I love to think about how relationships are formed and how they develop. Every time we enter into a new relationship I wonder if maybe we change a little bit, to adapt to the similarities and differences between us. How many of those changes do we take on as part of the new you? What kinds of relationships do we have over the course of our lives? How are the relationships we make as young adults (probably the first long-last relationships we form on our own) different than those we make as adults? As I look back over my life, there are quite a few people that stand out as life-changers for me:
Certainly my best friend in high school, Martine, who is still one of my very closest friends, had a profound impact on me. Without Martine I never would have discovered big words like “redundant” or even seen the value in being well educated, well spoken and well read. Martine introduced me to my academic side (though I don’t know if she knows this). I was always a mediocre student at school, at best, and I didn’t really care that much about it, to be honest. Becoming friends with Martine and cementing our friendship in our senior year study hall, really opened my eyes to a different way of looking at school – not just a place to hang out with friends, but a place to learn (imagine that). And, now, as I contemplate getting my PhD, I definitely have the influence of Martine to thank for starting me down this road.
I can think of so many more people that influenced me in high school. So many people that helped me become the person I was when I went to university, most of whom I haven’t seen or spoken to since high school. Susan, who is still one of my closest friends, taught me about taking risks, and was the first person to introduce me to the idea of living abroad (who knew it would have such an impact on the rest of my life!); Kelly taught me about music, about being an individual, and finding ways to define yourself; Alicia taught me about popularity, how to get along with people you don’t like, how to be “cool”; Dave taught me about nature (in an odd sort of way for those of you that know Dave), about testing boundaries, and being more adventurous; Larry taught me about being friendly, how to just be nice and open to people that might not initially seem to be the type that you like; Colin taught me about following your dreams, and doing what you love even if no one understands why; Jeremy and Jimmy taught me that not all jocks are assholes, they have feelings and ideas just like the rest of us.
Moving along in time, we get to Alex, my husband, and my true best friend. There are so many ways that Alex has influenced me that I don’t even know where to begin. I feel like Alex and I have a world unto ourselves. We’ve been together for 12 years now (married for 2 and a half of those years). We started dating in my freshman year of university, we studied abroad at the same time, and moved to Munich together after I graduated. We have shared some of the most formative years of our lives. In that sense, Alex has continued me on my journey to become more intellectual. His influence makes me do strange things like wonder about word origin, make lame jokes about the meaning of words, and figure out on my own that salaam, shalom, and selemat are all the same root word. On the negative side, Alex and I are much too lazy. I have inclinations on my own to be a lump on the couch, but the fact that Alex is equally happy to lounge around means that neither one of us really forces the other out of the house. Case and point: we can spend an entire weekend day each on our own computers, not talking, in different rooms (which is pretty much guaranteed to be what happens today).
In addition to Alex, I met my best best friends in university. Lisa taught me about working hard to achieve your goals and furthered my appreciation for the acadmic (being the person who is inspiring me to get a PhD in the first place), being goal driven and focused, being fun, funny and silly, and about being yourself in such a way that others can appreciate you without you having to change for them; Clarisse taught me about being unique and having fun watching what people think of you; Heather taught me about thinking about the world and thinking about myself and others, how to be introspective, and how to be more emotional (in a good way); Judy taught me about being true to yourself and doing what you believe is right, even if it’s different from other people think. Annaliese taught me even more about music, and finding things that represent you, and showing your true self to the world.
Now, as an adult I have so many different relationships that teach me something new every day. Back in Munich I learned about being assertive and professional from Sabine; about being fun-loving and remaining a “child at heart” from Neil; about being respected, respectful and true to yourself from Laura; about being classy and having a sense of etiquette from Christa (I still have to work on this one); about taking the time to make a difference from Tanje, Jose, Arun, and all the other Amnesty members; about commitment and finding your place in life from Bruce, Heidi, Ann and Jackie; about keeping your eyes open to the world from Trish and Martin; about remembering your home and appreciating your family from Mithra and Frank, about challenging authority from Jinna, and about being a decision maker from Eif.
Here in Malaysia I’m already learning how to play political games at work from pretty much everybody; how to see things objectively from Patty; how to adapt, cope, learn on your own, and be self-reliant from David, how to be nice (I really need a lot of help here) and thoughtful from Darby; how to be yourself at work from Mairin and Jabiz; how to “keep your head down” and how to adapt to your surroundings from Norayr; how to be social from Tammy; and how to respect yourself and take the high road from Nancy.
As I look back on these friendships, I realize that each of them has built upon the one before. Each relationship has been an opportunity for me to learn about myself and to further define myself into the person I am today. But what about all those people I’m no longer friends with? Those people that I may have spent an important period of my life with, but for one reason or another, have gone our separate ways?
Kelly and I were best friends through most of high school. I would say she and I really shaped each other into the type of people that we are. But, even though we went to university together (even shared a room our freshman year), we “broke up.” I haven’t seen her in at least 8 years and don’t anticipate seeing her anytime soon. Yet, every time I listen to Beck, P.J. Harvey, R.E.M, Nine Inch Nails, Blur, and all other bands we discovered together, I think of Kelly. I think the music we love defines us (to an extent) and for a long time we defined ourselves in the same way. I wonder what kind of music Kelly listens to now?
In college I was friends with a lot of activists (or rather, I should say, a lot of people that thought it was cool to be an activist). I think because of that, I became even more firm in my own beliefs and more determined to set myself apart from them. I saw a lot of them as being activists just so they can be different. They weren’t interested in other people unless they were different in the same way that they were (does that make sense?) So, many of them only really got to know me when I shaved my head. All of a sudden they all wanted to be my best friend because I was the bald girl on campus, then the girl with the hot pink hair, then the girl with the nose ring (which I had actually had for several years already), etc, etc. From that experience I really learned that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. People may give the appearance of being one thing, but it can so easily be a facade. And, I can use that to my own advantage. I can show the world one person, but truly be someone else on the inside. That was a really powerful thought at the time.
During my semester abroad, I met a lot of people that were obsessed with being Italian. It used to be that I just was Italian-American, but during those months, oh how I wanted to be Italian-Italian. In the end, I got my wish, standing at the train station in one of the Cinque Terre towns (I wish I could remember which), waiting for the next train to come through, an Italian man came up to ask me when the train was due (in Italian, obviously). I said I didn’t know, but should be soon. We had a short conversation about something and he said a word I didn’t know. I apologized and explained that I didn’t understand that word, could be please explain it. He was shocked, how could I not know this word? It’s a common enough word? I was shocked, because I’m American, of course, Italian is not my first language. And then I realized, I had fooled him – he thought I was Italian-Italian. That was such a great moment for me. Feeling like I had acheived my goal, which was never really my goal in the first place.
All of these experiences have made me who I am today and I don’t regret any of them. Even looking back on those relationship which have ended, I realize that I have learned something from everyone, each piece fitting together to make the puzzle that is me.