My mom frequently tells me that when it comes to friends, it’s important who I surround myself with. On the surface, this seems pretty self-explanatory: obviously, I wouldn’t want to hang out with people who are bad influences, and who drag me in directions that will be detrimental to my life. But when she says it, I know she also means it more than just in a superficial way.
It’s important to have people in your life who will inspire you and influence you, and who will allow you to grow and be a better person. I’m not saying they all have to be shining examples of humanity and volunteer at rescue centers and be married at 30 with two kids and have strong financial jobs. But in general, you want to surround yourself with GOOD people, and people who are going to help you be your best self and live a successful, productive life. (My boyfriend, I love him, but he’s a prime example of this. He’s driven and educated but his friends…not so much, which is worrisome sometimes.)
I’m an odd bird. I had a good group of high school friends, but aside from two or three people who I practically grew up with and remained super close to, I lost most of those relationships through the years. (The fact that I didn’t end up coming back to Boston after school probably didn’t help.) My roommate in college was my best friend, which was both good and bad, because we basically hung out together all the time. We had a small group of friends who always hung out with us, and I was in a sorority, and some of the girls were nice. But I came out of college with pretty much one lasting friendship. (I was okay with that, because my college roommate, who will always be “roomie,” is GREAT.) Grad school was where I truly found the close-knit group of friends I probably should’ve had in college, but hey, I’m not complaining, because those friendships are so valuable.
Most of my closest friends — the ones I talk to daily, the ones who I cry about life with, the ones who have seen me through good and bad, the ones who I’ve taken vacations with, the ones whose family events I’ve been invited to, the ones who will be in my eventual wedding party — are from the Internet/fandom. A majority of them I’ve known for over 10 years thanks to Rent (the message boards and the Broadway show). A lot I met over LiveJournal, when LiveJournal was still a thing, before Twitter and Tumblr existed. A few I met through other Broadway shows, like the short-lived Pirate Queen in 2007. A lot were also mutual — friends I met through social media who had other mutual friends, who I bonded with for various reasons. And then through Tumblr and fandom, I got close to certain people that became huge parts of my life (and even became roommates and weekly Friday night dinnermates.) I classified these people over the years as “New York friends” just because it was easier than explaining the way I knew so many centrally located people (who didn’t know each other) when I didn’t even go to college here. But after awhile, that dropped off, because they were just FRIENDS.
I guess the point of that whole digression is to say that I’ve always surrounded myself with good people. Some of them aren’t exactly in the same places in life as I am, but they’re all loyal, kind and passionate. And sometimes people come into your life at the right time and inspire you in different ways, and that’s why I’m so thankful for Shelly.
We met through the usual Internet things: fandom, Tumblr, fic writing. We started talking over our blogs, and then eventually over text messages, and hit it off kind of immediately. We both participated in NaNoWriMo, and she became my right hand (wo)man and writing buddy — even though I didn’t finish my story, the fact that she was always there to push me to write every single night (seriously, I don’t think there was a day in November that we didn’t talk to each other, even it was just updating each other on progress), and there to listen to me whine and offer word sprints, made such a difference. And while our conversations outside of NaNo started out as mostly fandom flail, we soon progressed to talking about very Real Life things, like relationships and mental health and work. It turns out we’re similar in a lot of ways, and she understood some things in my life that other friends, for certain reasons, just couldn’t understand.
This long entry has a point, I swear.
During one of our many conversations, she basically told me, “by the way, if you ever need to get the eff out of New York, you can.” My month has been on and off terrible with stress and anxiety, and the holiday season, as much as I love it, can really be an overwhelming black hole. After muddling through one particularly terrible weekend where I was at the end of my rope, I asked if I could take her up on her offer, and she graciously said yes.
And so this weekend, I traveled to my home state not to go home, but to hang out with a friend who has been a really wonderful to me lately. We sat around and drank hot chocolate with Baileys, and we colored and talked about fic and made cookies and had take-out Chinese and watched movies. I got a lot of doggie kisses and cuddles, and we talked about Real Life things and it wasn’t a distraction from life as much as it was a well-needed break that helped me get my mind back on track and reminded me of how good it can be to have someone to talk to that you trust.
I’m in a place right now where, after years of not being sure about what I want, I know what I want. Unfortunately, I’m still not close to being there, and unfortunately, I still feel more lost than I want to admit. Some of that is my own fault; I’ve fallen into bad habits that come with handling anxiety and running from the problems I know I need to deal with: distancing myself socially, spending too much time online rather than doing other productive things (like reading, writing, getting outside or even just doing things that AREN’T related to Tumblr), spending too much time regretting the past rather than trying to embrace my life as it is now and move forward. It’s very hard to pull yourself out of these ruts without help, and even though some of closest friends understand this, sometimes they’re just too caught up in their own issues to give a clear perspective. And sometimes, they’re just not in the same place in life to understand. I can talk to Shelly about things like freaking out about organization and what pens to buy, I can ask advice about married life (and how to deal with men in general), I can commiserate about my Jewish mother. I can complain about anxiety and real life stress and she’ll get it, and she’ll offer words of encouragement and not judge me (or tell me to shut up.) She lets me text her about stupid complaints, like I want soup for lunch but I’m too lazy to go downstairs and get it, or I don’t want to leave the house because it’s too cold. She lets me send her really terrible selfies. Having someone in your life who inspires you to put your best foot forward is so important, and it sounds cheesy to say that a friend can make you a better person, but I’ve always believed that. And I’ve never understood my mom’s words of advice more than I have in the past few months by becoming her friend.
And I guess that’s the point, too. Whether it’s something like NaNo or just real life, no one does it alone.