Friends: Everyone Needs 'Em

You know, it takes a lot of time for me to start referring to a casual acquaintance as a friend. Recently, an acquaintance of mine referred to me as her friend and I was genuinely taken aback. Not necessarily because I don't like this person (although, to be fair, I DON'T really like this person all that much), but because it made me wonder how people define that word -- friend.

When Casey the Human and I first met she took me to coffee in the heart of Seoul. There we chatted over the usual thangs -- Korea, teaching, our coworkers -- which then naturally led to a discussion of friendship. This is when she took the opportunity to tell me she wasn't really looking for new friends. See, this was also her second time around on the peninsula and she had established a circle of friends outside of work. In Korea, this is the holy grail. I mean really, who wants to spend their free time hanging out with the same group they are PAID to hang out with 40 hours a week? Certainly not me. Anyway, although I was initially a little put off by her comment (as if I was applying for friendship), I understood and respected where it came from. Friendship is an emotional investment, one not afforded to just anyone, and Casey's emotional bank account was full. Casual acquaintances were really all she was willing to take on at the moment. Lucky for me my sparkling personality, winning good looks, and knowledge of internet memes won her over! Today I count Casey among just a handful of people with whom I share true friendship.

Recent life events have allowed me the opportunity to take stock of the people with whom I surround myself. Everyday I come into contact with students, parents, coworkers, etc. I am friendly and engaging and generally outgoing. I talk to them, I ask questions, I empathize -- you know, all the hallmarks of adult interaction. Does this mean any of them are my friends? No. No it does not. Why, you ask? Because another hallmark of adult interaction is the setting of boundaries. Boundaries serve a very specific and useful purpose with regards to interpersonal relationships. Boundaries help us understand our roles and the roles of others. They let us know that no, you CANNOT hit on that lovely lady at the bar as she is married and that would be overstepping a defined boundary. (Or more often than not in my case, no you CANNOT tell me your ex-husband cheated on you with your best friend. WTF?! I am your child's daycare provider, this is not okay.) Boundaries make us feel safe and secure. But perhaps the most important purpose of establishing boundaries is that they teach others how to treat us. When you have ill-defined boundaries, or no boundaries at all, it's like saying "HERE I AM! TREAT ME LIKE SHIT!"

Normally I am very up front about my boundaries. This is prolly why it takes me so long to go from casual acquaintance to friend. Being picky about one's friends is not necessarily a bad thang, though. Being picky and methodical about entering into an emotionally invested friendship has some fucking awesome rewards, like reciprocated emotional investment, long-term/long-distance investment, loyalty, comfort, and perhaps the biggest one, mutual respect. (Coincidentally, these are also things I look for in a partner.) And because I am very up front and honest about my boundaries with others I tend to make friends of the same ilk. Occasionally, however, someone comes along who challenges my boundaries and forces me to rethink how I approach relationships. Sometimes it's for the best, as was the case with Jamie, my best Korean friendo. My initial reaction to all Jamie's attempts to hang out was, "EW, NOPE." But I gave him (and myself) a chance and what I got was a fucking awesomely open-minded, non-judgemental, hysterical friend. Wins all around.

But sometimes someone comes along who pushes too hard, is just a bit too needy, wants just a bit too much of my time and attention. This has happened to me twice in the past year and both times I had MANY reservations about both individuals. On the one hand, YAY, someone likes me! But on the other hand, JESUS CHRIST WHY DO YOU NEED SO MUCH VALIDATION?! So I kept one of these acquaintances at arm's length -- she was just a bit too over-the-top disingenuous for me. And the other? Against my better judgement I took a risk, let him in, and shared all the things. For a while it seemed he, too, was fully invested. But then something changed and all his insecurities that initially turned me off reared their ugly heads. Gone was our fantastic friendship and partnership, replaced with indifference, annoyance, and distance. And I was pissed. This was not MY fear! These were not MY insecurities! It felt as if I was being punished for having boundaries of my own and asking him to acknowledge and respect them. And in the end he couldn't follow through because he lacked ANY boundaries.

I know friendships (and partnerships) are not in a constant state of awesome; they take work. And maybe I'm being too harsh, my expectations too high, but I just don't think so. I suppose I'm just frustrated that I didn't listen to my gut on this one: that someone with such ill-defined boundaries wouldn't know how to understand or respect mine.

I didn't listen to my instincts when they told me, "EW, NOPE".


Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

Now this is the story all about how 
My life got flipped, turned upside down 
And I'd like to take a minute just sit right there 
I'll tell you how I became the princess of a town called bitter. (I'm not really bitter, I swear!)

I initially started this blog post nearly a month ago. It was all about friendship and boundaries and interpersonal relationships. BLAH BLAH BLAH. Then my life really did get flipped, turned upside down. (Hyperbole? Maybe. But just go with it.) I realized, however, that writing about all those things was not going to make me feel any better, as my mind grapes were in overdrive. For the past six months my mind has been a well of self-doubt; the kind of crippling, all-consuming, walking-around-on-eggshells sort of self-doubt that seems to bleed into everything you do. It's been a month since the big bang and time has afforded me a bit of perspective. And you know what I realized? That self doubt wasn't mine to carry. I was shouldering someone else's fears in the name of... love? Companionship? Friendship? Who knows. What I do know is that for all of my bitching and whining and bemoaning my station in life, I discovered I am a relatively well-adjusted adult capable of adult relationships, emotions, conversations, and sex. I stick up for myself. When something (or someone) hurts me or threatens me or just doesn't feel right, I let others know. I am my best and sometimes ONLY advocate, and if sticking up for myself makes me appear needy and possessive (or bitchy and overbearing), well, that's just, like, you're opinion, man. 

Now on to the real reason for this post: Sex

Someone very wise once said when the sex is good, it's 10% of a relationship and when the sex is bad, it's 90% of a relationship. But what if the sex is just NONEXISTENT? Like, robotic, perfunctory, let's-just-get-this-over-with kinda sex? Sex like that has a way of fucking with one's mind, forcing one to internalize all that rejection and indifference in a way that is indeed crippling. There is nothing so demeaning and demoralizing as when a lover withholds intimacy and physical interaction. But what if that withholding is out of fear? Does that make it easier to swallow? Does knowing that your partner is consumed by a fear of sex and intimacy make it easier to externalize (rather than internalize) that fear? 


Why? Because without sex and sexual intimacy a sexual relationship becomes a sort of weird, twisted "friendship" where one party is getting their needs met emotionally and intellectually (because apparently the physical need is nonexistent), and the other party is left scrambling for ANY sort of attention. And scrambling for attention is so unbecoming...

Sex is an incredibly important and integral part of any intimate partnership and sexual intimacy is kinda the most awesome part of being in a committed relationship. It is a safe place for both parties to really just be themselves, no pretense, no expectation, no guile. Sex can be empowering and awesome. It's fantastic after a great week, and comforting after a shitty week. It's fun and silly and erotic and messy and emotional. And when it's missing it's like a giant gaping hole that sucks out all the good along with it. 

So here I am, single again, but so very relieved to be out from under someone else's fears and insecurities. I suppose each failed relationship is really just a learning opportunity, and this one is no different. So what did I learn? I think my father said it best: "You don't put up with that shit."