What is Normal? Pt. 2: Friends & Family
When it comes to friendships, let’s be honest, I’m just bad at it. Making friends, nurturing friendships, and staying in touch with them – there is not one part of being a friend that I have ever been good at. It always felt like there was pressure to make friends in the first week of school, so I’d have people to invite to my birthday at the end of September. What kid wants to spend their birthday alone?
Of course, I still ended up having some lonely little family birthdays that we all pretended were fine. I love my family, but there’s an ideal to have a themed party with a cake and party favors and a piñata, right? I remember getting that for my 5th birthday right before we left Cheyenne the first time, and after that, it was year after year of weird and awkward parties with semi-strangers who wouldn’t play with me by the end of the year.
Getting a Taste of Fitting In
That’s why I truly settled in when we moved to Cheyenne the second time. I was a sophomore in high school, and there, the freshmen were kept at the middle school. To me, that meant a chance to do all of high school with the same group of people. It was a fresh start after a horrible freshman year.
I was happy to have a friend or two that I’d met on base over the summer, and they helped to integrate me into their existing clique. While I was one of two people sitting with the swim team who didn’t swim (like at all!), I had found friendly people who ate real food, laughed from their bellies, and loved each other. They welcomed me, and it felt comfortable for once.
This was something that I found again in college. I found a group that was supportive and friendly and felt like a family away from home. My roommate was a God-send. We didn’t try to force being friends, but she was still like a sister. It just worked out. And while I had a whole group of people I loved being with, it was different to have a best friend.
Reframing My Idea of Normal Friendships
When I imagined my shiny new civilian life, out of the military and after college, it seemed imperative to have a whole lot of best friends just like those times. Maybe one friend who was more like family, but I thought normal was having a big group that could all hang out together and laugh and play games and eat.
I have been depressed a lot post-college, and I’ve centered a lot of energy on, “Why can’t I make friends?” The funny thing is that I’ve never been without friends. It’s just that I idealized this situation of having a group, as I’ve mentioned. That seemed normal to me, but that wasn’t my normal.
My normal is having a best friend from 7th grade who happens to live down the street, who I am terrible at keeping up with, but I love her. I have friends in LA that I talk to weekly online, and co-workers with whom I like to strike up random chats. Somehow, I managed to make a really great friend who lives a little further away, but whose life and mine just fit together nicely.
My husband and I have neighbors that we love (we really hit the jackpot with our neighborhood), and we can walk down the street to find a friendly conversation and a beer. Our daughter has friends, too, and that has helped us make friends with other parents. It’s funny how it works.
My normal is not what I expected it to be, but I had to open my eyes and see that I have friends. I idealized this group of high school friends that all hung out together and had sleepovers and talked on the phone at night. That’s not normal, though. Maybe it is for a kid, but as an adult, friends are neighbors, co-workers, and people we meet at the pottery painting place.
Don’t discount the people in your life. Just try to establish yourself as a better friend to these people. Let them into your life, and you will find yourself with great friendships.
When it comes to family, I have always thought that “normal” was staying in the same town you grew up in with your parents and your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, and having dozens of cousins going to school with you. It seemed normal for your mom’s parents and your dad’s parents to know each other. I thought people had these big family Christmases like the Griswolds (talk about a standard for a normal family Christmas).
I knew the odds of having my family all in one place were really slim, but I did think there was a chance that my parents would retire close to me, and my sister would settle down in the same town. The image of the whole clan around the tree with our respective in-laws, my kids, and my sister’s dogs was another idealization.
Now, just as a bit more of my own history, most of my family is Air Force. My mom’s dad served, my aunt’s husband served, my other uncle served, my other aunt is still in, my dad served, and then my sister married a pilot. It’s a lot of Air Force in one family. So, I already knew that there was no chance of us all ever landing in the same town.
For a minute, my sister was in college while my husband was in grad school, so we were living close. That was really nice. Then she picked up and went to England for grad school, we moved to Nashville, and the illusion was shattered.
Normal for My Family is Not Perfect
For us, the norm for our family is Face Time and Skype every week or so or calls when something won’t fit in a text. Mostly, it’s a group text chain that has been ongoing for years. It’s meeting up for weddings and funerals and trying to make the most out of our time together with extended family. There’s definitely a lot of guilt at our lack of communication, but it’s a work in progress.
My in-laws moved to Tennessee but chose a town closer to the Smoky Mountains. We see them a little more frequently than we see my parents, and that makes me jealous and sad, sometimes. I wish my parents lived closer. But I also know that we’re all adults and they needed to find their own normal post-military life.
As I said, my sister married back into military life. She lives across the country, and I don’t know where she’ll be in a year or the year after that. We pray for her husband’s safety and for her sanity. I can’t fathom the stress she feels, especially if she has to deal with the hang-ups I do over normalcy.
This blog is how my sister and I are trying to stay close. We want to understand each other better, and we want to find healing from the things that hurt us growing up. My childhood and hers weren’t the same, even though we grew up in the same family. And, likewise, our ideals for normal don’t match up, nor do our versions of normal now. And that is normal. Weird, isn’t it?