My daughter is twelve, and it's been a hard year for her navigating the shark infested waters of friendship. I want to tell her that it will get easier, that when she gets older, she will be able to tell a "true blue" from a "roller coaster" friend on sight. (She made up those categories when she was six.) But the truth is, it's been a hard year for me too. I don't want to tell her that friend break ups, or more accurately, rejections, are even more painful than lost loves sometimes. I don't want to tell her that no matter how old you get, when someone you think of as a friend doesn't think of you that way, it will feel like you've been sucker punched in front of the entire school.
So I've been trying hard to find a way to quantify and categorize the experience in a way that might make the pain manageable. Here is what I have come up with:
People, potential friends, fall into two general categories: Cat people and Dog people (I am not talking about pet preference). Cat people want every relationship on their terms. They warm up slowly if at all, and generally remain detached unless something strikes their particular fancy. Dog people are the opposite, they approach every potential friend with open heart and open hand. They are enthusiastic about sharing their lives, perhaps to a fault. These two types of people rarely mix well. Dog people jump all over Cat people with their tails waging, and Cat people retreat horrified to hide under a bed. (That's what happened to me anyway.) Or a cat person will carefully select a dog person to rub up on, and after a good romp, the dog person will bound away in search of their next playmate (that's what happened to my girl).
When it comes to friendships, I'm a dog person. I bring my friends food, send them text messages to go outside and look at the harvest moon, and invite them to join me for coffee and other events. I love my friends with a passion that is blind to their flaws and champions their efforts. My "true blues" love these qualities in me. The "roller coasters" however find me invasive and annoying, as I was reminded in no uncertain terms recently. It made my ears go back and set my tail between my legs for days.
My daughter is a Cat person. She is careful and reserved. I won't speak to her experience, but I can imagine that a friend rejection is even harder for her because when she gets smacked down and feels humiliated, she will go into hiding for what would be an interminable amount of time for me. I don't have the attention span for disappointment. At the end of the day, someone else will walk in the room and I will forget all about the pain of the last rejection no matter how hard I try to hold on to it so I can be more like a Cat person. Because I am a Dog person, I can't help but slobber all over and hope that the next one is a "true blue." She on the other hand will just assume that true blues are extinct or imaginary like unicorns.
Not much help. I have one more bit to offer her, though. The best way to get out from under the bed, the only way to get your tail up is to use the experience in your writing, in your art, play through it in your music. It's a little like bloodletting. Use every chance you can to drain the experience and the pain. Remind yourself that all experience is valuable. More importantly though, let it drain out and away. Look in the mirror or call a "true blue," tell yourself or let them tell you that the loss is not yours. The person who rejected your friendship is the one who missed out. Too bad and good riddance. Better to have found out sooner than later that you were unwanted. "Roller Coasters" are so tiresome and not worth the cost of the ride in the end. But life is such that you may have to ride a lot of "roller coasters" to find the "true blues." In the meantime don't ever doubt they are out there, and every bit as magical as unicorns.