In high school, I had a football player boyfriend who was very gangster (and ethnic for all you ethnic club members out there). One time, he tried to teach me how to be ethnic like him. He claimed that the appropriate use of the word “word” would exponentially increase my street cred… then he cracked up every time I said it. I was his poetic, deep girlfriend and he was my beefy defensive-line comedian.
Just being his girlfriend made me fascinating to everyone, because I was the nerd-girl who managed to snag one of the cool boys. Besides that, there’s this perfection aura that eminates from the cool group, and somehow, without my life changing much at all, the perfection aura swallowed me up and everyone thought my life was the most magical thing since sliced bread.
Most of the time, my football player and I stayed up talking on the phone about silly things that teenagers talk about. Every once-in-awhile though, we’d do something with his very cool football player and cheerleader friends. Of course, they thought of me as little more than the lineman’s girlfriend, but I was still a part of the club. They invited me to parties (which I never went to, much to their fascination), and they cried on my shoulder when their parents took away the car for a weekend.
And we were friends.
But I liked them the same way I liked my football-player boyfriend.
He was fun, but was never going to be my life-long love.
Everyone reading this gets that.
Maybe I’m a bit of a gypsie, because it doesn’t bother me when friends come and go… because I come and go.
I’m steadfast and consistent for a few people, but they’re never the ones who are fascinated by the weird combination of nerd-girl with boyfriend. They aren’t the ones who think that being friends with me is a golden ticket into the perfection aura.
Which is why I never ate lunch with the popular kids. Before my football player noticed me, I had two really close friends I’d known since junior high. Callista, Brandon and I had eaten lunch together every day for two solid years. There was a loyalty there that didn’t evaporate when the cool kids started paying attention to me. My lunch buddies may have been an AP girl on the path to graduating a year early and an artsy kid whose beard shouldn’t have been nearly so bushy in high school, but they were the friends who knew me. Callista was the one who understood why I couldn’t hang out in the afternoons during prime softball hours, and Brandon was the one who told me I looked elegant when I thought I was the most hideous creature alive.
Everyone reading this would feel a horrible sense of injustice if I’d left Callista and Brandon because a football player wanted people to see him as more than a jock and because pretty, popular girls often need deep, poetic friends more than anyone else ever could.
One of my roommates recently accused me of having bunches of people competing over my friendship, and another friend mentioned that I make people feel like they have to earn me.
Which makes me really sad
I intentionally have a lot of friends because I believe that friendship is inclusive. I get coffee with anyone who asks me to and I initiate coffee with everyone I can think to because I want them to know that friendship is free.
I don’t do it to be popular.
I hate being popular.
I treasured my lunches with Callista and Brandon (or nowadays Steve and Lori, the Johnsons, Melissa, Donna-Brenda and a few other really close friends…) more than any parties the cool kids could ever have invited me to.
Because the truth is that friendship is simultaneously free and expensive.
The beginning is free.
I meet you, we’re friends.
Loyalty to lunch, however, is expensive.
Lori has paid more than a decade and no one new can compete with that. Nor should anyone try. The football player’s girlfriend isn’t worth competing for and neither is anyone else. She’s just a gypsie who comes and goes. And in Maria’s words… she might want to hug everyone in the room, but she can’t.
I don’t know what to think about people competing for friendship. I’m trying to understand my part, but I keep coming to the same conclusion: I can’t force anyone to compete. As a highly competitive person, maybe competition is more overt to me than it ought to be, but I genuinely think of competition as a choice. It’s the decision to do whatever it takes to defeat others and win a prize. Just like friendship is the opposite decision. It’s the decision to give up whatever it takes to help others along on a journey by journeying next to them. It’s letting others help you on your journey.
I don’t get it.
Especially when there are AP girls who graduate a year early, artsy guys with too-bushy beards, pretty, popular girls… and any number of other types out there who don’t have anyone to hug them. People who’re alone. Who no one is competing for. And rather than seeking someone else’s hug, why not offer a hug to someone who’s journeying alone?