BY MARY MALLOY
I have very few friends and I like it that way.
When we're young, we are led to believe the adage "the more the merrier." The bigger the party, the wider the circle of friends (i.e. the more popular we are) the better off we are. That may have been true in tribal days, when the enemy was approaching, but now, I think we can tighten that circle a bit.
I see the friendship "pecking order" in my daughters' lives. One just finished junior high school and the other is about to start in the fall. They have already categorized themselves and those around them - the term "the populars" refers to any girl who gets mass attention from others, whether it be by dress, attitude or personality, or by...gasp!- getting the attention of a boy. And the other categories are - well, who cares? If you are not one of "the populars" you are nobody anyway. But just for the record, I hear they are the "nerds" and the "punks." That's it, and you've got to be one of those, or you are really out of the adolescent loop.
I tell them, "Just have a couple of good, close friends - that is what is important in life." But as I spew my words of wisdom to my darling daughters, I think back to my years in junior high and I remember Debbie - Debbie who walked around the locker room in just her scant undergarments because she had no shame, as the rest of us had (man, I wish I'd had the nerve to do that.) Debbie, who was very popular with the boys, ahem..if you know what I mean...Debbie, who would dictate where everyone would sit, what they would eat in the cafeteria, and what music we would listen to on the radio. Did I hate her? Hell, no - I wanted to be her! (Oh, all right, of course I hated her - who wouldn't??)
But guess what? I saw Debbie a few years ago at our class reunion, and she was still popular! But I realized that just because some people command attention, it doesn't make them any better than I - they are just better at getting attention! God was fair and Debbie's thighs are now bigger than mine (hey, were talkin' the important stuff now.) And guess what? She never knew how popular she was. And she had a crush on a guy who didn't know she existed back then...and she worried about acne. Can you believe it? She was one of us and we never knew it! Debbie was never a close friend, she was who I wished I could be at the time. She never knew my likes, my dislikes, my fears, my desires. It took me thirty years to find that out myself. Bless you, Debbie, because the rest came easy.
Many changes have taken place in my life since then, and some of those harder times are a blessing in disguise - I look back now and can thank my lucky stars that I came to a point in my life where I was shown who cared for me, no matter what. I felt that I could "see" it, in my mind's (or my heart's) eye, maybe it was just experience - a knowing of who I was suppose to keep close to me. It was enlightening. I give people a lot of chances - I think that is what being a good friend is all about - after all, none of us are perfect. But sometimes, no matter how many chances we give these people, they are not going to change - and why should they? They deserve to live on this planet, too - I just had to decide just how close to me that was gonna be...
A male friend and I had known each other for years, and he can be a very overbearing person. I thought I was being the better friend by taking it at first, letting him be "the boss." The I thought I was a good friend by putting him in his place, showing him that a friendship should be equal - and then, after a long while, I realized that I was a great friend by leaving him alone - after all, we were so tired of controlling one another that there was nothing left to give. We are both much happier now, and wave hello and exchange pleasantries.
I have decided that true friendship shouldn't be that much work - I know every relationship needs to be tended, like a garden, but gee, if there are a bunch of weeds in there that you just can't get rid of, what's the point?
You know what I mean - did you ever walk away from someone and your face hurt? Not your head (that is saved for family members you don't like, that's another column all together.) I mean, your face hurts - from that phony smiling, that guarding of every word you are saying, that feeling of being self-conscious about how good a friend you are being to them, and what you should say, but won't. It is draining. I have too many other things in my life that exhaust me, but cultivating and maintaining a friendship should not be one of them.
I have two close gal pals. They are not perfect and I love them for it. They are wonderful, each in their own way, and will boost my ego as equally as they will make me think of what a fool I can be sometimes. They know I am not perfect, but sometimes they make me feel like I am close to it. I care what they think, what they feel. They are worth more than a hundred others I have known.
I see women now who, like Debbie in high school, with scads of people around them, popular and witty, acting the Queen Bee role so effortlessly. And I am no longer envious, I do not wish to be them. Now I see desperate people who need to feel secure and loved with throngs of admirers surrounding them -- and I pity them.
It was the American historian Henry Brook Adams who said, "One friend in a lifetime is much, two are many, three are hardly possible. Friendship needs a certain parallelism of life, a community of thought, a rivalry of aim."
Oh, Henry, how true.
Mary Malloy is a published writer, having written humorous, ongoing columns in local newspapers including The East Rockaway Observer,The Five Towns Forum, Nassau Tribune, Nassau Community Newspaper Group, & Long Island Woman periodical. She recently married her childhood sweetheart and is the mother of five children, ages 12 to 30 --and the grandmother of a lively toddler name Thomas. She experiences every day life by coping, juggling and living on (and loving) Long Island, New York and sharing the humor and the ironies of life with others.