If you find honey, eat just enough – too much of it, and you will vomit. Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house – too much of you, and she will hate you.
The TV show “Friends” ran a long time. For years, those six friends popped in on each other unannounced, loaned and borrowed, and as if they didn’t get enough quality time together up in the apartments, they loved to meet downstairs at the coffeehouse where they could spend $4 on a 25-cent cup of coffee while hanging out with each other even more. That show had a lot of issues that kept it from being anything like reality, and one of them was that their familiarity seldom bred contempt. Oh, sure they were always arguing and there was always some drama, but in real life, the kind of intimate friendship the on-screen actors portrayed rarely lasts very long.
When I was in junior high school, my best friend was Gina Casey. I would spend most of the day in school with her and then after school, I wanted to go to her house too, or have her come to mine. And then when we finally had to part ways, I liked to keep in touch by phone. I would have gladly volunteered to be attached at the shoulder to that girl, such was our friendship.
I moved to another town for high school and soon I made a new best friend, Kirsten Berger. I could have spent every waking hour with her too, but I don’t think I would have volunteered to be joined at the shoulder with her. Then in college, I had more best friends and again, I could hardly get enough time with them. But we each had different things going on – different studies, part-time jobs, boyfriends, other friends. I had grown out of that singular attachment a girl feels for her best friend in junior high.
Now, my best friend is my husband, but I still have best girl friends. Sadly, I only see them about once a year and we talk on the phone a couple of times more a year and mostly stay in touch via email. I miss those school days – especially college – when best friends were right down the hall in the dorm. Youth is the time for great friendships and we make some that last us the rest of our lives.
Don’t get me wrong, middle-aged people and elderly people can have great friends too, but after youth friends are placed into a realistic perspective relative to the rest of the responsibilities of adult life. We have to face facts: work, maintaining our home and nurturing the families we are building all trump time with friends. And if we have a healthy spiritual life, we have put one-on-one time with God top on our list, and that also takes away from time to spend with earthly friends.
When you emerge from the academic world into the work world, you’ll notice something strange: everybody already has their life in motion. Leaving the school environment in which there is an unnatural conglomeration of same-age/same-interest peers at your beck and call, and entering into a natural setting where there are only a few people of your age with whom you may or may not have something in common, makes for a weird transition. I remember after college graduation wondering, “Where did they all go?” All of a sudden I couldn’t find anyone to hang out with.
Then finally, one day it happens. You find someone you think you can really like. You do something together socially and there are sparks and it’s so exciting that you just want to temporarily revert to those junior high school days and spend every waking minute with your new friend. You’ve been so lonely! And probably so has she. Isn’t it great that you’ve found each other?
Caution: note the proverb. Don’t wear out your welcome at your new friend’s house or even her inbox or cell phone with text messages, etc. Pace yourself in building a new friendship or you could lose it all.
When I started graduate school, I lived in an apartment just off campus – quite a few graduate students lived there. My first weeks at school were very lonely. In grad school it’s even harder to make friends than in high school and college. I was also a little older than most of my classmates, who all seemed to know each other already (How is that?).
One day, I met my next door neighbor, Ed. Since the day I had moved in, I could hear him laughing at night while he watched TV. When we finally introduced ourselves, we had easy conversation and I could tell that Ed was a good guy. I guess he liked me too. From then on, Ed started knocking on my door on a daily basis. He’d come in and we’d just hang out. He often interrupted my studies, but early in the semester it didn’t matter so much. When midterms came around, I really needed to study. I was taking five graduate classes, had several part-time jobs, one of which was teacher’s assistant for one of my professors. In addition to my coursework, I had to do the coursework for the class I was TA-ing and grade their papers! It was getting hard to juggle. Then comes Ed, again.
I tried going to the door with book and highlighter in hand, even with the cap off the highlighter, like I was right in the middle of highlighting something when he knocked, which I was. Never did he say, “Oh, I can see you’re busy, want to do something later?” He just came in anyway and sat and talked. My eyes would stray down to the page and my attention would drift back to my reading. After about a half hour of this he would finally take the hint. And it’s not like I wasn’t telling him that I had a lot of work to do too. I was! Ed just didn’t understand subtle anything. Then I learned he didn’t understand blatant anything. As the end of the semester came around and things were really heating up, I stopped letting him in the door. He didn’t let up though. He just kept knocking, everyday, sometimes several times a day. It became such a stressor to me that I decided I had to end the friendship – with my next door neighbor. It was hard. I just stopped answering the door. It took him about 10 days, all through finals, to finally get it.
I hated what I was doing. I actually liked Ed and thought he was a decent person, but I just didn’t have time for him and he didn’t understand it in any of the nice ways I was trying to say it. Right before we left for Christmas break, we exchanged gifts. I gave him an antique shaver; he seemed to really like it. He gave me a cooking mitt and a mug, both with Bugs Bunny on them. That was so fitting, as I had many times said to myself (and others), “Ed bugs!”
I apologized for having been so rude but explained to him that I was topped off with my school and work and really didn’t have leisure time. He understood well enough to be able to pardon me. But he didn’t understand. I know this because, when we returned for the spring semester, it started up again. I had another full load, in fact even more full, as I was actually teaching my own class that semester. Within a few weeks, I resorted to the “ignore Ed” strategy I had used at the end of the last semester.
I’m sad to say it worked and that we couldn’t seem to find any happy medium. He stopped knocking eventually. And then some weeks later, I saw that he had a girlfriend. I was glad for him; he finally found someone to hang out with. And they did spend a lot of time together. At the end of the year, as we were both moving out of our apartments for the summer break, we had one brief conversation. I wanted to say so much, how sorry I was for being so rude and how irked I was that he couldn’t take a hint. Instead we only exchanged parting pleasantries.
After school is over, it’s too hard to make friends to be botching the few opportunities you get. Play it smart. Sure you’re elated to have found a kindred spirit, but you need to pace yourself to make it last for the long run.
Hold this thought: I don’t wear out my welcome.