Thank You for Being a Friend

According to my recently unearthed diary (it was not missing or anything, I just do not like to refer to it too often because of the cringe factor), my teen years were full of seemingly perpetual anguish related to various betrayals which I would never recollect but for this traumatizing written record.  I was, at times, surrounded by The Mean Girls—but who wasn’t in their teen years?  But in a period of just three days recently, I interacted with a variety of people who, in various ways, reminded me how incredibly blessed I have been by friendships in this lifetime. 

  • I auditioned for several parts in a show at the local community theater.  I did not get cast for several reasons. 
    • First, for one of the characters, my Russian accent is no longer convincing.  Yes, and I feel slightly stupid even writing this, but I am only identified as vaguely Eastern European to someone with a very good ear.  There were literally women on that stage who sounded authentically foreign-born (and weren’t), while I was doing a desperate impression of Crazy Russian Hacker.  And I am terrible enough with accents that I cannot just summon it.
    • Second, the director decided that the part of a “wanna be lawyer” should be played by a man, because, well, lawyers are men.  Triggering, and certainly nothing I have not heard from every corner over the past three decades, but for reasons passing understanding I always expect more parity from community theater.  What an unlikely source of optimism!  This actually reminds me of a time when I was not cast in another show.  It was a dual part—Eastern European mother in her youth in Act I, and then her daughter, a lawyer, a couple of decades later, in Act II.  The director called me and told me that I was believable as one but not as the other, and for the life of me I cannot remember which one was which.  There is great irony somewhere here, but ultimately, I guess I would prefer to think that I am an implausible lawyer.  Frankly, I usually feel that way anyway…
    • But, my point in all of this is that I ran into two women I know at the audition.  The camaraderie, the emotional support, the cheering each other on and complimenting each other even though we were up for the same couple of parts was absolutely lovely.  I have not known either of these fine humans in my youth, so cannot tell with certainty if we are all improving with age or if I am meeting a better class of people. Perhaps a little bit of both, which is both sensible and hopeful.
  • Not to make it sound like my American youth was misspent in the friendship department, the following day I drove to Hell (a real town; I am not this inventive) for a “Still 50” party of a high school classmate I have never met before.  Well, we met during a series of Zoom calls that were held on the regular during the darkest days of the pandemic, and encompassed a group of pals who all graduated within three years of each and now live all over not just the continental U.S., but as far as Hawaii.  I count myself more than a little lucky to enjoy the company of almost a dozen folks who knew me at my utmost awkward, clueless, and, in my mother’s characterization, gloomy, and who still willingly interact with me going on forty years later. 
  • The following day I had a lunch lasting several hours with a college friend.  We have not seen each other in about a decade, which is a ridiculous and inexplicable gap, but there it is.  The old saying of picking up where you leave off without missing a beat is always true with this friend, and has been for over thirty years.  I often see people question if there can be genuine, non-romantic friendship between men and women, and this long-standing unshakeable bond between an introverted engineer/scientist and a [seemingly] extroverted lawyer/amateur thespian is a testament to the fact that friendship, like love, is a gift that you take where you find it.
  • And finally, there is my childhood BFF.  She is the one whom I met on my first day of school, and who is the closest I have come to having a sister in this world (I have known my actual sister for a fraction of the time, both in quality and quantity—but that is another story for another time).  We have lived world apart for over forty years, and have averaged one in-person meeting per decade during this time.  Right now, she is on a road trip to the Russian Near North.  From each scenic stop, she has been sending me daily videos, narrating the town histories, telling fun local facts, showing scenic views.  They visited Novgorod the Great, Petrozavodsk the capital of Karelia, Murmansk above the Arctic Circle, stopped on the shores of the Barents Sea.  I have felt included in this wonderful adventure.  In return, I send videos of my foster dog.  And beer.  And my office.  And I feel unbelievably fortunate that my first school friend is still my best friend.  She is, and always will be, family.

The wisdom of the years taught me that not all friendships are for always.  Some relationships are for a season, and every season has its ups and downs.  Looking back, there have certainly been some downs.  But, as the song goes, thank you for having been a friend (this is the Russian/Georgian version—not to be confused with the theme to “The Golden Girls”).  The ups have, and continue to, fill this life with meaning, warmth, and laughter. 

Extroverted Introvert or Introverted Extrovert

Introverts seem to have come into vogue lately.  In my youth, the terms ranged from the mild “shy” to less-than-kind “loner”.  In my culture, being solitary in any form was not a value, because after all, we lived in a collective.  In my language, there is no word for “privacy”.  No, there really isn’t!  I tried to find a translation, and the closest English word I could find was “confidentiality”, which is clearly not the same thing. 

My spouse and children laugh at the notion that I am an introvert.  I am appalled at the notion that they think I am anything but.  Have they not met me?  I love all sorts of solitary activities, I have no concerns with seeing movies and eating out and traveling alone, I have a very small circle of friends, and I hate talking on the phone.  I do enjoy social gatherings, but am never disappointed (and often not-so-secretly thrilled) when they are cancelled.  I have to give myself a substantial pep talk when I go to networking events, and have been seized by panic when I show up and do not know anyone.  I am also not great at small talk.  I thought I fit the memes quite well, until I really started to think about this.  I decided that I really need to understand the terms before I start labeling myself.

I am literally all of these things!

As a child, I was regarded as fairly unfriendly, and I accepted that view of me for the longest time.  I lived with a grandmother who so completely lacked in introspection and ability to derive any joy out of her own company and inner gifts that spending time in solitary pursuits was to her not just unattractive, but unnatural. I loved playing with other kids, I had neighborhood friends, I loved adventures, but I also loved reading and drawing.  I remember being allowed to read only to a certain chapter before being made to go outside to play, and pretending to read slower than I actually did in order to prolong the pleasure.  I just cannot imagine stopping anyone from reading, regardless of their personality type—reading is fundamental!  I was labeled unsociable by my family not because I had a shortage of social activities, but because I did not constantly crave them.  Looking back now, I see that I had a pretty healthy balance in my life, but was persistently pushed off balance.  I was relentlessly driven to one side of the continuum.  Resistance was futile!

Hanging out with people one knows and likes and walking cold into a gathering of strangers are completely different experiences.  One does not have to be an extrovert to love the former, and an introvert to hate the latter.  I am often that last person to leave the party—but only if I am having a good time.  Oh, and I am also a huge talker.  Huge!  Privately, I chastise myself a lot for not listening well, and yet still I cannot shut up once I get going.  But, I have also been known to make my excuses and beat a hasty retreat—if I am having a lousy time.  I have participated, reluctantly, in many a stilted and awkward conversation, and was once asked if I had a disability because I was so quiet.  Does that just make me a person who knows what she likes and does not want to waste time on things she does not?  Aha, what a concept! 

 I learned a new term today—yes, literally today. I am an “ambivert”.  According to Merriam-Webster, that is the person who has both extrovert and introvert characteristics.  It is a social adaptation—the person behaves according to the situation.  On the spectrum, I am in the middle.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  Does freedom come too late?  Well, not necessarily.  All of us are works in progress until the end, and self-understanding is never wasted.  Being armed with this new-to-me term, I shall boldly go, both to parties and on my solitary runs.  Allons-y!