Popularity part 3

I haven’t written part 2 yet, but this is where I wanted to end up so here you go.

I am sitting at the kitchen counter in a wool dress, fleece lined leggings and a hat. I am considering adding another layer, since like all good New englanders we are playing the game of “how long we can let go without turning on the heat.” As the boys tumble off the bus plus one they chatter “don’t let Simon in…don’t, don’t…oh you might not want to take your coat off, I’ll get you a blanket…” to their guest. Thats what happens at most houses on playdates, blanket donning, right?

Tools of the trade.
Tools of the trade.

The doorbell rings causing more cat/coat excitement and I am presented with my CVS basket of goodies for being the winning post in the lost in the Suburbs contest. The good people at CVS seem to think a suburban blogger needs: antacids (totally) gummy dino vitamins (thats for the healthy kids) Suncscreen (who doesn’t need sunscreen in Vermont in November) almonds (healthy mom) Apricot facial scrub (for that post pregnancy glow) a 250 piece first aid kit (they must know I have boys) advanced hand sanitizer (to get rid of cooties) and electrolyte water (the only thing better than bottled water is bottled water with additives.) They also included a journal- perhaps as a nod to my writing, but Oliver has already stolen it.

It is Friday at 3:30 and I have been thinking a lot about lunch. I went out with my pomegranate friend who ordered the beets AND the green salad. I got the turkey wrap, brussell sprouts and fries. Our other friend got crab cakes. I offered to share my fries. As soon as the words were out of my mouth I regretted them. If they were going to underorder that was not my problem.

Earlier today I hung out with two separate single friends and talked about the beginning stages of relationships. How when we were young we would try to predict what the other person wanted and deliver that. To no great success. If it ended we never got to know whether our real selves would have been compatible. If it gained some traction and got going then eventually we were going to communicate in our regular style, dislike our regular foods, and go to sleep at our regular bedtimes. If we quit acting and start being then we might just get some good information and make that whole early stage more efficient. If efficiency is your goal.

Friendships are just relationships with less sex.

Yet as straightforward as I am with Steve I am not so with all of the friends in my life.

Lunch was with someone who I have been trying with delicacy to back away from. Because of normal busy-ness, my functional friendly time cut in half by my depressive cycle, and my dislike of maintenance mode it is hard to keep up with all of my friendships.

I have been dreading writing this post, and many many times have decided not to because I know so many of you will ask yourselves if it is you that I am writing about. I guess the answer is possibly. But what I am trying to figure out is what the expectations are of friendship. How we balance it all.

In the case of this lunch date we have been friends for a few years. Almost from the beginning of our relationship I have tried to back away, and she has known it. She has asked mutual friends about me, and I have chosen not to be upfront with her. The whole “state of the relationship” conversation is one way that I wish friendships were NOT like romantic relationships. I just don’t see the real upside. Unless this is a longstanding friendship with lots of history I don’t think a state of the relationship talk is a particularly good sign.

There are many ways to befriend people. Extending our kids friendships, as running partners, as one on one confidants, to support each other through tough times, through a shared mutual interest. So many of these have natural ebbs and flows. How do we determine which of these cycles of attraction and backing away are just natural and which have meaning. And does it matter?

When you think about the friendships that are the most meaningful are they the most mutual? The most longstanding? The ones that bend and flex with your moods? I am curious about this.

So at lunch I figured out why I don’t want to be close to this woman. It is that she wants her friends to be her family. I completely understand this. I have been there before. Sometimes I think I want it now. And then I remember all the tendrils of my actual family and how many hours there are in a day and I know that it cant be. She doesn’t mean simply that you share holidays and watch each other’s kids, but that each evening after work you jump on the phone and check in. I get it, I really do. I just can’t deliver. Somehow knowing that I can’t deliver has made me want to back away. Noticing this has helped. Sitting across the table from her at lunch I feel real affection for her, and am so glad that my backing away hasn’t worked. Then she reached out and took my last fry. The actual last one. And I still liked her. So I guess we are real friends. And then she hugged me. So I know she doesn’t read my blog (best litnus test ever.) I figured even if someone sends her the link it is exactly what I would say if we had a state of the relationship talk. Hopefully she would be satisfied with the outcome.

I never learned to navigate ¬†well as a kid, because I never really had to juggle more than a small handful of friends at a time. Shelburbia is a really friendly community. There are near constant invitations to fundraisers and trunk shows, s’mores parties, and weekend sails or skis, lunches and teas and coffees, and walks and runs. There is a committee making committee, and pop up shops and craft fairs and craft school pop ups, concerts with fireworks and makers fairs, and cider pressing and famers dinners and wine dinners. All this fun can be very tiring. And leave little time for our family. Tonight I am juggling a trunk show, a studio opening, a comedy competition and tickets to a Flynn event. There is a sense of obligation to each of these events except the ticketed Flynn show so Steve is going to go to that with our friends and a blind date and I will make the rounds at the others.

I will see friends tonight. Many of whom I owe a phone call, or a dinner invite. I am going to try to leave my guilt behind and enjoy them for the people that they are, rather than points in some huge cosmic friend scoreboard.

Which really begs the question. Is being a friend a game you can win? It may be one of the rare cases where every participant deserves an award just for playing. But what about being popular? Can you win at that? A friend posted on facebook about her young daughter being bullied by the queen bees. How is this so universal? I see it in my boys. I recognize a great effort in one of the them and the other hears it as an insult. The kids try to lift themselves up climbing on the back of their classmates. In the popularity contest it doesn’t seem like there are any winners at all. On top you are afraid of falling, it brings out the worst in you. At the bottom you are tormented. I guess the middle is best.

So as friendly as my community is there is definitely some cliquishness to the parents. Like high school (part 2 still coming soon) I move amongst the crowds, often invited to group lunches and wine gatherings (to which I bring vodka) but not really central to any of them. It is what the middle looks like.

It feels so odd to be almost 40 and thinking about how to navigate expectations from friends. Don’t we grow out of this? I feel as though having kids in school may have brought us back right into this mix. I hear myself explaining that Oliver is satisfied with his two good friends when other mom’s ask why he doesn’t respond to their kids overtures. I think he may have unwittingly found the secret. Fewer better friends are better. I might just be going about this the wrong way.

I had to turn down a lunch invitation from the check out woman at Lowe’s today. I made a comment about how I had gone in to have an $11 piece of mirror cut and ended up spending $160. She told me that the grocery store is the worst for that. I agreed. (At this point all of my goods had been rung up and paid for.) She went on to tell me that the tries to keep her meal budget to $100 a month. I mentally debate telling her about the $30/week challenge that my family will be trying for ONE WEEK. Instead I tell her how impressed I am by that discipline. Something I lack in general and particularly around food. She tells me she is going to take a lunch break and would I want to sit down and hear her methods.

This is how it happens. If I hadn’t been in a hurry I probably would have joined her for lunch, eaten half of her $1 meal and made a new friend.

Who would then require maintenance.

Which is not included in my CVS basket. Unless you can keep friendships going on a combo of antacid and hand sanitizer. Which I guess is possible.

Is writing about this just whining a lot? Or is it hard to give everyone what they need?



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Anna Palmer

Anna Rosenblum Palmer is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes about sex, parenting, cat pee, bi-polar disorder and the NFL; all things inextricably intertwined with her mental health. In her free time she teaches her boys creative swear words, seeks the last missing puzzle piece and thinks deeply about how she is not exercising. Her writing can be found on Babble, Parent.co, Great Moments in Parenting, Ravishly, Good Men Project, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Playpen, Crazy Good Parent, and YourTango. She also does a fair amount of navel gazing on her own blog at annarosenblumpalmer.com.

3 thoughts on “Popularity part 3”

  1. In high school when I was having friend and boyfriend troubles, my mom gave me great advice: Relationships have to be balanced. They can be casual or serious, mellow or intense. There is no better or worse, but if they are not balanced in intensity (or desire for a certain level of intensity), then someone (or both) are feeling off. She also taught me, reflecting on her own friendships and marriage, that lasting relationships, and healthy ones, take turns. Sometimes it’s week to week, sometimes it’s year to year, sometimes it’s decade to decade. Another friend of mine gave me great advice when my first kid was born: Check in regularly with your spouse about balance. The division of labor doesn’t have to be equal, but it does need to be agreed upon.

    Friendships where both parties can maintain balance that shifts this way and that either have an explicit or implied (but mutually understood) understanding that things are dynamic, and change. And when a stable thing feels “off”, it’s worth checking in. When that sense of balance wasn’t ever established (your example, perhaps?) then this ongoing give or take is never going to feel that it has an equilibrium either.

    And then layered on top of that we find our own personality and needs. The “be in the center” vs. “have gaggles of friends” “vs “have 2 close friends”. And also our patterns. Maybe you have ups and downs of being uber social and less so. And friends who really understand you will recognize that and not take it personally. My family’s travel schedule impacts my socializing and means I need to have many more “touch points” and ways of being supportive and generous to the people I care about beyond lunches and walks and dinners.

    The Lowe’s lady? An act of kindness? A recognition of a lonely person? Or maybe you’re just such a delightful personality that everyone wants to be your friend.

  2. I can very much relate to most of this – balancing friendships is hard work, worth it ultimately for those friendships that are important. Do not agree, however, that Shelburbia is a friendly place – I have been here for 10 years and it still shocks me how unfriendly most people are…

  3. Obviously your not a good friend but an insecure individual that cares more about you last fry then the person you are having lunch with. Do you test all your friends with your subjective idiosyncrasies? I am glad I do not put as much effort as your friend into a relationship w/o knowing the true colors of the so called friend.

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