green gloves

I have arms for them

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a good friend—or what it means to be a friend at all. I’ve specifically been thinking about how my idea of friendship has evolved since high school. Then, friendships were like families: You didn’t really have a say in them, so you were stuck with them. But that’s not to say I didn’t have a wonderful, fantastic group of friends. It’s more like out of a small group of 40 girls, I had a close, sister-like bond with half of them.

Sometimes I think it was luck that I ended up with such a strong friend group. When I got to college, I realized how much of a role luck plays. In high school, I was in the same classroom with the same girls for seven hours a day, five days a week, for eight years of my life. We saw each other through thick and thin, but we didn’t really have a choice—our dynamic depended on us sticking it out through good times and bad.

College is a different environment, though. In college, you become an individual with your own unique schedule, living space, and time. Sometimes people get lucky and befriend their freshman year roommates, their entire floor, their varsity team—most of the time, you have to pick your own friends.

I realized over the last few years that this was challenging for me because I’ve never had to “choose” friends. So I found myself forming unrealistic standards for those I befriended in college. I wanted to be around the type of people who understood and viewed life the way my previous friends and I did—even though now I understand our similar upbringing and culture played a huge role in our chemistry. I found it hard to relate to people who had wildly different ideas of what fun meant. My high school friends and I could die of laughter playing a really good card game or watching a dumb movie, but in college I felt like I had to give up hanging out with people I liked during the weekend because they wanted to go out to a party. It felt like if I wanted to stay in, I was boring them with my standards of a good time.

However, my recent trip back home made me realize I was trying to implement a friendship dynamic that no longer works—in both friend groups. My home friends either left for the UK or stayed in the country for college, but all of them moved on with their lives. I always come back to Riyadh with this idea that everything has remained the same—that we would be as silly and goofy and ridiculous and sisterly as we were in high school.

But from friends getting engaged to those entering their fourth year in medical school, our schedules no longer allow us to tap back into our former free and careless lives. While I am only in Riyadh on vacation, they aren’t—their lives went on. But even as I accept this fact, I realize it is hard to commit to each other the way we did before because none of us are the same people. We have no common enemy the way we did in school (principal, administration, etc.), and our views on almost everything are more stark and apparent. So I feel like I’ve grown up in the most lonely way possible.

That made me start to think: There are all these high expectations, but I have no idea what those expectations are. What does friendship mean to me now? Aren’t I the worst of friends for picking apart the ties between me and those I love because of some indescribable feeling?

I mentioned to my aunt the other day that I no longer really care for deep, profound friendships, and she chuckled. The more you grow up, she said, the more you realize friendships are the least of your concerns. Her statement didn’t sit well with me because I do think friendships are meant to feel like second families, and I would never want to grow out of them because of my own vague, outdated misconceptions.

There is this song called “Green Gloves” by The National that croons, “Falling out of touch with all my friends… Hope they’re staying glued together, I have arms for them.” I have lost touch with some of my friends, but I have “arms for them”— I will always love them, and I will always want to be there for them as I know they will want to be there for me. I have accepted the idea that you can outgrow certain friendships, but that does not weaken the bond you once had. It simply means you have grown.

As I overthink about friendships, I think about what it means to be a good friend. I think about this ability to decide who you have in your life, and how they help you grow. Friends should make your life fuller, and I realize that the friends I had in high school made the unbearableness of high school bearable. Our paths have gone different ways, but I still have this special place in my heart where all the laughter and happiness they gave me sits untouched.

My goal today is to learn to be a friend from scratch—to stop trying to emulate what once was and allow for new ways of growth in my life. I had this toxic conception of college friends because I have always believed that the friends you make in college are the friends you’ll have for life, but I understand now that friendships should not be analyzed for the long term. What is most important to me now is being around people who make me want to be the best version of myself, regardless of our different lifestyles. In the end, criteria don’t matter because those who are really your friends will make the time for you. Most importantly, I want to grasp that friendship does not have one mold everyone needs to fit. I’m thankful and blessed to have wonderful people in my life who have allowed me to come to this realization.