Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fair-weathered friends

There were a few terms my parents taught me at a very young age (I would say by the age of 6.) Those terms were: "attention seeking behavior" and "fair-weathered friends." While neither of those terms are necessarily related, they certainly imprinted on my psyche pretty indelibly.

For some reason, in about 5th grade, my group of girl friends -- a small group of social outcasts who spent most days in the library at lunch -- decided to start calling me a "lesbian." "Mara's a lesbian!" they would yell, and I would spend the duration of lunch chasing them around the school. I didn't really understand the term fully at the time. All I did know was that they would scream "Mara's a lesbian" and then leave me, alone, in the library. I had never felt self-conscious about lunching in the library previously, but when I found myself lunching in the library ALONE, I started to feel pretty low. So, I would chase them around the school, hoping to catch up with them so that I didn't have to be the loser-in-the-library. My chasing them, however, would just egg them on. "Ohhhh, she's following us! She must love us! She's a lesbian," they would shriek and giggle, always out-running me.

Yes, kids are cruel. But that is for another entry.

My mom would ask me every day when she picked me up from school how my day was and if I learned anything new. I was always too embarrassed to ask her what my friends meant when they called me a lesbian, and why they made me chase them around the school. I knew that whatever they meant it was something shameful and I couldn't tell my mom. (For the record, I don't think a person who is gay is shameful, and neither did/does my mom, but as a young girl in a Catholic school, messages about homosexuality are often pejorative, to say the least.)

So, I would sob, "Mmmy...mmmyy...friends were really meaaannnn to me today." And my mom would wipe away my tears, draw me in close, hug me, and say, "Mara, those are what we call fair-weathered friends.[*]"

[*]Interestingly, it turned out those girls were NOT fair-weathered friends after all. Most of them are still some of my best friends today. But the term really resonated with me. But I digress...

I remember when my next door neighbors (two boys I had grown up playing with) stopped hanging out with me at the age of about 12, and I said I didn't care because they were 'fair-weathered friends'. And when I first felt heart break from a boy I just told myself to move on, get over it, because he was a fair-weathered friend anyway. I remember when my dad left my mom and moved to Cambodia (weird), I said I was fine with it because, apparently my own father was a fair-weathered friend and I didn't need any more of those. When one of my closest friends from adult-ish life (I probably met her when I was about 20), told me she no longer wanted to be my friend, and gave no reason at all, I wrote her off -- a fair-weathered friend if I had ever known one.

I don't think I really understood everything when I wrote off as fair-weathered friends the school-yard girls, my neighborhood playmates, my first heart break, or my dad. After all, people grow up and grow apart, and as much as I wish I could, I couldn't have understood the complexities of my parents divorce. And as for the girls on the playground, they probably had no more clue what a "lesbian" was than I did.

But, I am grateful for my mom teaching me this phrase. It was a logical coping mechanism that gave me a way to understand rejection when I couldn't always explain it (as was the case with the girls at school, or my next door neighbor friends), or when I couldn't always understand it (my first heartache and my parents divorce.)

Now that I am an adult, this phrase makes more sense to me and bears more relevance. I have a friend or two -- ones who I was deeply connected with for years and years-- who are just that: fair-weathered. One of my dearest friends from high school (who actually lived with me for a while in college and still lives in California) will never return my phone calls, texts, or emails, no matter how hard I try or how persistent I am. (And this is not the case of just being busy. I have many friends who I only talk to about once a year, but I still feel I am close to them in spirit.) Today, I was thinking about this particular girl, my former bosom-buddy. I felt a profound sadness and loss for her, as if she had died. So, I called her again. Voicemail.

When is enough, enough? When do I give up trying to contact her? Why is it so hard now, when I actually understand my mom's wisdom, to just write people off as a fair-weathered friend?

Maybe I thought the Fair-Weathered Friend was just a myth that my mom told me to make me feel better. Maybe I thought that you could only be fair-weathered if you were young and immature. Here we are, this girl and I, 28 years old -- shouldn't we be over this fair-weatheredness?

I think the older I get, the more I realize how incredibly valuable good friends are. Of all the people I have met in my life, of all my myriad of friends, only a few are left standing. Those are the ones I know I can always count on. But what happens when one of those core friends becomes fair-weathered? Do you just write them off and let them go as another childhood playmate lost? I don't think I will ever understand it...But one thing I have learned from my mom's advice is that, in sunny weather and in stormy weather, I must try my best to be a compassionate, reliable, caring, and enduring friend. I hope I achieve that.

Leave ruminations in the comments, please.

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