As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun examining the words “friend” and “friendship” more and more. Both words have taken on different meanings to me, multiple meanings, meanings I’m still not quite sure I even understand. Our childhood definition of “friend” has one interpretation- you are my friend, I hang out with you, I call you, I include your name on poorly drawn pictorials of my life where we have huge asymmetrical bodies and small heads. There are no networking friends at this age, no social media friends, nobody that you go out drinking with unless it’s juice boxes on the playground. These are people you care about and enjoy sticking marshmallows in the microwave to see what they do and eat tubs of cake frosting with.
Then we go to high school and the friend definition splits- you have your best friends, your friends you don’t trust, and the friends that you partake in social activities with. That ideology roughly stays the same throughout college and then you enter the work force- then you become and adult- and the terms “friend” and “friendship” go ape shit.
You suddenly have your friends from childhood, your work friends, your drinking friends, your networking friends, your social media friends, you might start considering family members your close friends now, your partner’s friends, the friends you make through your children. All of these people are your friends, but all of them fit into dramatically different friend roles than you were used to as a child.
This year will be my ten year high school reunion. I always thought that I would be excited to return home and catch up with my small and relatively close-knit class. However, I’m discovering now that the time is here, I don’t feel that excitement at all. It’s not that I don’t like the people I went to high school with, it’s just that I don’t know those people anymore and except for all but one, I don’t feel a particular kinship with them. This sad realization led me to analyzing how at 27 I view friendships.
Throughout my 20s and having lived in three states and two major cities, I’ve met a lot of people. These people get placed into different friend categories without conscious intent. Sometimes the friend is accidentally placed in or they nudge their way into a category they don’t belong and it becomes confusing, so, periodically I do something I call “cutting the fat”. I don’t clear out my Facebook friends or make any grand gesture in cutting ties, I just simply decide to reexamine my relationship with certain people and make sure they’re redirected into the correct friend category. I tried explaining this to a young man fresh out of college recently and he couldn’t understand what I was saying. “I’m friends with everyone!” he said to me cheerfully and then I felt like a huge dick for referring to people as lard.
I tried defending myself by saying that once you get older, you’ll realize that you can’t be close friends with everyone, that life is too short to try and devote time to every single person that you meet, that you’d never get anything done otherwise, and that you end up having to become selective. As the words left my mouth, I thought about my views of friendship as a child and wish they still existed.
Living in a town where socializing is the city’s M.O., I’ve been forced to utilize this unfavored ideology more frequently. This behavior has led to disappointment in the past and the awkward task of trying to explain without exactly saying it- “I don’t view our friendship in the same light as you.” When these times occur I’ve had to reassess whether my methodology is appropriate or fair. No one likes being essentially “demoted” in your life. I’ve been quietly downgraded by friends myself- friends in different states who do not reach out unless I’m physically in front of them or friends who used to call and hang out all of the time and now have moved on. I’ve taken these occurrences in stride and understand that as an adult, this is what has to happen. Friendships come and go, or they stay and ebb and flow. Sometimes a friend is with you from the very beginning and all the way to the end or they challenge your patience and understanding. On the homestretch to 30, I guess I need to realize that being selective doesn’t necessarily mean bad. That being a friend can take on different meanings and that managing each relationship to the best of my ability is all I can really do.