This is a long one. I plannned to divide it in two, but couldn’t find a way to make it work. So, grab some coffee and settle in, or read it in parts. As you wish.
Before I was ready to hit ‘publish’ on the previous post, I asked Dreamboat (my legally permanent boyfriend) to give me his input. His response: “I got bored half-way through.”
I laughed out loud. Love that man.
But, he’s no girlfriend.
And, he got me thinking.
One of the secrets to getting through the circus that is my life, as graciously as possible, is having and keeping friends. Good, wonderful friends.
Being so far away from home, and unable to speak the local language, makes me miss my friends, themselves scattered all over the globe, even more. I’ve spent a lot of time this last month thinking about how wonderful they are and how much they mean to me.
It wasn’t always that way.
My first seventeen years were mostly lonely. Difficult. Painful.
I was watching “The Bachelor” today, when in one of the girls said in her cameo, “all of the girls are going to be so jealous of me.” She meant it. When asked what she has to offer the Bachelor, instead of talking about her unique qualities, she was thinking about the other girls. And how to make them jealous.
Why is that?
Why is it that girls are known for being intentionally mean to other girls? Why do we so often compete with each other instead of support and encourage each other?
It made me sad. (But, to Dreamboat’s huge embarrassment, the show, I find hilarious. I think we should make a drinking game for every time someone cries. Or for every time there’s a kiss.)
But, back to my point. I think girls being mean stems from insecurity.
We think that deep down, we’re not good enough. (Not pretty enough. Not kind enough. Not lovable. You fill in your insecurity…)
For me, it’s more personal than watching a reality show on TV (well, VPN’d into a US IP address, and watched on my laptop with ear buds so as not to irritate Dreamboat unnecessarily. I save that for other times). I know what it looks and feels like first-hand.
Growing up on a ship limited my pool of friends. There were many wonderful people who lived on board for a short time, whom I loved. But then they left. And I felt like I was in constant mourning—saying goodbye to friend after friend, after friend.
Of the other families that lived on board long-term, like we did, there were two other girls my age (WHY is it that when you’re young, age makes SO much difference?). They were six months older than I was, and in the grade above. Not always, but most of the time, I was the odd-man out. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it got so ugly, that for a while we met weekly with our moms and were refereed by the school principal, to sort out our regular ‘misunderstandings’.
It was hurtful. And I blamed them.
Looking back, I’m not sure I was any less catty, or petty, or mean. I do know that I was insecure and trying to find my place.
What happened when I was twelve didn’t help. There was a boy whom I admired more than anyone else in school (as did most of the kids onboard) for his kindness, ability to have fun in any situation (and we were in some doozies in various countries), and athletic skill. We didn’t have much opportunity to play sports, but he seemed born an expert at them all. One Saturday morning, while he was talking in the hall outside my cabin, he was asked whom he thought was the prettiest girl onboard. After being badgered a bit, he answered, “Heidi. But, I’d NEVER date her.”
I could feel my insides shrivel up.
HIM saying it, made it so much worse. I was completely blindsided. For weeks it hurt, even to breathe. You may think I should have been grateful for the compliment on my looks, but appearances you can’t help (at least not much at twelve). You’re born that way. But, I took what he said to mean that who I was—ME—wasn’t good enough.
Now, I can’t blame overhearing that conversation, and its impact on me, for all my insecurities. Or for my part in the cattiness with the other girls. But, it took me a long time to know that I’m beautiful inside.
When I was seventeen, the older two graduated, a new influx of long-term people moved onboard, and my world changed. Brightened. Friendships with other women blossomed. Especially with Susan. She helped turn the tide. It sounds like a weird womance (since ‘bromance’ is out there, we should have a word too, right?), but I remember when I first saw her. She became a loyal, fierce friend. In fact, a few miserable months into my first marriage, when I finally was able to whisper the painful mess I was in, I called Susan. We haven’t had much time together in these last many years (more years than I want to say), but the last three months in Guinea, while we were volunteering on the Africa Mercy, she was there too. We laughed, cried, laughed some more.
Susan, and the many, many wonderful friends that have followed, yes, including friends I’ve grown to love and appreciate from those lonely years onboard, have been a source of strength, wisdom, comfort, support, and lots and lots of fun.
I don’t want to consider where I’d be without those feelings of being whole and known, sometimes, too close for comfort.
They’re from many different languages and cultures, with strongly opposing views and faiths. My Facebook newsfeed is an education in juxtapositions, which I find highly entertaining and also thought-provoking (that’s a good thing).These friends who help provide me with a sense of ‘home’, no matter where I am, are old and young. Many are ‘unique’ and ‘quirky’. I like them. I need them. I learn from them.
Yes, because I move around so much, home is not always a place. For me, home is an experience of belonging. To create that with new people, takes physical and emotional presence. It’s intentional. While I’ve watched some of my friends chose to emotionally distance themselves from the hurt of potential goodbyes, I’ve chosen the other path. To continually open myself to new people. To see them as adding to my life’s riches, and taking them with me as I go.
Staying close to those who are far away—yes, it’s painful. It means leaving pieces of my heart with people and places—requires nourishing and treasuring them when I no longer have the physical proximity. I keep them in my heart, wherever I may go.
If I could go back, and talk to my twelve-year-old-self, in an effort to avoid ‘the lonely years’, I’d start off with reprimanding her for being myopic. For being overly focused on myself. Selfish. (I know it’s the usual tween affliction and necessary to grow into an independent adult, but really, it’s soooo not attractive. Or helpful.) If she would just take the time to really look at others, she would see them absorbed in the same struggle to become their best selves. I would tell her that eventually, she would learn to turn her sensitivity outward. To be empathetic to others. To be a source of strength when they feel insecure and in need of encouragement. Then, I would tell her that the world is a big place. Without limitation. And that she should celebrate all her successes, AND her friends’ successes. That life is not a zero-sum-game (pulled from my ever-reducing vocabulary from global econ class). Our life is not reduced by the successes of others. There is no limitation and need to compete. If anything, my life now (and could have been true for my life at twelve) is enriched by others’ successes. I would tell her that there is limitless satisfaction in being part of others blossoming. Sharing in their joy as they grow into their talents.
I would also tell her to start speaking her mind a LOT sooner. She has some great insights to give her friends, and the wisdom is wasted when she’s silent. Those truly worthy of her friendship want the wisdom. (Such a simple thing to say now, but if she could do it, she might sidestep that abusive first marriage).
Another life-lesson that has saved me in countless ways, and that Dreamboat and I taught in our management training workshop, is MRI—Most Respectful Interpretation—which basically means to think the best of people. Assume if someone’s acting strange, that unless they say otherwise, then the problem is with them (an issue at home, late night, work disappointment, etc.). Dale Carnegie, who coined the term, explains it much more eloquently, for a management setting. But, the basic principal is it’s not all about me. Don’t assume it is.
One of my dreams is to make a difference. For my life to count by being part of something bigger than myself. I got to do that in a really big way, by volunteering on a hospital ship. But, I also try to do that in small ways. Everyday. No matter where I am. Everyone needs relationship and intimacy. It’s beautiful to be known and loved. And, as I give of my heart and my time to others, I receive in return the strength I need, to help keep my vision, passion and courage alive.
While Dreamboat is my lifetime friend (thank God for his honesty. I need it.) and I’ve lots of male friends whom I love, including my brothers…
…sometimes a girl craves time with her girlfriends!