Lessons in Friendship

Lessons in Friendship

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul

Lessons in Friendship

“. . . There’s the people you’ve known forever. Who like . . . know you . . . in this way. That other people can’t. Because they’ve seen you change. They’ve let you change.”

This is a quote from an episode of My So-Called Life, one of the many subtly profound quotes characteristic of the show. This one in particular refers to an aspect of a certain kind of friendship, a very special kind of friendship, that I have and cherish. Let me explain.

Throughout my experience on the show, there were many character concepts and story lines from My So-Called Life that touched me. In portraying Rayanne I was most deeply affected by the dynamic of her friendship with Angela.

Being Rayanne’s friend was getting harder and harder for Angela. Rayanne was being knocked off, or was knocking herself off, the pedestal new friends have a tendency to put each other on. This awesome new friend, who lived life on the edge, actually fell over the side every once in a while, and fair or not, Angela was disappointed.

This happens. As Rayanne, I didn’t have to go far to feel the frustration, the disappointment a situation like this causes because I’ve been there. I’ve been through the turn of events that sneak up on a friendship forcing it in another direction, the closeness suddenly gone and replaced by questions and doubts. This is that point many relationships come to where a decision has to be made: to stay in or bail out, to decide what it’s worth.

I had a best friend from third grade through seventh grade. We were practically inseparable for those years. Then I changed.

After growing up with the same group of kids from age 5 to age 12, I hit Jr. High and a whole new world opened up to me. It seemed everyone was there, the boys from the Little League where I played ball, friends from the Pop Warner football teams I cheered for (and my brother played for), as well as a number of people from the summer drama workshop. Not to mention my big bro, who was a ninth-grader, and all of his friends who adopted me as their own lil’ sis. The “in” crowd welcomed me, figuring that I had to be cool to know so many people, and life was good. Always someone to pass notes to, always someone to gossip about, always someone else to call, always about something really important.

I was a different person with each new group of friends. I wanted to be everything to everyone, and I became so wrapped up in not only all of that, but so wrapped up in myself that I couldn’t see what was really going on. I was just too busy to realize that I had gotten a little lost. My best friend started to distance herself from me. I don’t think she liked what I was becoming. But I didn’t see that then; I just felt her lose faith in me. It hurt so much, and I didn’t understand. To keep from dealing with it I threw myself even further into my new life. It wasn’t long before I made a few mistakes, some worse than others, and the “in” crowd got a peek at the real me. Or at least someone other than who they thought I was, and they were disappointed. That’s when it got ugly.

These so-called friends (no pun intended) turned fast. In a melodrama of gossip and rumors, I was banished. I had been part of this “in” crowd until they found out I really wasn’t cool enough to be there.

The time had come to step back and take a look around. Thiswas one of the hardest times inmy life. I felt alone and was very disappointed in myself. My first step was to go back to my old best friend. I tried so hard to show her that I was sorry formessing up, that I still loved her andmissed her incredibly . . . that I needed her. In return, I received blank stares and emotionless responses. So I tried harder. Still, barely a trace of that sisterhood she once shared with me. It tookme a long time to realize that I had lost her, that she had changed, too. And our best-friendship was gone.

At school, I found myself wandering around at nutrition and lunch, no longer floating from group to group being the social butterfly. It was then, when I thought I had nowhere else to go, that I rediscovered the “kindergarten group.” This group had a base of five or six of us who had actually gone to kindergarten together, along with a few additions welcomed in throughout elementary school. We had all grown up in the same community, shared the same schools, classes, birthday parties, and all the ups and downs of our pre-pubescent lives.

The group was even bigger now. They had all made new friends, but instead of choosing one over the other, as I had done, they simply included them. At my lowest, I had gone so far as to not invite them to my bat mitzvah. I can still hear my mom asking, “What about Susie and Greg and the rest of the ‘kindergarten group’?” as she shook her head at my invite list. “Mom, I don’t hang out with them anymore,” I’d said. “They don’t even know my new friends . . . besides, if I invite one, I have to invite them all.” I received invitations to every one of their birthday parties and bar or bat mitzvahs that year.

I tried to inconspicuously make my way back into this circle of friends, not expecting it to be easy. I assumed I was going to get what I deserved which was for them to be cold and exclude me as I had done to them. I had to take that chance.

I was completely caught off guard by how little effort was needed to feel welcomed again. There was absolutely no resentment, only comfort and an unexpected sense of belonging. It was incredible, as though there were no time lapse. We just picked up right where we left off. Over the next months I realized the more I hung out with them, the less insecure I became. I was a new person with them . . . one I liked.

But, there was something that I didn’t get, something about it being too easy. I mean, weren’t they hurt when I had so obviously chosen these other friends over them? Didn’t they lose faith in me, or resent the fact that I had taken their friendship for granted? I just didn’t feel I could truly fit in again until these issues were dealt with. I needed answers.

They came a few months later at a camp-out I organized just for the kindergarten group (we joked that it was a makeup for not inviting them to the bat mitzvah). When the sun went down we huddled up around the campfire. All night we laughed, roasted marshmallows (and old teachers), counted shooting stars and talked. I finally felt safe enough to bring up my questions. I stumbled through them and waited. After a moment, only awkward for me, one of them said, “Yeah, maybe it hurt a little, but . . .” he shrugged, “I don’t know, I guess . . . we just understood.” And that was that. They just understood.

They saw me change. They gave me room, freedom to screw up, to grow and learn my own lessons, my own way, inmy own time. Through the years, we’ve all had our phases, our ups and downs, and I expect we’ll continue because that’s the way it goes. We know we will be each other’s constant from now on.We will all continue to grow separately together, all the while providing the unconditional love, understanding and support only friends like these are capable of.

“There’s the people you’ve known forever. Who like . . . know you . . . in this way. That other people can’t. Because they’ve seen you change. They’ve let you change.”

I might never have understood the true magnitude of this seemingly simple concept without having experienced those defining years. From the kindergarten group, the best friend and the cool crowd, I had learned two things: the type of friends I wanted, and the type of friend I wanted to be.

A. J. Langer

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