The brain on friendship
Last week, I shackled up on a hillside overlooking Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia with ten people who have all found individual ways to enter into my life at different points in the last four years (except my partner, Mikey, who's been here for over ten now - he's a special case). It was the typical lake trip: we rented a pontoon for two days, got drunk on it, sat around in the water on pool noodles, drank more, danced on the dock, and ate way too much - thanks to our resident chef, Anthony. But beyond the post-college getaway, where we all still like to pretend we can party like we're in college, there were some particularly special moments. Some I'll keep between us, but one that keeps coming to mind is the one reason I decided to write about this whole overarching topic of friendship once I got home.
There was a moment where a few of us had our towels spread out on the dock, and Will had just docked the dinghy boat from a solo ride to scope out sandy beach spots for us to explore. Rocko, his dog, couldn't decide if he wanted to sit in the sun or the shade. Jonny was passing around the first drinks of the afternoon, and we were dipping into old, nostalgic genres of music, such as the early 2000's Jock Jams CDs our parents always had on in the car. You know the one. I looked around at each face in that moment, and a sensation so strong, but not unfamiliar came over me like a crashing wave: the deepest love for the people I get to call friends.
I say it's not unfamiliar, because to me, it really isn't. I am so stupidly lucky for the fun-loving, caring, observant and incredibly intelligent people who have crossed paths with me and decided not to pass on by, but to walk alongside me. I genuinely want to tear up as I write this, because I know how rare that is. I know how special it is to have ten (and more) people who would agree to share a house together for a week, and enjoy just about every damn second of being crammed together like that. To have open and honest conversations, to see each other inside and out, takes years to build up and maybe only once or twice in a lifetime to hold so closely. I'm so lucky. But it doesn't just happen, and I know that too. I think we all know that just a little too well.
I don't know about you, but I loved high school. Six years post-graduation, I still look back on it fondly. My class got along extraordinarily well, at least from my perspective, and I remember the parties being so welcoming and fun, the school days being a breeze surrounded by people I enjoyed. Again, lucky. But then college came around, and I didn't get the same sort of immediate friend-making opportunity that so many of my peers seemed to. I kind of did it to myself; I wanted to figure things out for myself and learn how to be alone, and I don't regret that, but I do often feel as though I missed the grand threshold for making friends at my school. Reading through old journals, I find 18-year-old me craving like-minded people - at the time, that meant people who wanted to smoke weed and watch Portlandia rather than go out to frat parties. The simple and sort of amazing thing about this is, 24-year-old me reads about that girl's desires and feels exactly the same way - only now, I'm seeking people who want to know themselves on a deeper level, and, in turn, form deeper connections with others. I'm seeking deeper conversations and vulnerability, inner-to-outer work and change.
In truth, that's the type of person I hope this blog attracts. If you feel this to be true, you're in the right place. This is for you, and for us.
And to be fair, I believe we all want the same thing in our platonic relationships to a degree - we just want to be surrounded by people who look like what we are and are becoming. I've met so many people through skating over the past two years, and I just think they're so cool. My teacher colleagues are so driven. And this community - the few incredibly special people who read this page and tell me what they think? So thoughtful, patient, and open. Whether these people have only passed by, or maybe we've had a few conversations now - I want to build it. I want them to walk with me.
In the lifelong process of discovering new people and scoping out potential friendships, there is a supplemental - and much less enjoyable - inevitability at play to balance it all out, and that's the decline and loss of friendship. Might I just say, I have had a few too many conversations recently about how the pain of a friend breakup is so rarely mentioned in the mainstream, and it's beginning to feel uncanny. Everyone I know is going through one right now, it seems, and they fucking hurt. It's been the biggest source of pain in my own life for the past year, and I admit I'm still not over it - just like the loss of a romantic partner, I mourn the ending of something that felt sacred and unbreakable for nearly a decade, until one day, it just broke.
Like a "rebound" phase - maybe the searching for new friends is a way to combat the drift from that one really, really special one.
My point in writing all of this is to say, plain and simply: friendships are much more important than we so often give them credit for. I know we all love our friends, but how often do we tell them that and mean it? How often do we tell them, individually, how special they are and why? How we'll never forget the moment we met them, or the moment they chose us, out of anyone else, to confide in?
When we meet new people who we think are cool, whose energy feels special - why are we so afraid to tell them?
I have a hypothesis, and it may sound silly, but I think I'm onto something: we romanticize friendships, like we romanticize just about everything else. On top of that, we have banished vulnerability. We do not put our guards down, we do not let people in until we've known them for years. Even then, sometimes, it takes years and years still to entirely dismantle what we've built up. This is an allegory. Each built-up, pent-up relationship between two friends is the microcosm of ourselves and the "other." Our fear, and the world.
But here's what we must remember: every time we reveal our hearts to someone - even the smallest piece of it - we gain an understanding. If we express to someone that you really like their energy and you want to hang out more, we wait for their response, and we know if they are ready to receive our love. If we ask an ex-friend "What happened to us?" we will know. Even if they leave us on read...that's an answer in itself. In practicing the reveal, we show the world how much our relationships truly mean to us. We build our circles in the gentlest, most loving way possible. We attract, and we ourselves grow.
And when we treat our friends with utmost love, just like we would a healthy romantic partner, everyone benefits mentally. We feel more alive, more inspired. We have more to do, more places to go and things to try. When we place the emphasis on the people we surround ourselves with, and do so actively - we show the world that we are actively trying to become better as a self. This isn't all about growing your network or climbing the social ladder - the latter, to me, feels more like taking advantage of others than anything else. I recognize that so many people are comfortable with only one, or a few, close friends, and that's okay! The point here is to show them love. Tell them you love them. Make it known. If we all did this, we would all begin to see others more authentically, perhaps more transparently. We would be less skeptical of, and less intimidated by one another.
I think back again to the dock on the lake, surrounded by my circle, fully in love with all of them. Maybe they haven't all thought of each other this way, but I know their love because I hear it and I feel it. There is no greater feeling, dear reader. I promise.
Take this as a sign to tell them you love them, miss them, want to talk to them. I promise, they will be so glad you said it.