There was a time when I thought surely the biggest test of friendship was finding people who would stick with me during difficult times. And fairly early on, I counted myself lucky because I’d already found those people.
But one of the most painful truths of my adult life has probably been that it’s not the challenging times that make friends hard to find – it’s the good ones.
The times when I’ve been struggling to adjust to a move? Agonizing over a seemingly stalled career? The times when I had difficulty conceiving children or when I worried that I would never have a strong, sane, mature relationship with my aging parents? Friends were easy to find then. In fact, people seemed to flock to me at every turn as though I was the crazed, stressed, tragic Pied Piper of Friends.
But some people I’ve counted as friends have made themselves far more scarce during the times when things were going especially well. The hardest times to find friends have been when I was celebrating getting accepted to my doctorate program, or when I wrote my first book, or, more recently, when I finally seemed – for one fleeting moment on a Tuesday afternoon in February – to have achieved the ultimate in work-life balance.
Those otherwise fabulous moments can be lonely. People who you expected to support you might suddenly view your happy turn of events as the perfect time for them to proclaim why they would never, ever make the same choices. (“I would never get a doctorate. It’s a waste of money and you won’t get a good return on your investment, even if you are getting the degree for free.” “Working outside the home wouldn’t work for me. I don’t agree with having other people raise my kids.” “I used to want to write books. Then I realized no one reads them anymore.”)
Now that I’m in my forties, I’ve come to terms with this foul weather friend reality. I have a ridiculously small but mighty circle of folks that will celebrate wildly with me on the good days. And, I’ve learned that the people who struggle to be happy for me in the rosiest of times are grappling with obstacles inside of them that have nothing at all to do with me.
And, I kind of get it. Like guacamole, I just really am kind of , well, extra. I bet you are pretty darned extra, too.
These days, it’s watching the young people in my life grappling with their extra-ness that has me feeling a little sad and frustrated.
I see the young lady who has learned to make Bs instead of As so that the boys in her life won’t deem her too much of an academic; the young mom who is hesitant to fully resign herself to the sheer giddiness of early motherhood because she is afraid that her other mom friends aren’t quite as consumed. There are boys who don’t try as hard as they might – at school or at Scouting or at archery or golf – all because they don’t want to be accused of doing – and even being – too much.
I’ve seen one woman close to me try to desperately hide how extra she really is at work. She truly thought if she didn’t act quite as intelligent – or if she wasn’t quite as thin – or perhaps if she didn’t speak with quite so much conviction – she would have friends who stuck with her in all things. But as she tried to meet the tiny expectations of others, her own self withered.
You are never going to be anything other than “extra” to someone who has a small sense of their own capacities. Be extra – as extra as guacamole. And savor every moment of it like crazy!