Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. Here’s this week’s on friendship and mutual understanding. Let’s be intentional here.
Erika and Johanna were my saviours in high school. We ate lunch together. We talked between classes. We smiled at each other and had each other’s backs. But we were not bosom buddies. We were really only Friends of Convenience.
School can be an intimidating social maze. Cliques abound, insecurity is paramount, and if you’re on your own you’re a target. Every student quickly learns that you must establish yourself in a group if you want to get through those years relatively unscathed. And so I found my group, and we clung to each other out of necessity. But as soon as school was over, I left and never looked back, as did they.
This doesn’t mean I didn’t like them, or that they didn’t like me. We found each other friendly, interesting, and kind. It’s just that we didn’t share passions or interests. We weren’t kindred spirits.
At different stages of our lives we need these Friends of Convenience. Maybe you meet them in high school, or the workplace cafeteria, or the neighbourhood playgroup. Friends of Convenience make life easier and more bearable during difficult stages. You make do with what you have, and you find joy and laughter in a group of people that you may not have paid attention to otherwise.
My husband didn’t have many Friends of Convenience in high school. He had true friends, and even today keeps in contact with many of his high school buddies. I, on the other hand, would likely not recognize my old friends if I passed them on the street. I saw high school as something to get through so that my real life could begin; he saw high school as something to savour.
In a way I envy my husband his good memories of high school days, yet I think my experience is probably closer to the norm. Schools throw together kids based solely on their neighbourhood and their year of birth. We don’t stick kids together by personalities or interests or passions; we stick them together based on arbitrary things. No wonder schools become so stressful! In school, one establishes one’s identity among a sea of very similar kids by putting others down. And so schools adopt pecking orders. That’s scary for a child, and even worse for a teen when hormones are raging and when one is trying to figure out one’s identity and one’s future plans.
As many students stand now on the cusp of graduation, what I would say, after looking back over my years, is not to bemoan yourself if you feel as if you only had Friends of Convenience, and never really had people who understood and loved you. You’ve done the best you can with a challenging situation, and that’s a trait that will serve you well in the future.
As that future opens up, you’ll be able to hang out with people who live in different neighbourhoods, and who were born in different years. You’ll find people that you can talk to, who respect you, and who aren’t trying to pull you down. The future will likely be much brighter than the past.
So if, at graduation, you look around at the sea of faces and despondently wonder if you will ever talk to any of them again, don’t beat yourself up. You have lived through a past you didn’t choose; you now have the opportunity to live a future you will choose. Choose well, and that future will give you many friends of far more than just convenience.