When we are younger, the pressure to connect with anyone who looks our way can be an overwhelming urge, and now that I spend a good amount of time with toddlers, thanks to an expanding family, it’s fascinating to notice how eye contact and complete attention is truly appreciated.
As a young girl who left the States at the age of eight, and was tossed into the unfamiliar and challenging grind of Lagos, Nigeria, the sudden change in location that introduced me to counterparts that weren’t at all impressed with my American accent, proved to be anything but seamless.
And it only got worse at boarding school, where I was forced to share bunk beds in a large dorm room with girls that ranged in ages eleven to sixteen. Despite my very best intentions, I wasn’t able to form tangible bonds with the mates that had already concluded that my unadaptable mannerisms will always be the dealbreaker.
It wasn’t that I was lonely or ostracized, far from it, but all through those years of development from an impressionably sensitive teenager who wanted to be liked — to the older seventeen-year-old who still wanted to be liked — it became clear that human relations is a lot more complex than we would like to admit.
It definitely doesn’t get easier when you’re released to the world as a young adult, but there’s the extra boost of being flexible enough to accommodate a host of characters without hesitation.
I certainly didn’t amass a cluster of close girlfriends from boarding school, mostly because a lot of them remained in Nigeria to pursue college or made the permanent move to England. The childhood friends that have stayed faithful, each played a vital role during the phases of my young life, and the friendships were organically convenient without requirements or lofty expectations.
Also, there’s a sweet nostalgic vibe that keeps you forever tied to the ones that fell for you when life seemed simplistically tolerable. And those tendencies only get more tender and valuable with the escaping years; as the memories remain vividly intact.
The friendships from young adulthood are grown from the resourcefulness of stabilization, as you establish relations with housemates and fellow students in college, who share the same interests in theater and creative writing.
Location has always been the key factor when it comes to the adjustment as a Nigerian-American, who had to re-define her status based on the uniqueness of being Black, but viewed in a different way.
It was all because of that troublesome accent, and the name that encouraged further probe into the “awesome” background that I never considered to be cool enough for praises.
My college years in Kansas City, MO, was an in depth masterclass, that taught me how Black and White students basically kept normalized segregation — activated. The personality that enveloped my psyche, armed me with the ability to get along quite well with anybody who didn’t pose a threat.
Interestingly enough, the White girls from Missouri were a lot more eager to get to know me, while their East Coast counterparts probably viewed me as a threat based on my “unconventional appearance” and preferred to be casual acquaintances.
When you move to New York City as an ambitious young twenty-something with the college degree and hustle mentality that is supposed to make the concrete jungle deliver softer padding — friendships become a means to an end.
The roomie that I shared a two-bedroom apartment with in Astoria, was a White girl who was the same age, and the three years together started off decent, but ended badly. She was temperamental, and the symptoms interfered with my ability to showcase my healthy appetite, at the risk of evoking the guilt and envy she felt for not being able to consume at will and still maintain a size zero.
By the time we went our separate ways, I was juggling a boyfriend and a new girlfriend who seemed to be the perfect fit. We had both turned twenty-five around the same time, which meant we were Tauruses, and that translated to the fact that we had very similar indulgences.
During that period, in the late nineties, when it became clear that my journalistic pursuits weren’t going to be an easy feat due to the lack of click-worthy links, that grab the attention of roving editors, there was the stint at the high-end boutique in the all-White enclave of the Upper East Side.
My girlie and I were the only Black girls working as sales associates, aside from the other Black woman who seemed much older, even though she was only in her early-to-mid-thirties.
The climate at the “Ralph Lauren-esque” haven, presented an interesting dynamic. I was able to observe the settlement of rich White folks, basking in their privilege as shoppers with all the money to spare for $300 quilted vests with crabs splattered all over it, and as enthusiastic sales reps, who used the money earned as allowances for brunch at the Atlantic Grill — next door.
It was the side of New York that exposed the weaponry of old money, and how White people can blissfully exist in a divided country — that kills Black people and terrorizes Black children, and still believe that America is Great Again.
My West-Indian born and Brooklyn-raised gal pal hated the White girls we worked with, and her attitude matched the birthmark, of the “angry Black woman.” And because of our friendship and shared ethnicity, I was tasked with interpreting her bouts of “anger” whenever she became accusatory.
Truth be told, at the time, my youth and inexperience left me unaware of what she was so hung up about, and this led to disagreements whenever I tried to coax her into being more agreeable for the sake of the fragile White girls in our midst.
But looking back with the accumulated knowledge that I have cropped from the years since being the salesgirl at the preppy joint next to the million-dollar townhouse, it’s quite possible that she wasn’t unreasonable in her assessment of the passive-aggressive White girls with trust funds. They instinctively provoked the targeted Black girl with civilized candor — and then backed away with victimized defeat when she retaliated.
I wasn’t opposed to fostering surfacy friendships, but there was a silent and glaring understanding that these girls were only interested in classmates from prep school, the burgeoning connections from the New York Junior League and housemates from summer shares in the Hamptons.
By the time I left New York for the year-long sabbatical in Los Angles, I was almost thirty, and yearning for the friendships that matched my earnest desire to progressively thrive. My best friend in New York wasn’t quite there yet, but the new connection I made while temping at a talent agency in Santa Monica was the breath of fresh air that I needed at that point in my life.
She was a bit older, but had the youthful zeal and burst of energy that synched our creative valves, and soon we were exploring the outlets that could birth the projects we dreamed up as blossoming partners.
Our ongoing friendship survived my move back to New York, but the friendship I thought could be restored after the reunion, ended up flatlining. It’s hard when growth is a one-way process that highlights the stagnancy of your once-trusted side-kick. We just couldn’t make it work, and her increasing resentment became a burden that I gladly relinquished — even though she recently expressed her inability to “let go” in a manner that was unnervingly off-putting.
Her offensive Facebook message that shocked me to the core and forced me to finally move from “deactivation” to “deletion,” represented the end of an era, and the beginning of the acceptance that friendships aren’t meant to last — and why that’s not necessarily a score against you.
I mean you get to that place in life when you need to know: what’s in a friendship?
For me, it’s about having no regrets about the time invested in the ones that are no longer in your circle, and being extremely grateful for the batch that have weathered the ups and downs, and still remain dutifully committed to your overall wellbeing.
Some of the losses hurt more than others, but getting older helps to put it all in perspective; as you refrain from the habitual pull to hold on to someone who isn’t that into you.
The recent unexpected withdrawal by one of the dependable and loyal staples was a tough separation, and it’s even more daunting with the presence of social media, and how cutting ties isn’t complete until you “unfollow,” accordingly.
There’s nothing weirder, than reading tweets from a departing friend, that contains evidence that you’re the subject of her rant, and while the words sting, you prefer to ignore rather than engage in the nonsensical game with the mission of attacking each other without actually attacking the issues.
We haven’t unfollowed each other, but I have the benefit of the “mute” button for this period of uncertainty, that should soon lead to the final break.
The biggest lesson has to be the freedom from the earlier pressures of wanting to connect with anyone who seemed like a worthy contender. And even after establishing lengthy relations, there’s no longer the dire need to foster the cracks at the expense of personal preference.
I’m able to readily release contacts who want out or walk away when I’m ready to mindfully discard what has stopped working.
It’s not about having a roster of “friends” that provide the impressive numbers that validate your usefulness as a likable log in. It’s about the handful of hearts —that beat without clicks, and love you enough to never make you have to ask: