“We meet no ordinary people in our lives.” ~C.S. Lewis
I lost a friend last fall. Not to anything as tragic as death —I just experienced my first adult friendship break-up. It hurt, more than I expected it to. It hurt so much it’s taken me eight months to process it. But now I know that it was necessary and healthy.
This Peace Corps adventure that I’m doing with 60-odd other people isn’t easy to understand. We’re weird. In our group, mini groups have formed. Friendships have been forged in the fire. Not literal fire, but this really hard thing we’re all doing has bonded us in unexpected ways. We talk about bowel movements a lot. Pretty much all bodily functions are up for discussion. We share tips on how to brew kombucha and how best to use a squat toilet. We talk about what essential oils work for various creepy crawlies and how to use tong sia (diarrhea) to get out of events we don’t want to attend. We joke using a million acronyms. We have nick names for people and things that are in Tinglish (Thai/English) and make no sense to people who aren’t us. We have bonded deeply because we’ve shared joy and tears. Successes and failures. We’ve navigated new emotions and old. Together we have traversed emotional landscapes full of unexpected land mines. I think, to an outsider, we’re probably all bordering on insane.
That’s what I love about us. About doing this hard thing. Because we aren’t here for money or glory or recognition or praise. At the end of the day, we’re just here trying to to survive. And love. And care deeply. And come out the other side changed for the better…not for the cynical.
This friend I lost was someone I met in college and we had grown apart since then; but still, it was a person who I had shared meals, laughter, and experiences with on three continents. Coming to the realization that our world views had become so vastly different that we could not spend more than 48 hours together before having a confrontation was such a bizarre experience. Bizarre because I’m hard wired to avoid conflict, but also because, in the aftermath, I feel more grateful than ever for the diverse and unique voices I have in my life who have done the hard work of sustaining friendship.
Living away from the States now for almost 4 years, I’m learning that friendships are extremely hard work. On top of that, one sided friendships aren’t the kind I’m looking for, not anymore. I spent the bulk of my early 20s clinging to people. Trying to befriend anyone who would have me and now….I’m tired. It takes two to tango. It also takes two to have a successful relationship. Gone are the days of allowing all relationship maintenance to land on my plate. I can make a phone call, send a message, or write a letter just as easily as my “friends”. You make time for who and what is important to you. I’m learning that not every relationship in life is forever, and that some people just aren’t in a place to sustain a long distance friendship – and that’s ok! It’s been hard for me to wrap my head around, but also important for me to understand as a way of letting relationships run their course without judgement, blame, or negativity.
Several months after that fateful friendship break-up, another friend came to visit. She and I had been friends since we were 15 years old. Over the next 12 years, we had seen each other only a handful of times. I was nervous, but she arrived and that fear quickly dissipated. While struggling through a grueling 15 mile hike in the densely forested hills of northern Thailand we got to talk. She shared that she envied the relationships us PCVs had because we seemed to talk about anything and everything, she didn’t share that with any of her friends back home. I shared that I couldn’t imagine a better friend coming to visit because she engaged with this weird group of people like she was one of us, and that 12 years into this friendship our interactions still felt comfortable. That day I realized: yes, I lost a friend last fall, but it’s ok because I still have friends like this. Not every friendship is going to be forever, but some are. My hope is that we all have at least one friend in our lives that will to do the hard work of sticking around through it all.