Friday, April 07, 2017

F is for friendship

"You're friends with everyone!" said a neighbour. "How do you do it?"

"I'm not friends with everyone. I know most of the neighbours, yes. But that's only because I'm involved in organising all the social events. I'm not friends with everyone." I said, with a little internal sigh. It's the truth.

Friendships are hard.

No wait, friendships are hard in adulthood.

Recently, I read the book What Alice Forgot. Among others things, it made me wonder how cool it would be to have your best friend live across the road. Someone you could meet and hang out with whenever you wanted. Someone you wanted to meet and hang out with. I felt a tinge of envy.

When I was a kid, friendships used to happen so organically. I spent my school years in seven different schools and before setting foot in each new school, I'd always wonder (and worry, sometimes) if I'd find friends. Strangely, I always did. Without having to make any special efforts. In fact, each school I went to even had that one 'single' person waiting for me so we could share a desk and our lunches and our secrets and be 'best friends'. An important concept at that time. Best friends. Friends who met every day, never once getting sick of each other.

It's much harder in adulthood. What happened along the way? I guess things were never so complicated in childhood. You were friends and that was it. Your differences made no difference. If anything, it added that 'zing' to the friendship. Okay fine, Shah Rukh mera, Salman tera. 

Yes, there was drama (lots of it, in fact) -- competition, popularity, overlapping crushes, the works. But it was still somehow, very simple.

When did it get so hard to be friends?

I was still doing okay before Xena came along. I had friends, neighbours and colleagues I could talk to and meet whenever I wanted. Then parenthood -- the giant polarising factor in friendships -- struck, and it was all over. When I was not a mommy, I'd always wonder why my mommy friends were so busy. They had one kid, and all the help in the world. Why couldn't they make themselves available for one dinner? After I became a mommy, I realised how hard it was to meet up for a simple meal, especially with non-mommy friends who would not really get why it can only be that particular date and that particular time and that particular place we can go to.

But then a new world had just opened up for me -- mommy friends. Mommies who understood exactly why and how it was different doing things as a mommy. But then with mommy friends comes the flood of judgement. The very different way of doing things. Parenting philosophies and choices. I was okay in the initial years when Xena was a baby, because if mommy XYZ chose not to breastfeed for whatever reason, though internally I might have raised an eyebrow if the reason didn't meet my standards, it wasn't going to affect my baby in any way. So other mommies could choose to do whatever the hell they wanted to as long as Xena and I were not affected.

But as she got older, it was not just 'different mommies doing things differently'. Tolerance was out the window. Things started to affect Xena directly. Mommy friends started becoming annoying for me, and I started becoming annoying for them. I couldn't hang out, for instance, with mommies who refused to tell their kids off for bad behaviour, or who believed in letting toddlers 'fight it out and solve their own problems'. They couldn't hang out with me, the mommy who was 'too involved in her kid's life for her own good'.

With time, I started drifting further and further away from mommies I used to get along perfectly with, and it was all due to clashing parenting styles. I admit I can get a bit too strict about how I parent Xena, but that's how I want to do things. No weekly movie play dates for the kids, thank you. No daily juice drinks or packaged Milo offered to the kids as 'something healthy', thank you. No biscuits and cookies as daily snacks, thank you. No play dates at home where you just send the helper with the kid, thank you. No TV, thank you. No lipstick for my kid, thank you. Just as I had my quirks about stuff like this, I saw the other side too. Stuff that was ok for me, but not for others. The no-sugar, no-gluten, no-dairy, no-non-organic food mommies. I didn't fit in with them.

There were small things and big things, but they were things that drove a wedge between us. We all do it to one another. It's very hard to find that perfect combination that clicks, making for a smooth friendship.

Parenthood is so, so grey. You make your own rules and you make your own exceptions and then you go and break some rules for your own reasons. No one other than you can really get your rules. I know people who roll their eyes at my insistence on not giving Xena store-bought biscuits and cookies "because they are so sweet and so unhealthy", and yet baking the same stuff at home for her. (I just like to know what's in the food she's eating and I like to control the refined flour and sugar. I also strongly believe that homemade anything is infinitely better than the store-brought version. But I can see how hypocritical I can come across as sometimes.)

It was all so strange -- we were hanging out in the first place because of mommyhood. And yet, it was that very mommyhood that was driving us bats about one another. Here's the thing -- with each of us having such specific ideas, and those ideas directly affecting one another's kids, it's gotten harder and harder to 'just be friends'. With parenthood, it's not easy to 'live and let live'. You can tell yourself a thousand times 'thou shalt not judge' but the reality is that at some point, you will say to yourself, "I'm not letting my kid be exposed to that."

Though I've never regretted that fact that my life has over the last six years pretty much revolved around Xena, at some point, I realised I had reached a point where I craved some adult friendships. Like real, physical friends. Not Facebook friends. Not WhatsApp friends. Not friends who live in another country. Among my closest friends, half are not in this country, and I manage to meet the other half who do live in Singapore only once a month (if our schedules work out, that is). Working from home is awesome, but it makes the problem of the lack of adults in my life even worse. There is no tea break, water cooler gossip, group lunches, which after a point, can get to you.

It was great when the sister-in-law was my neighbour because here was an adult I could get along with, be friends with and because she's single, have no kid-related judgement issues with. We could literally hang out almost every day -- and because she also worked from home -- at any time. But then she got a fabulous job in Bangalore and moved away. And that's when it suddenly hit me that I had lost my only 'colleague'. Now it's just me in a giant office, staring at my computer.

I've tried 'friendship trios' (doesn't work; quickly escalates into something too political to be sustained) and even the occasional mommies' night out. I mean, if the kids are out of the equation, it wouldn't be so bad to maintain friendships, would it? Wrong. During one of those nights out, we swore that we wouldn't talk about our kids at all, and so we only talked about them maybe 97.8% of the time. And so we were very very careful about what we said. Anything you say or do can and will be taken against you. 

The other mommies' night out never happened because just as I was stepping out of the house in my new dress and with make-up on (Hey, I work in my PJs. Stepping out, all dressed up, is a big deal!), one messaged saying she was too tired and the other messaged suggesting we should cancel and the third just never said anything at all.

For someone who thrives on plans and routines and schedules and discipline, even when planning a 'night of fun', it was too much. I realised right there that that was it for me. Trying to 'make friends' like this, was too hard. This felt odd. Where was the friendship? The part of life that is supposed to make you feel light and happy and relaxed and make you want to spend time together?

Is it even possible to have friendships that start off organically anymore? I can't remember the last time I felt "I think you're cool and I'd like to hang out with you more" about someone instead of "Gosh I have a kid too so we should totally become friends so we can take a moment to sip chai and make careful small talk, while the little buggers play with each other without driving us crazy".

I'm going to have to stop doing that now. Xena will not be my wingman wing-girl for finding friendships anymore. No more mommy-friendships, or rather, 'friends just because we are mommies'. I have realised I have neither the youth nor the patience to go through any more forced friendships. If it has to happen, it will.

If not, oh well. 


shub said...

Sigh. I relate to this a little too much. Especially now that I'm in Hyd with pretty much zero friends 😭

Anonymous said...

I've wondered about this a lot too - not the mommy aspects, of course, but just generally how all of us just find it harder and harder to find people we relate to, whose differences we can accept without question (would we be friends with any of our childhood pals now?), and who can overcome the general introvertedness we all seem to develop after a certain age. I guess that's why people make families? I know they don't replace friends, but they do seem to take up a large chunk of time that would otherwise be reserved for friends. The question then is, what are the singles supposed to do?!

SK said...

Was able to relate to everything you say!
Although one difference is I do let my dotter get exposed to some things just so she knows. I tell her that is not good. Not sure if she gets it, hope she will some day.
It is tough to make friends as you age and I also long for the childhood friendships inspite of all the dynamics, I sometimes am jealous of my dotter, the many friends she has.
Anyway I thought it was just me, good to know i am not alone! ;--)

Anonymous said...

I'm in the same boat. All my close friends are school/college friends and do not live near me. One guy who was at work left and moved. It's hard. Whatsapp facebook etc are better than nothing but not the same thing. I guess it's not just having kids but also adulthood in general for me.

Btw the verification thing on this is getting really annoying! Asks me repeatedly to pick squares and times out after two minutes.

Charan Deep Singh said...

Heavy duty post sayesha. I think we trust people as kids. Doubts take over as we age and hence friendships become difficult to forge or even maintain.

Charan Deep Singh said...

I wrote about a small incident with a large lesson today

Have a look. I am struggling with ideas. Make suggestions for next letters please.

Arun said...

No stage of life is the same as the previous stages. You will arrive at a new stage of life in which friendships are yet again different. Just don't "dry up" in the arid periods.

Arun said...

In the spirit of the E.T. post, your friends will have to come in a spaceship :) :) :)

How do we know said...

i have discovered that other mommies are awesome ppl too.. and with someone like u, friendships will happen as they always have - automatically

Lalita Mahanti said...

I could not relate more. I fight everyday with my seven year old baby bunny to say sugar is not good, TV not good, free play good, iPad not good - can't say for your friends, but here are the house rules. Parenting is a BIG, BIG polarizer, if ever. But I have figured I would rather be by myself than explain choices. This post. What catharsis. Much peace.

Sayesha said...

*pat pat pat*

//would we be friends with any of our childhood pals now?
Food for thought, that!

Yes, indeed. When I look at all her friendships, I mentally say, "Enjoy, beta, these are the days!" :)

Yeah, even I'm beginning to think that this might be more of an adulthood thing than a parenthood thing.

Couldn't agree more. There is no 'agenda' when we are kids.

Hope so! :)

How do we know,
Not much luck so far.... let's see. :)

True. Even I explain the inconsistencies to her with a 'Different homes, different rules'. At least she's ok with that. :)