January 26, 2016

Let's Be (Actual) Friends

Now that 2015 is over, I think I can say it: I am so happy "friendship"-in-the-Bad Blood-music-video-sense-of-the-word is over.

I don't mean "squad," because that's a word that's picked up and taken and wasn't born under the umbrella of the Taylor Swift 1989 tour, no matter how much we associate the two after months of "Please welcome to the stage." (Which Zeba Blay wrote about late last year.) But I will say "group." I'll say "clique." I'll even say "Instagram friends" because that's what the idea of friendship started morphing into last year, and just for a joke, I'll even say "coven." (Though sometimes that is truly the right word -- depending on whether or not you're actually badass and/or practicing forms of witchcraft.) (And if you are, well done you.) 

Last year, your group defined you, and I hated it. (~*hated it*~) And the relief I feel knowing I don't have to participate in that mentality anymore is one unlike any the world has known.

Friend groups have always stressed me out. In elementary school, I only had one (in eighth grade), and by ninth it had morphed into a friendship dragon where EVERYONE HAD TO HANG TOGETHER ALL THE TIME OR THE WORLD WOULD STOP AND WE WOULD ALL DIE. Unsurprisingly, we did not. But all through high school, I found myself latching on to groups, thinking I could identify myself through them or use them as a vessel to find people who really understood me. Why? Because we were a GROUP, and we were ALL FRIENDS, and that's how friendship works (I said, repeatedly, at one point making a list of the people I actually thought were my true blues). We hung out and we drank together and got in fights with people we didn't like together and talked shit together and left certain people out together (we all got our turn) and that's who we were, and it was great.

Except it wasn't great. I think I hung out with half a dozen different groups between grades 11 and 12, and at no point did I feel anything but anxiety, insecurity, and the need to be cool and not be myself. It was actually through my individual friendships -- the friendships I made organically over shared humour or shared weirdness or, in the case of one of my best friends, shared crushes with (because I liked the guy who liked her, and I figured if she and I became friends, he'd like me) (it didn't work out) (but she and I are still best friends, 15 years later, so there's that -- where there was an actual bond. One that allowed us both to be vulnerable and supportive and come back from misunderstandings without it turning into a thing. And those are the friendships I brought with me into my twenties.

Which were another backdrop of friendship cluster-fucks.

The thing about your early twenties is that you really believe your teens were about a million years ago. (They're not. Just like how at 30, I can only roll my eyes at my *~early, early~* twenties because I was still 29 in August and who do I think I am.) So you form new groups of "real" friends and tell yourself you're above all that group bullshit because these are your friends by choice. Which is true. But then, my friends and I began referring to us and our group as "THE GIRLS," officially solidifying ourselves as a collective and immediately making any unsanctioned one-on-one hangs impossible. Meaning: If you wanted to go for coffee with just one person, you'd still have to invite everybody else. If someone went out with another group, you felt hurt because what the hell? And if you found out THE GIRLS went to dinner without telling you, you felt so, so, so alone. (Even if it was spur of the moment and because it's 2005, texting wasn't what it is now.)

So as I trudged my way through the rest of my twenties, I hung out less in groups and more with best friends. Sometimes those best friends knew each other so we'd all hang, or sometimes they didn't, and we'd one-on-one dinner, or embark on adventures, or walk around the mall because the mall is amazing, but I felt safe and secure in my friendships because they were also a safe space where I could be completely myself and it wasn't about establishing a hierarchy of cool. It was just about friendship. (I mean, back in October, my one friend and I sat in silence watching baseball and eating fries because we were both feeling anxious but needed a pal. And it was amazing.)

But last year felt like I was being plunged back into high school all over again. Suddenly, friend groups and cliques were not just a symbol of importance, but a question of feminism. Suddenly, to be a valid feminist (or even person), you had to be surrounded by powerful women all the time and then you had to document it and you had to hashtag it and you had to make everybody feel the way we all did in eleventh grade which was: weird. It felt weird. It felt very weird. Like, guys, it was weird to think, "I am a grown-ass woman, and why do I feel FOMO about something I have nothing to do with?" FOMO is weird. It's all very weird.

And it's also unpleasant. Especially because feelings are feelings and 95% of the time, while valid, they're still super embarrassing and not at all glamorous. So I found myself thinking, I SHOULD DO THAT I SHOULD BE THERE I SHOULD MAKE FRIENDS WITH THOSE PEOPLE based solely on Instagram photo ops. And I love Instagram. Which means I know how it works -- AKA we post the best parts of our lives as if they're real, but they're usually not -- they're all keyhole views into our very flawed and messy realities, which is a-okay if we all know that. And yet, there I was, compelled to go out and do this and do that because EVERYONE SHOULD SEE IT ON INSTAGRAM CAN YOU HEAR ME I HAVE FRIENDS TOO.

The funny thing is, my 30th birthday brought the majority of my good and close friends together for the first time, and while some of them knew each other, and others did not, I still basked in the glow of being surrounded by such a tight crew of individuals. But at the same time, in no way, shape, or form did I look at my friends and think, "YEP. That's my group!" Instead, I thought "Oh Jesus, I hope everyone gets along okay (they did) and that nobody gets upset I'm 100% going to leave soon because I feel anxious and sick (they didn't)."

And so it was fine. But it wasn't until the absence of LOOK AT MY GROUP LOOK AT US trends in 2016 (so far) did I realize how disinterested I am in staging a friend group for the sole purpose of looking . . . relevant? Popular? Cool? I'm not sure. The friendships that bring me the most happiness are the friendships I've forged organically. Some are through other friends, others are through Twitter, others are through old-fashioned, "I LOVE YOUR WORK CAN WE HAVE TEA," and zero have been because I thought somebody would look cool as an accessory on my Instagram feed. Which, I know not all groups do -- it's what group think made me feel I had to do. (And as we all know, living in a reactionary way is not a super-cute look.)

I feel better having friends, and not having FRIENDS!!!! (if you can tell the difference). I feel calmer, knowing this about myself, and looking at groups on Instagram and applying the Amy Poehler truth, "Good for them, not for me." I feel lucky to have real pals I can call and rely on and say, "Ugh I don't want to go to this party either, so let's go together, stay for an hour and go for dinner." Or friends who don't care if I have dinner with so-and-so without texting them because we're all busy and who has the time and maybe so-and-so and I need to talk about something in complete confidence, you know? I feel better admitting that clique/group life is not for me, and while I love me a group hang, a lack of one doesn't define my worth as a human or my capacity for friendship.

But I'll still Instagram the shit out of my friend time, don't get me wrong. First, because (as mentioned) I love Instagram. Second, because if me or my friend(s) look great in our outfits, we need to show that shit off. And third, because I love my friends and I want you to see the people I love. But also, let's maybe make a conscious effort not to use other people's friendships as a gauge with which to measure our own. Instead, let's give thanks every time we see cool people doing authentically cool things outside the realm of CAN YOU HANDLE THIS GROUP mentality. Because guys, I can't. It's kind of overwhelming to me. Sometimes I just want to sit and eat fries.

Leo's literally crying over my truth.

Dial it the fuck down, man.

- A.

PS. Harry Potter truth #4: I for sure would've hated James Potter if we'd gone to school together. Such a bro.