Learning to be a friend isn't easy

April 10, 2011 

Lately, I've been reflecting on friendship. I have nothing else to do, because my friends selfishly abandoned me to pursue higher education in August. I mean, do troubled teens really need another guidance counselor more than I need my best friend here in Raleigh with me?

Probably.

But that's hard to remember on a Friday night when I'm home alone or with my parents. That's not to say I don't enjoy spending time with my parents - especially when they take me out to eat. But they're not a replacement for my friends, because, well, parents are parents and friends are friends, and you need both. And my sister doesn't stay at my beck and call, insisting on having a social life of her own.

So when I'm not with her or with my parents, I'm missing my friends. And missing my friends has made me think - uncomfortably - of my previous under-appreciation of them.

For a long time, I didn't really have friends. I've always been pretty shy, and my family moved a lot when I was a kid. So until high school, when I joined marching band and was thrown mercilessly into social situations with my fellow band geeks, I didn't have anyone I was close to. So I don't think I ever really learned how to be a friend, and in high school I had to make it up as I went. Most of the time, it wasn't hard; you try spending a week of 12-hour days at band camp without making friends.

High school band gave me friends. I didn't look for them; they just came. And the wonderful thing about marching band is that because band kids are the kind of kids who get rocks thrown at them at football games (yes, that happened to us), we are more accepting of one another than teens can be in the halls of the school. The band room, somehow, was a sacred space, a safe place. Enough of my peers didn't give up on me, waiting and talking to me until I was finally able to open up, that I felt liked and part of a group throughout most of high school.

I'm still close friends with two people I met in high school band; one is the aforementioned guidance-counselor-to-be. But they're not in Raleigh anymore, and I've now come to realize that not only have I not appreciated them for the great friends they are, but also that I did not have the same experience in college that I had in high school. I wasn't in marching band, and I was really too afraid to venture out to find activities and meet people. I was fortunate to be randomly placed with a not-crazy roommate, but aside from her and my friends from high school, I didn't have much of a social life.

Too late, I realize that college offers a special opportunity to make friends relatively easily; after college, where do you go to find people who have similar interests, who are in a similar stage of their life, who, like you, are looking for people to connect with? I also realize that there were people who, after high school, I stopped talking to simply because - and it took me four years to realize this - I was afraid that without band, we wouldn't have anything in common and they just wouldn't like me anymore. That maybe they liked me only because they had to for us to win competitions.

The only time I've ever successfully given up something for Lent was in high school, when I gave up complaining about a certain teacher and found myself much happier. Inspired by the idea of giving up a negative feeling rather than a food I'll go back to after Easter, this year, I'm giving up hopelessness. It's an unrealistic goal, and we all feel hopeless from time to time, but I know that, at 21, I have a lot to look forward to, that high school will not be "the best years of my life" because I will have even better, that I have good friends and that I will make more, and that, as my mom likes to say, "This too shall pass," and the awkward period between adolescence and adulthood does not last forever.

Meanwhile, I'll work on making my friends feel as guilty as possible for going to grad school.

taryn.oesch@gmail.com

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