Saturday, April 26, 2014

Grown Up Friends

A few weekends ago I went to Palm Springs for a bachelorette party thrown in honor of a California girlfriend that I've known for a few years now. We’re kindred spirits, like-minded in many ways, and I value our friendship so much that I didn't think twice about attending her bachelorette party as an outsider among her childhood and college friends. Distracted by work quite a bit these days, the fact that I would be the stranger in the midst didn't even cross my mind until I was on the way to the airport.

I was relieved to find the bride’s friends were all as approachable, fun and quirky as she is. I also had the good fortune of seeing at least a few familiar faces; and thankfully being social and building relationships is not unnatural to me. Still I found myself feeling surprisingly insecure throughout the weekend. Self-critical thoughts like “stop talking so much” or “don’t talk about yourself” kept popping up. Even though I was having a good time and enjoying everyone’s company, I kept self-correcting and judging myself harshly.  I’d crack a well received joke and in the next breath think, “Ugh. You’re trying too hard to be funny.”

We arrived on Friday afternoon and by Saturday evening, the self-critical inner monologue was unsettling enough to me to break out the champagne and “college Liz.” I don’t drink much anymore and “college Liz” has been long dead and buried, but being the “new girl” among old friends stirred up a kind of insecurity that is relatively new to me. Sure I’m accustomed to hypercritical self-awareness when it comes to my performance at work or to my personal appearance, but I’m not used to it in the social space. Being engaging, funny, charming and conversational with new people-that’s supposed to be my sweet spot.

Making new friends as an adult makes me feel vulnerable in a way I don’t remember ever feeling before. After college, we’re deprived of the disarming experiences (like sharing dorm bathrooms or 8 years of math class) that serve as catalysts for lasting bonds. As grown-ups we’re faced with making new friends in stifling professional environments or places like bars and buses that are anything but conducive to making authentic personal connections. If you’re a transplant like I am, then you know that infiltrating a group of lifelong friends is a whole other complicated gauntlet. Still, I used to feel well equipped for these challenges. Why does it feel so much harder the older I get?

My childhood and college girlfriends have always been a great source of strength for me; I always had this feeling that if I could see myself the way they saw me I would be much better off. Those friendships have always made me feel loved, needed, wise, funny, smart – everything a good friendship should make you feel. But those friendships and those women are all very far away. The women I met over my first few years in San Francisco made me feel embraced, accepted and appreciated. Now that most of them have had children and/or left the city, I ’m facing my fourth cycle of making new friends. In the absence of all the women with whom I’ve built uplifting relationships over the years, an unfamiliar social self-consciousness fills the void left by the positive reinforcement of their laughter and energy. The quiet though, as uncomfortable as it is at times, has revealed a pressing need. I have to learn to love myself in the silence and the noise. I have to learn to draw my sense of self worth from within.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Indian Wedding

On my walk home from Pilates yesterday afternoon, as I ascended the Mason Street hill from Union Square, I heard the unmistakable twang of sitar filling Huntington Square a block above me. The music was celebratory, punctuated by the thud of hand drums bouncing off the Pac Union Club’s ancient brownstone walls, and infused with cheers and laughter. The positive energy was palpable. Even before I hit the crest of the hill where the crowd was visible, I had a smile on my face.

The block in front of the Fairmont Hotel had been barricaded to accommodate an Indian wedding celebration that spilled out of the front doors and into the streets before passing neighbors and tourists. The wedding guests kept pouring out of the hotel as I approached. They danced in a serpentine line that weaved in and out of the grey-flecked white marble columns and blurred into the edges of a crowd surrounding the groom. Gold headdress atop his head, he cheered and bounced on the back of a tall white horse spotted with tan. 

Silk saris saturated with the colors of the rainbow looked like splashes of paint against the facade of the old white hotel. Miles of silk adorned with gold coins and thick with embroidery hung across the slight frames of silver-haired, WASPy retirees and flowed down the backs of beautiful young Indian bridesmaids. The traditional dress looked strikingly natural on both sets of women. They all appeared equally as proud to lose themselves in Indian tradition and in devotion to the bride and groom. Men held their children on their shoulders and hopped up and down on the pavement, a common lack of rhythm united ancient looking uncles, awkward singles and youthful family men. There were no straight faces in the group, only smiles as bright and bold as the colors of dress.

There’s something truly remarkable about weddings. I can't think of anything else that inspires us to put aside our own priorities, agendas, baggage and judgments in favor of unadulterated joy. Weddings exist in this wonderful, beautiful vacuum where we replace the things that taint the good in life with everything that is good. They are full of the memories that that bind us. They are overflowing with the kindness that feeds our souls. They are a source of hope that fuels our dreams for the future. Everywhere you turn on that day, you see loyalty, love, support, history, optimism. It’s truly remarkable. 

I stood glued to that sidewalk for a few minutes. My feet felt heavy even as my chest filled with longing and I felt sadness inflate my ribs. Although only witness to it, I found it hard to walk away from that once in a lifetime sensation of being surrounded by everyone that matters – protected, elevated, insulated by their love and the sheer force of their combined support.  I moved only when the groom rode towards the door and his future with his bride. As I walked towards home and looked over the other side of Nob Hill to the ocean, I thought about how I would get married once a year until I die if given the chance (and a little extra $). I turned back for a last look before they were out of sight, and I wondered if I will ever feel as invincible and complete as I did with my hand inside my husbands and our family and friends at our sides.  

When I arrived home wishing I had a sari in my closet, I realized I’m still going through a little post-wedding withdrawal.  I can’t help but wonder if I will be as long as I chose to live the life I love here in California. Perhaps the price I pay is always feeling a little bit like a sponge - full of tiny little holes left by family and friends so far away, waiting to be filled up, filled in, made whole by the uplifting force of their combined presence in my life.