I used to think I had all the friends I'd possibly ever get. Do you remember thinking that? I mean, I remember being in fourth grade, when the new girl showed up in the classroom from whatever amazingly exotic location she'd traveled, and the whole fourth grade class was so smitten with her that I figured I'd lost every last friend I'd ever made or would hope to have in the future. I'd surely spend the rest of my days sitting alone at my secluded desk by the dark, scary coatroom, ultimately choking to death on my #2 pencil mere days before the Scholastic book order arrived with my copy of Dynamite Magazine featuring Shields and Yarnell on the cover. I often wondered why I couldn't be more like...well, like anyone who wasn't me.
I grew up in a small school, so I guess I figured all the people in the world I could ever be friends with were walking those same halls with me, and that would be the extent of my friend pool. I think I was in high school before I finally ditched my provincial thinking. I even started dating guys who hadn't pulled my pigtails in Miss Ford's kindergarten class.
But as an adult, I'm always amazed when I make a new friend. Amazed and most definitely pleased. Just this week, I've made new friends from as far away as the Netherlands and as close to me as Columbus. It makes me giddy, I tell ya. Just giddy.
I'm getting to the point where I can start letting go of that stupid, ridiculous, self-battering thing I do where I focus on the people who don't like me (and, believe me, I know who they are). Sure, there are days when I lapse into scheming about how I can change their minds, when I second-guess myself and wonder if anyone likes me at all, and when I think about the bridges I've burned and wonder if I'll ever be able to afford the materials needed to rebuild them, and if there will be anyone willing to receive me on the other side.
I used to spend a lot of time trying to tailor myself to the relationship at hand, morphing into whatever kind of person the present company wanted or expected me to be. True confession: when certain people would visit our house, I'd make my kids yank the Harry Potter books off the shelves and hide them in the closet. When organic gurus would announce a visit, I'd toss out (or devour) all my Cheetos and Dr. Pepper before they knocked on my door, because I was sure they'd snoop through my pantry so they could judge me.
I wanted to be fully, authentically *something,* but I ended up being a fake everything.
I specifically remember the moment when I decided I wouldn't do that anymore because it was just plain idiocy. I'd met a person I really liked a lot, but I suspected, because of where she was in her faith, that she wouldn't be too fond of my reading choices. One day, while we were chatting on the phone about kids and God and pets, I blurted out, "I just want you to know that I read Harry Potter books." The other end of the line was silent, and I wondered for a minute if she had hung up. "And I love them," I added, just to be sure she understood where I was coming from. She laughed and told me she respected me for knowing what I liked, and we've been buddies ever since. Had I hidden my real self from her, she likely would also have hidden her real self from me, too, and we would have missed out on a lot of those weepy, confessional, I-think-I'm-failing moments we both need to have from time to time. Instead, we became, and remain, authentic friends who don't feel the need to be fake with one another but can share the painful struggles we're going through and eat Cheetos together when things get desperate.
I know there are still going to be people who don't like me because I let my kids eat ramen noodles, or have a Salman Rushdie book beside my bed, or drink sweet red wine straight from the bottle, or because I'm both a Jesus-loving Christian and an all-life-is-sacred pacifist. But I came to the conclusion years ago that I'd rather be liked for who I realio-trulio am than for who I'm pretending to be. That pretending thing is so exhausting, you know? I don't want to put that much precious energy into a relationship with someone who's so eager to judge me that they won't take the time to get past the surface and be friends with a real, live human being. That's just dumb.
Since I decided to be a more authentic me, I've made more and better friends than I had when I was trying to customize my personality to fit others' expectations. And I find that I'm much better at accepting others for what and where they are, too. That's an added bonus I didn't expect before. It's really kinda fun.
My friend quota will never, ever be full, thank all that's good and true and holy. So if you're looking for an authentic friendship, where you don't have to hide your current reading material, or your relationship woes, or your parenting fails, and you can eat Cheetos and drink wine in the broad daylight, I'm your gal. Grab a bottle of sweet red (don't mind the backwash) and let's get real.