The holiday season brings people home, and offers that rare opportunity to see friends from our past. Last Wednesday night I found myself eating dinner with three women who knew me when I teased my hair and pegged my jeans. It had been twelve years since we were all in the same place at the same time. I had other friends in those days, but these particular three formed a very specific group.
It got me thinking of that old cliché about how much easier it was to make friends when we were kids. When did I stop approaching strangers in public places to ask if they wanted to play? How do we wind up with the people we end up with in any given phase of our lives?
Once upon a time, I belonged to a school district that combined two of its schools in the seventh grade. What a horrible idea. As if entering junior high wasn’t stressful enough, there were a lot of strangers on my first day of school that year. All efforts toward elevating my social status in the sixth grade had been for nothing, because the social scoreboard was going back to zero. The scorekeepers? Twelve year old girls.
I met Allison in homeroom. She was one of the “others” who had been suddenly forced into my world. Together we endured first hour science with Mr. Denton, my all-time least favorite teacher. We had assigned seats, which meant talking to her was actually unavoidable. Looking back, Mr. Denton clearly assigned those seats so that each table had an equal number of kids from both schools. A good idea, but it doesn’t make me like him any better.
Second hour was social studies with Mr. B. I call him Mr. B because I assume he was an okay guy, but his reputation among the students was that he was a serious pervert. He made our skin crawl. AND he was our sex-ed teacher. The horror. He was a heavy gentleman who always sat backwards in his chair, with his legs spread so wide that we expected his pants to break right across his crotch. We lived in fear of that break.
I am pretty sure that half of why Allison and I clicked in first hour was our assigned seats, and the other half was that our schedules were practically identical. No doubt we figured that out in the first five minutes of knowing each other. Allison also had Mr. B for second hour, along with her best friend Julie. We were allowed to choose our seats, so the three of us picked the last row next to the windows. The only reason anyone got to class early was to claim these coveted seats. I soon discovered that Julie had recently moved, and her new house was a short bike ride from mine. This was important, because NOBODY lived by me. If I wanted to have any plans at all over summer vacation, I needed to cultivate that friendship.
Third hour was band. Believe it or not, all three of us had band together. I was the lone female trumpet player in the class. Allison and Julie were typical girls who played the flute- although Julie did later make the unusual switch to French horn. This is where I introduced them to Kristin and her clarinet. The whole day was like a snowball parade, just picking up new friends as we went along….
In eighth grade, the four of us had gym class together. There’s a bonding like no other that comes from sharing a locker room and a mutual hatred of your physical education teacher. Especially among girls caught up in the naïve race for puberty.
Shower time was a little iffy; but it wasn’t all paranoia, breast comparing, and cruel giggling. We supported one another if we could find a common enemy. Sometimes it was the socially abrasive gym teacher who wore a red and purple track suit, blew a whistle, and screamed “ladies!” every five minutes. Other times it was the universal outrage of parental tyranny- like in the case of the girl who wasn’t allowed to shave her legs. We would examine her legs as we sat in our squad lines, telling her that it was so light we could hardly even tell.
On the other hand, the girl who forgot to shave her armpits one day was given no mercy. It was a delicate balance- a balance better managed with allies.
Our junior high class schedules gave me and my friends a foundation that got us through high school. It took us through many firsts, and many sleepovers spent discussing those firsts. I may not know much about their daily world now, but I will always know every intimate detail of their lives between 1988 and 1994. And those are some of the best stories we have to tell.
After graduation, anything can happen. We often go our separate ways. We find ourselves, and we find others who fill in the gaps. We may find better friends. But making friends is never quite the same once we enter the real world.
We find something similar in the workplace, although the friend options aren’t always as great. We see each other as much, and the mutual enemy factor is obvious; but we may never make the leap of taking those friendships outside of work. We may not want to. Sometimes we are just settling for what gets us through the day. If we are lucky, we will find a keeper. Occasionally we get a stalker.
Then there are the people we meet through mutual friends, or our significant others. I’ve been fortunate that my husband is friends with some of the greatest people in the world. This creates an environment of meeting more wonderful people. If every time I go out I talk to the same person, and I really like them- it may be an eternity before one of us attempts to take it to the next level.
I’m not sure the next level has the same meaning anymore. What is the adult equivalent of the childhood sleepover? I think it’s going out for a meal or something. I guess it makes sense if you click with a mom at your kid’s school, but so far every time I have clicked with someone we are already at some kind of evening social event.
I knew one of my friends for years before we finally decided to do laundry together. Until then we had hung out at rock shows and parties, but it was the laundry that made us real friends. We decided to do something together that wasn’t just because we both happened to be at the same place. We made a choice to plan something unique to us, in some kind of official declaration of friendliness. Regular laundry dates expanded into regular bingo dates. Because we’re awesome.
Many of us are introverts and homebodies. We may already live with the people we most want to hang out with. What is the incentive for adding new people to our social calendar? I probably don’t need too many close friends. I would get overwhelmed. I should spend more time being a better friend to the ones who already hang around.
Maybe I just need a couple of them. You know, to keep me from feeling like no one likes me, or to get me out of the house once in a while to do the things Dave hates to do (like bingo and anything related to Harry Potter). But we are always searching for the people who fit us best. We don’t ever give up on it.
Maybe it was easier when we were kids. Our daily lives were ruled by a small scale social experiment that should have driven us mad. Those school days were where we learned how to exist in a world dominated by the socially gifted. But they were also the days of figuring out how strangers had the potential to be the people we couldn’t possibly live without.