I never test the water. I never inch into the pool. I never take a small sip of friendship just to see.
I dive in.
Some of this is because I grew up moving every two years and I had to make friends fast (because I need people so badly). Sink or swim. Some of this might be just because of who I am.
I kept thinking, when I was growing up, that adulthood would be different. Somehow that magically I would be able to do it. That I would stay in one spot (I have) and build friendships (I have) and they would last. And then they don't and there's no cross-country move to blame. It had to be me.
For a long time I thought it was me. Like, for a forever long time. I don't know how to be friends longterm, I would tell myself. Then I would work on that. I don't like change so when things shift in a friendship I can't handle it. That was next, and then I worked on that. I dump my purse on the table too quickly and let people sift through it and it makes them uncomfortable. So then I worked on that.
I did a lot of head work, in fact. A lot.
I even took this class on communication ran by a friend of mine who works as a social worker/counselor type person. And as I sat in there soaking up how to say what I mean and do it right and shared stories with other women who were, frankly, a lot worse off than I was in the whole relationship situation, I thought about some of my newer friendships and how really good they were because I was doing them right and the other people involved were doing them right and we were well-matched and it was so good.
"I wish," I said at one point, "I wish I could go back and start some of my friendships over."
"You can," she encouraged me.
So I did. And what I learned was that she was right--you can certainly start over, but she was also wrong--and if you do, sometimes it doesn't work out.
I don't understand what I keep doing wrong, I texted my friend Maggie last week. I am totally bewildered by adult relationships.
You keep picking the wrong adults, she wrote back. And I cried as I read it because it was heartbreakingly true. I kept picking the wrong friends. Not that they were bad people. Not at all. In fact so many of them were very good people. And so I was left thinking, again, that I was not good people. That all my self-doubt was actually true. I am extra. I am too much.
But in the end, it was mostly that we weren't well-suited for each other. We were friends because we lived down the street from each other. Because our kids went to the same school. Because we were both stay-at-home moms or, later, we worked across the hall from each other. And those sorts of friendships are good, they are, but they don't sustain themselves once the circumstances change. They wind up on life support until it all blows up in our faces.
Or at least in mine.
They always seem relieved.
And I panic and cry and blame myself because of course it is all my fault and I hibernate, scared and alone and afraid of what else will I damage along the way? I tell myself I won't do it, I won't make friends, I will just say, "oh it's fine, isn't the weather nice I love those earrings how's your summer going, that's so nice, not much, how are you" to all the people and live in what seems to be the adult world of isolated islands of lying to each other until we are dead.
But then I can't. I can't do it, not and try to negotiate all the shit I have to handle, all the roles I have to play, I have to have something honest and real somewhere in my life, some island I can go to and just sit on the beach and not care who sees my tattoos, not care about my crooked teeth and my lack of mental filter and my deep hunger for connection.
So I will keep sailing, my bowlines tied tight. I will cast my nets and I will find my way to your island.
I will not be careful with my heart.
Because preservation is something you do to things that are dead.