What my best friend taught me about adulthood
Imagine it’s 1998. The bell of your beloved high school days has rung for the last time and you are one foot out the door, making your way to your car in the parking lot and whatever future is beyond this Texas town. Here’s what you know: after graduation you’ll go study abroad in Spain for the summer, and when you return, your best friend will be your dorm-mate for the freshman year you’ll spend in a West Texas town called Lubbock. Beyond that, you don’t know a thing. (Even though you think you do.) What happens between then and now is nothing like you expect, not at all the way you planned, and in no way anything you could have ever anticipated or dreamed up. That goes for the good and the bad.
I doubt this example of how it went for me is all that unique. It’s probably a similar set up for the way most of us are thrown into adulthood. One minute, we are on top of the world, raising the roof of our high school gymnasium, whole-heartedly convinced it’s only a matter of time before we become rich and famous — only to be reminded the next minute of our speck-like existence in the vast universe of university life. Which, as it turns out, is a piece of ice-cream cake compared to what it’s like to realize that the dot we are in a college town is nothing compared to the fraction of a dot we are in the real world. It’s because of this that perhaps there is no greater comfort in this life than a friend who knew us “back when.”
Back when our lives got to the here and now. Before we became this — whatever this is.
Seeing one of my oldest and best friends for the first time in fifteen years (with the exception of a brief coffee seven years ago) was a total rush. I was not prepared for the pure joy that would flood in and wash over the two and a half days we spent together in her cozy, cold Dutch town she now calls home. Standing in such a foreign place, nowhere I’d ever been yet in the glorious presence of her familiarity — her thick, flowing russet curls, the hands and arms that used to expertly pepper a volleyball back to me, the sound of her ever-ready giggle — gifted me with a newfound accessibility, not just to our past or shared memories, but to myself. Myself before I became the me I am now.
It’s no secret among those who know us that our friendship, while having suffered staccatos of silence, has also turned out to be an enduring one. The true kind. The kind that no one tells you about on your last day of high school or your first day of college.
When we Skyped the day before I hopped on the train from London to make my way down to the tiny, utopia-like village of Schjindel, Holland, I teared up towards the end of our call. I suddenly became overwhelmed with just how much living had gone on between the two of us, our lives estranged and distant from each other. Here we were now, fast-forwarded through fifteen years of time and space, and by a fluke of geography, finally reunited.
Seeing my best friend reminded me not just of who I am when I’m with her but who I’ve always been. Seeing her the way she is now — no longer a 15-year-old homecoming queen driving a red Mustang with her windows rolled down, but a woman gracefully and bravely navigating a new life on a bicycle in a foreign country with four kids — made me swell with pride to call her my friend. Despite our distance and despite our downs, it turns out she has been with me all along, because so much of who I am today is thanks to her. My best friend, as it turns out, has also been my best teacher. She is a constant I will always call home. And lucky for me, she has multiplied. There are four more little versions of her to love.
Here’s what knowing her has taught me about living, loving, friendship, and forgiveness:
Don’t be afraid to laugh at every single little (or big) thing. When we were in school, we giggled impulsively or nervously over everything — but somewhere along the way to adulthood, I lost the impulse (or trained it out of me). Being with my best friend and finding everything funny again really was easier than being annoyed, mad, or insecure about the stuff that’s out of our control. Laughing is the best way of coping with life, and apparently, my 15-year-old self knew this. Which brings me to my next point.
You’re probably a lot like your younger self, just older. Duh. I know it sounds stupid to say, but I forget that I am who I am and always have been this way. Sometimes I like to think (or hate to think) that I’ve changed in some monumental way, but really — while you can change your behavior, you can’t really change your personality. If this is the case, why not own it? But don’t stop there: like it. Perhaps even enjoy it. (With grace and humility, of course.)
Your past experiences, circumstances, and mistakes don’t have to define you. Unless you let them. Sure, they shape you, build character, and thicken your skin. But you aren’t the sum of your bank account or just the hat you wear at your day job. You’re more. Much much more. Good friends will remind you of this. Great friends won’t care about the mistakes you’ve made or are going to make. Best friends will never judge; they’ll just smother you with enough love to allow you to see past whatever mess you’ve left/made/found yourself in.
There’s no point in losing your temper. For as long as I’ve known her, my best friend has had this knack of taking a sticky, argumentative, or difficult situation and approaching it with matter-of-fact poise and patience and grace that only a saint, princess, or kindergarten teacher can have. (She happens to be all three, in my book.) Over the years, I have witnessed her treat unruly people and children with a collected, cool temper most would admire and envy.
But it’s okay to get really mad, too. Knowing how to draw your boundaries without blowing a gasket is a handy skill that will enhance not only your life, but others’ lives, too.
Respect another’s path as separate from your own. We will fear for our friends and the choices they make out of love because we want what’s best for them. But sometimes, what we think is best for them is just that: what we think. We don’t and can’t actually know what’s best for anybody but ourselves (and that’s difficult enough to decipher). Therefore, all we can be is supportive. And as long as they aren’t putting their own life, or someone else’s at risk, we should probably quiet down our loose-lipped opinions and just respect our friends’ life choices — whether that’s to get married or get divorced or anything in between — and just be loving and supportive.
Don’t give up on people. Not ever. No matter what. Things happen, life happens, and those we love do and act in ways we don’t understand. This is a given. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. When it does, see it as an opportunity for grace. For forgiveness. Don’t ever write anyone out of your life forever. Let it go, let it be, and one day what’s true might return to you.
A native Texan who spends most of her time abroad, Regina Tingle loves raw oysters, dirty martinis, and the color yellow, and is probably a little bit addicted to lip balm. Her favorite pastimes include laughing, eating cheeseburgers, and striking up conversations with strangers and dogs. Regina has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, holds annual writing retreats in Tuscany with wideopenwriting.com and is the co-founder of haydenslist.com. Follow her on Twitter @reginalee, catch glimpses of her journeys on Instagram @reginalt and read more of her on her website reginatingle.com.