I’m a teacher, and I’m angry. Then I went to see ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,’ and I don’t know anymore.’: Teacher says Fred Rogers reminded her that ‘grace doesn’t run out, there isn’t a limited supply’
‘I got the call at 6 p.m., left my kids with my husband and drove to her house with my socks crammed into my Birkenstocks.’: Mom urges others to ‘just show up’ when friends need you, ‘She didn’t need Pinterest, she needed me
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