Growing Pains — And Not Even the Kind With Alan Thicke

small__2784224532Is it in your head yet? Show me that smile again… Don’t waste another minute on your crying… (As a kid, I always legitimately thought Alan Thicke was singing that. It’s really just the guy who sang “Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head” though.)

So I did a horrible job titling this post because Growing Pains isn’t actually even the TV show I’d like to discuss here. I have at least four other things I should be writing right now, but something I read earlier hit me with a sucker punch, and I’ve been mulling over it ever since then. Seemed like I should come here to mull, clear it out, and then get on with my other writing. What I actually want to talk about is Friends (the people and the TV show).

This has been a tough week, and historically speaking, it’s already a week of remembrance. It’s the week we remember what happened at Waco. It’s the week we remember what happened in Oklahoma City. It’s the week we remember Columbine. And now we add the tragedy at the Boston Marathon to that. After a while, it got to be too much and I had to give my brain a rest. (As I write this, reports are coming in of another explosion… in Texas… near Waco.)

One of the stories generating some buzz in the entertainment world had to do with Friends — the sitcom that ran for ten seasons and ended in 2004. Specifically, the news was that there would be a reunion, and possibly even a whole reunion season.

But then those rumors were all quashed. In an article on Entertainment Weekly, Marta Kaufmann, the show’s co-creator, made it clear that none of those rumors were true. And then she said something that really struck me:

“Friends was about that time in your life when your friends are your family and once you have a family, there’s no need anymore.”

Oof.

This really hit me hard for a number of reasons. First of all, it seems to assume that everyone is on the same path and we all reach this milestone around the same time and with the same sense of understanding. As far back as elementary school, I can remember thinking, “I’m never getting married.” Sure, there were times when I thought, “Nah, I will. One day.” But it was more like the way I keep saying that I’m going to do a lot of things one day. Like live in an attic and write the next Great American Novel by candlelight and watch snow fall outside my window while wrapped up in a warm but ugly, tattered quilt. It was a thought I had because I felt like it was the thought I was supposed to have. It’s entirely possible to have a happy and fulfilling life without being married.

And yet. One by one, my friends have been pairing off, getting married, having kids. They have families. “Home lives.”

Does this mean that there’s no need anymore? Does it mean that they’ll just shrug me off because now that they have families, they don’t have time for me or for our friendship? I understand that dynamics change, but hot damn. It seems pretty shit-baggy and cold to even tacitly imply that a friendship was good while you were both single, but “my life has moved on without you.” …Which seems to usually mean, “You may not really understand how it works in Grown-Up Land, but I live there and you still eat cereal for dinner.”

small__5353670311For the most part, I’ve been fortunate thus far. Some degree of space and separation is normal, but I’ve always worked to maintain my closest friendships, to make sure a normal amount of space didn’t turn into “we’re not really friends anymore and it’s awkward when we interact.” I think I’ve done okay. In September, I’m in a wedding for one of my lifelong best friends. We met when we were two. In a few weeks I’m going to visit a friend I’ve had since pre-school. I’m visiting her, her husband, and her 5 month old son. I regularly get together with a friend I’ve had since 3rd grade… along with her husband and two boys. Though I left Virginia five years ago, I keep in touch with and visit my friends there a few times a year. I could go on.

So clearly people do find a way to maintain friendships when the dynamics change. I could be wrong, but the trick seems to be that both sides have to try. One-sided friendships suck. No one likes that. Nothing makes a person feel used faster than being abandoned when something better shows up. But it’s easier to feel happy for someone when you don’t feel like you’re getting left behind in the move.

The point is that my friendships are important to me. I love my family, but I’ve always viewed my best friends as family. An extension. More sisters and even another brother or two. So it hurts when I think that just because my life path isn’t necessarily the one they’re on, and because their experiences are not my own, they might just stop bothering with me. What if we can’t relate to one another?

Recently I was talking to the friend I’ve had since I was two (whose wedding I’m in in September). There were a few years at the end of college and after we graduated during which we barely spoke. The guy she was dating didn’t like me simply because she and I were such close friends. He didn’t like that she’d come visit me for the weekend at college. He didn’t like that we’d hang out when I came home. He didn’t like that she talked to me. In his mind, her friendship with me should have ended as soon as he came along. Didn’t matter that we’d been friends for so long. So he’d send me IMs and tell me that I was part of her old life and I needed to get over the friendship because she didn’t have time for me anymore and I should stop trying to talk to her.

While efforts like that were much more overt, he was a master at passively alienating me, as well.

The message was pretty loud: “There’s no need.” And just like that, my best friend was gone. It hurt for a long time, as I suppose it will when that happens. But things are good now. Turns out, she had no idea all the stuff he was saying to me because he never quite let on the extent of the communication we had. Joke’s on him, though. She’s marrying a MUCH better guy who is awesome, nice to her (and me!), and even regularly interacts with my dogs via Facebook (they’re people too!). I feel like a part of her life again.

My friends and their families are all still pretty young. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry at least a little bit about what will happen down the road. I don’t want to lose my friends — that extension of my family.

The people who choose a different path… what happens to them? What happens when the people you consider an extension of your family grow up and have families of their own? Do they really just eventually not have any time for you anymore if your life doesn’t take the same direction? Sure, it might involve some more effort. It just seems kind of cruel and unfair to say that those friendships are no longer wanted or needed once one of the parties gets married/has a family.

Of course, a lot of this is me getting ahead of myself. Worrying too much, maybe. The point isn’t to alienate my friends, whom I care about a lot.

I’ve probably overthought this by several hundred words (I do that. Especially when I’m very tired, as I am as I write this. I overthink. Overanalyze. Overworry. Overcare. Oversheep. [You’re right. That’s not a real thing.]) I guess, simply put, that it just really upsets me to read that and realize that there are people who give up such great friendships for relationships and marriages and families just because they have no need or want for the friend anymore. They don’t want to balance. They just give up. It seems so selfish to just be like, “Well, that was fun but I’m done now” without considering the other person. It’s always easier to be the one leaving than the one left behind. What about the friend?

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc
photo credit: B.Romain via photopin cc

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