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Monday, August 31, 2009

Reflections on Friendships

Over the weekend I finished reading The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow. This book really made me think about the value of friendship. The girls in the story are ten childhood friends who have remained close into their mid forties. They've supported each other through the joys and sorrows of the transitions that occur in women's lives including for them careers, marriages, divorces, cancer, and even the death of a child.

I'm different from them in that I haven't stayed close with my childhood or college friends. Recently I've gotten in touch with a few people through Facebook but it's been a long time and it's hard to fill in the empty spaces since high school and now.

I do have a wonderful friend that I met in graduate school that I've stayed in touch with over the years. In 2008 I presented her with a scrapbook chronicling our twenty year history together. She's been through many transitions with me such as career, marriage, and having a child even though her path has been quite different from mine. But we didn't know each other as children and I realize now the difference that makes after reading The Girls from Ames. In the book, one of the girl's father's succumbs to Alzheimers and the condolences that mean the most to her are from her childhood friends who knew him as a doctor and respected member of their community. Her more recent friends could not understand her sorrow in the same way they could.

For me, my unexpected midlife hearing loss has affected my ability to maintain various friendships. I no longer enjoy regular hour long telephone conversations. I crave emails and text messages over phone calls. In place of group gatherings, I prefer a one on one lunch in a quiet restaurant or a private chat in my home or a friend's. At work a quick update in a cubicle is easier for me than having lunch in the noisy cafeteria. I've looked for ways to let my friends know I still care even though I've changed my social habits. I'm not sure I've succeeded there. Reading The Girls from Ames has inspired me to try harder.

How about you? Do you have friends from childhood? Or like me have you put distance from your past? How do you communicate with your hearing friends and maintain ties with them? I'm open to suggestions. I'll leave you with the words to a song I learned as a girl: Make new friends, but keep the old. Some are silver and the others gold.


Anonymous said...

I don't have friends from school. I was always excluded from groups. They judged me before they knew me. My one best friend from school who I thought was my true friend, who I stuck by when she was bullied, turned out to use me. I even thought she changed when we got reunited in our 20's, but she was still the same. And after a heart to heart with her, and vice versa, I thought we were finally on track, but she still was the same.

The final straw came when she texted my boyfriend, and said something about me in it. We were totally shocked by it, and I was very angry. She tried to apologise but I wasn't going to allow her to hurt me again, I was already strained at the time with other stuff going on, that affected my health and made me loose weight. I could not cope with anything else.

She carried on being friends sort of with my boyfriend, but now she does not have anything to do with him now, just as I expected, because she did it to me. She treats her boyfriends bad too, going from one to the other. She's not the friend I used to know. A stranger. I'm still sad by it, because we were close at school once.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

That's terrible that your 'friend' turned out to be false. It sounds like you've learned a lot about evaluating a person's character from that experience. You gave that girl every chance but she didn't change her ways. From what I know of you, it's her loss, not yours.

ms toast burner said...

Excellent post, Sarah.

I have occasional emails and phone calls with a friend I've known since we were 10. Actually emailing has been the more dominant form of correspondence lately but that is likely more due to distance.

Actually, for me, I think distance is more of an issue with maintaining (or not) friendships overtime. I have moved around a lot and I seem to make friends with people who do that as well.

But the hearing loss certainly affects me in forming new friendships in 'real life'. All the usual issues of just finding it difficult to communicate in places where a lot of people socialize.

I also have a couple of long time friends, that though still friends... they aren't close, close. We have grown into very different people. It's nice to see them occasionally but there really isn't a lot of common interests, etc to maintain a close friendship.

I wish I had some advice! Maybe someone will post some wise words....

Mog said...

Friendship and the meaning of... a suitable subject for a PhD dissertation so it's going to be tricky to answer in a comment's space.

I hated school and had a hard time with many of the girls there so the idea of a reunion of schoolfriends is anathema to me. I went to one school reunion and felt so bad just being in the building again that I had to leave. I have kept in touch though with some friends I made there. One I used to see occasionally, once a year another went to Australia. I made some good friends in my 20 and 30s and we keep in touch by email.

The deafness thing sucks really. Immanuel Kant observed that deafness is more isolating than blindness. Though in reality all disabilities sort out the wheat from the chaff friend wise. Though people may have good reasons for not using email and text to get in touch. I have friends who are never on messenger. It hurts me to think that they cant spare 10 minutes to sit and typechat when they could spare 30 mins if I could ring them up. Now I have the CI I am looking forward to using the phone once again, but I will be reticent of chatting with those who could not be arsed to type to me.

It gets harder to make new friends as you get older. I have found that I have become more self sufficient as I have become older and deafer.

Mog said...

I've just googled the book. Not judging it by its cover of course but the cover shows a group of slim pretty girls. I would never have been in that group anyway. I would have been the fat ugly one that they teased and or patronised.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Thanks for your comments, Ms. Toast Burner and Mog.

I guess I should clarify that by distance I meant emotional distance. I live within 2 hours of my hometown.

I think that's wonderful that you have kept in touch with someone you've known since age 10, Ms. Toast Burner. I was friends with a girl I met in 2nd grade up until college. For a while we even looked a bit alike. I had to smile in 6th grade when our music teacher asked us who said hi to whom first. Of course we had no idea.

I pretty much lost touch with everyone from high school and college by the time I was 25. That was before AOL, IM, and facebook of course. I wonder if that would have made a difference. I went to my 10 year high school reunion when I was 28 and enjoyed reconnecting but the bonds lapsed afterwards.

I was looking forward to my 25th reunion this summer but didn't end up making it there due to a migraine. Maybe, Mog, I just couldn't face going back. I've wondered that ever since.

I'm glad to hear you are able to use the telephone with your CI. That will help alot with staying connected. You're right about the girls from Ames, btw. They were all pretty and popular and had a far different high school experience than mine. The book was still an interesting read, though.

Once again, thanks for sharing your thoughts with me on friendship, Mog and Ms. Toast Burner. All the best, Sarah

Mog said...

Hi Sarah, just to clarify, I don't use the phone yet, am just anticipating!

My BFF and I have known each other for 40 years. We met on a school exchange trip in Paris. We find it hard to keep in touch for reasons beyond our control but I know that she will always be there for me.

True friends make the effort, the rest, you have to file them under another category. Partway between friend and acquaintance.

jelly said...

I have one friend from my past that I keep in touch with. We've been friends since we were 5. That's 37 years we've known each other!

I hear bits and pieces of things from another 'high school' friend on occasion, but to be honest, that part of my life is over (thankfully) and I've moved on.

I don't really keep in touch with people anymore, I'm so bad at that sort of thing.

Good post Sarah.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

I received the following comment by email from Jonathan as it was too long to fit in one comment. I'm going to try posting it as two comments.

I had a similar realization 10 summers ago (during a very sad time when my dog Boogie - who I felt was my first friend back then - had just died), after reading "Summer Sisters" by Judy Blume which I read only because I used to enjoy reading her childhood books when I was much younger.
Friendships has not played a large role in most of my life. See, when I first attended school, I went to a school for the Deaf. There were only me and two other students. The three of us quickly became friends. Probably out of circumstances more than anything. I left that school two years later and transferred to a regular school. From grade 2 to grade 6, I didn't have any luck with maintaining friendships as, in my own eyes, I felt I was either not a wise choice to be friends with (because I was the only deaf kid in the school and in that particular farming community) or else it was a not popular choice for others to be friends with me. After a year of bullying in grade 6, I transferred to a different elementary school where I tried to make new friendships. I developed a friendship with two guys probably because they enjoyed playing basketball with me and were envious of my height which they didn't have and never ended up having. Then, the following year, they were in a different grade than I was and we didn't play together anymore. So, I sought out for some new friends... as awful as it sounds, I just cling onto whoever would be friendly to me.

The transition from elementary school to high school was rough on some of these grade 8 friends I had. Some dropped out. The rest stayed together during lunch, even though I never had classes with them, while they were in classes together. It was because I was taking a more advanced level of classes and more academic classes, while they were taking courses that weren't so academic and at an advanced level. So, by grade 12, I was really out of touch with them. I merely just ate lunch with them in a noisy cafeteria, didn't bother staying there to play cards with them, and went to the library to do my schoolwork (and for the quiet, I'm sure). Most of them graduated by the end of grade 12, while I returned for grade 13 (which was a requirement to go into university). Of the guys left in this group who were still there were ones I liked the least. So, on my first day back to school for grade 13, I sat with a different group of guys (only 2 of them) out of the sake of not wanting to hang out with the "remnants" and to sit alone. I wasn't greatest friends with them, but our friendship grew a bit as we got to know each other. Again, we didn't have classes together or hang out after school.
The thing about high school was that I felt like I was "friends" with various people, but these people weren't friends with each other. Instead, it was like I was friends with one person from almost each individual cliques that there were at the school. We would only chat during classes or in the hallways if we didn't have classes together.

So, when I went off to university, I didn't have any friends. My high school friendships largely ended on the night that we graduated. ICQ and MSN didn't help much. We were all busy with our new lives at our own respective universities or colleges in different communities across Canada.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Jonathan's comment continued:

During universities, I had a better time developing friendships that felt more genuine and out of real interest in each other, which wasn't as much the case during my elementary and secondary school days. Some lasted only for a year, while others lasted for all of my undergraduate studies and beyond. Hanging out with them outside of classes, in the residence, in the cafeteria, during field trips, etc was a new experience for me, but necessary as I felt that I missed out on this earlier on in my life.

Now, I've been out of school for 4 years. I keep in touch with some of my university friends via Facebook. I haven't gotten into liking MSN for the past 4 to 5 years, even though I used it during my university days. Some of us do meet up once a year (typically during the summer), while I don't with others. Sometimes just chatting with each other on FB is enough.

The other issue is that we are all living in different communities across the world, from Hong Kong to Finland and from the far north of Canada to Ecuador. I've lived in this small town of about 50,000 people and I've only become friends with two people (a couple, one of which who I used to work with), but they moved away last weekend. So, I'm back to square one.

I've used to always wonder and envy those who have had friendships since childhood and who had good relationships with their siblings since early childhood because I never had either. However, I do feel it's a waste of time and energy thinking about this kind of thing. Instead, I have been focussed on getting to know others, keeping in touch via the web, and meeting up with some of them when possible. These things are not spontaneous; they're always planned. (I'd kill for the chance to be able to drop by at a friend and just hang out or vice versa - just to see what it's like.) To be honest, I've only kept in touch with one friend from high school (who was three years older than me - a lot back then, but it's not a big deal nowadays), no one from elementary school, and several from my latter years of my 6 years of schooling at universities. It's what I did a lot of for the past two months, during my summer break from teaching. I wish I could have had more of everything, but it was much better than it could have been if I didn't put any effort into the whole bit.

Being hard of hearing with a profound hearing loss, the only child, having parents who don't value friendships, lacking models of how to make friends, growing up as a person with a "disability" (in the eyes of others) during the early 1980s, etc. didn't make it easy. However, some believe that I wouldn't have experienced this much trouble if I had stayed at the school for the deaf where I would have access to a more equalized opportunity of socializing. I'm not convinced with this argument; I don't feel convinced that friendships are more important than a good education (which I doubt that I would have received at the school for the Deaf). I'm sure others had it tougher than I did.

I liked your quote. It's true! Some are gold and others so gold.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Thanks for writing me, Jonathan. It really helps to know I'm not the only one who's moved on and basically embraced the people where I'm at now in my life.

Cheryl said...

Hey Sarah,
I love the new product line. Good luck with it. I hope you will get alot of good response.