Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Reflections on Friendship

I met a friend last Thursday evening for a drink after work, at a table in a café on the Place Pereire, and we squeezed in so much in just under an hour and a half... I could have stayed chatting much longer, as I wasn't in a hurry that night, but she had to get home to meet her husband. I'm always in awe of how much we have to catch up on when we get together, but then again, I think the last time we met for drinks was in March -- believe it or not! The time just flies, and I'm constantly reminded of when my parents used to say things like that when I was a kid -- how much faster time seems to go by as an adult. This fact has become more and more vivid for me in the past year or so. In a sense, I don't feel my age at all -- I'm dumbfounded by the fact that I am, in fact, in my early 30s -- I feel much younger in my head and in my heart. And then at other times, for example after a long day, when all I want to do is return home and rest, do simple, homebody-type things, I can't help thinking that I'm acting much older than I should, or that my interests and hobbies revolve around older types of things -- like cooking and hanging out at home! A bit ridiculous, I know, but I've realized more and more that I'm just not cut out for the partying scene -- I guess I never have been, but for years I would try to blend in and make myself enjoy things that just weren't my cup of tea. Now I'm realizing that of course there's no shame in that, and I might as well revel in the things I love, no matter what the rest of the world may think.

But the last two weeks or so my calendar has been packed with more "social occasions" than usual, and trust me, I'm not complaining -- I love catching up with friends, having something to look forward to during my long days at work. It's what keeps me going -- isn't that the case for a lot of us? I guess not everyone, because some of you lucky dogs out there actually have jobs and professions that you enjoy, but I just haven't found that niche yet, unfortunately. At least I can say that I'm in a country I love, in spite of all its flaws and frustrations, and that I have a lot of wonderful people in my life who make the long days worth getting past. That's something, isn't it? That and knowing that there is some potential out there for future endeavors, future possibilities -- I just have to keep my mind, my eyes and all the doors open.

But when the social outings pile up, and I have a heck of a time figuring out how to squeeze it all in, that's when I feel like my head is going to explode. And I don't even have kids! I know how hard it must be for folks like Jenn to find a balance for herself and her family. And here I am having a hard time just fitting in enough time for my boy and me. This week is jam-packed with fun, but I also have to be sure to fit in some time doing those necessary things around the apartment, like cooking, cleaning and laundry. Obviously life -- and living! -- are much more important, but then again you certainly want to feel good about the home you're returning to at the end of the day. Such a juggle!

When my friend Sarah and I got together last week, we found ourselves reminiscing about the time we met back in the States, in the late '90s, when I was working for a French company as a marketing assistant. She was an au pair hoping to improve her English and we were both spending time at the Alliance Française in Washington, DC (I didn't want to lose my French, so I was serving wine and cheese, and she wanted to meet fellow French-speakers living in the area). One day one of the guys I was working with at the time saw a photo of us together, and he said, eyes blazing, "I have got to meet her!" I was stunned by his adamance, but I eventually complied, knowing full well that he wouldn't leave me alone until I did... Their first meeting didn't lead to many sparks -- at least I didn't think so! -- but about a week later I received a call in my car, and Sarah told me that they were officially a couple. They had really hit it off, both loving to swing dance and sharing so many of the same interests. It was unexpected, but I was of course thrilled for them.

Fast-forward eight years later, and they are now married and living in la région parisienne. We lost touch there for a while -- life and all that -- but then caught up again about a year and a half ago, and since then Sarah and I have tried to get together to have drinks from time to time. Again, we always have a million things to talk about, and this time around was no exception. In fact, I felt like we were really on the same wavelength in so many ways, and a lot of what she said to me really reassured me about my current fears and concerns, regarding life and the future in general. It's funny how we so often see so many wonderful things in other people, how much we admire and appreciate their qualities, and then in fact they tell us that they see those same things in us. Of course it's a good feeling, but it's also kind of unsettling...

Well, before I head off in some kind of random philosophical direction, let's just say that I'm hoping we can make our evening drink sessions more regular, and not so few and far between. I love the conversations we have, the memories we share, and the thoughts and feelings that get stirred up in these simple moments of friendship.

It's funny, because I've always thought that my memories, of either my childhood or even of more recent years, were never very vivid, but when I actually think long and hard about things, specific images and precise moments really do come to mind. One of them is a party that I attended with Sarah on a July 4th weekend years ago, by the Chesapeake Bay, when a wonderful Australian friend of mine was in town for a few days. We studied together in a program at the Sorbonne for a semester, and he was one of the brightest spots in those months of study. He recently e-mailed me on "our" birthday (we share exactly the same birthdate, both day and year!) to share some pics of his son. There was the whisper of possibility, of something more happening between us several times over the years, but it wasn't meant to be... When he came to visit me in the U.S., he was living in London at the time and I was in the early stages of a relationship. Today he is married with a baby boy, and here I am back in France. I remember the dress I wore that sweltering July night, the strap that snapped when we were dancing, the fact that we had stayed in touch in spite of the distance between us. I really hope I can continue to do the same as time continues to fly by, remembering each other when we can, and catching up whenever life makes it possible.

12 comments:

Destination Metz said...

A really nice post. I don't think wanting to stay home and relax is a sign of age, not at all! Speaking for myself I go through periods of wanting to be very social, and then periods where I'm very happy to stay home and watch a dvd and go to bed early.
I loved the story of your two friends getting together, how sweet! I hope I can make some lasting friends here, my best friend is back in Australia, we used to have dinner twice a week, it was always the highlight of my week, something to look forward to. I find it so hard to click with people so once I find someone on my wavelength I hang onto them! People like that are hard to find I think, there's just so many idiots around!

L said...

I showed my students this past year a picture of Tom Hank's star on the walk of Hollywood, and they had no idea who he was! Man, did I feel old! None of them had ever heard of Forrest Gump. I know what you mean that time flies now. I babysat one of my neighbors when she was in diapers, and now she's in high school, which can't be possible because that was only 5 years ago in my life. I blink my eyes and most of a year has passed.

Wendz said...

Our interests do change as we get older...nothing wrong with that, in fact I think it's healthy....how silly it would be to forever be the 20-year old in our lifestyle choice! I love staying in and chilling at home...I also enjoy going out, but the activities I do when I am out are way different to what they wgere just 5 years ago..and I am happy with that.

And time really does go faster as you get older...your head gets left behind though and it's always a shock to see someone you remember as a child, all grown up. Gawd my niece is 20 and I still think of her as that little baby girl who was at my first wedding, charming all the guests with her cooing giggles.

La Page Française said...

Gosh, I totally could have written the first part of your post (loved the second part too with the story about your friends getting together). I recently realized that in my twenties, I spent all this time going out to bars and clubs because I thought that those were things I had to do, and my life would be empty if I didn't. But now in my early 30s, I've come to realize that I actually never really enjoyed those things, and now I prefer quieter evenings at home cooking and watching a movie. I'm not sure if that makes us older than our time, but then again, if those are things we enjoy, why not just do them? That said, I do still enjoy getting together with a friend or two and having a nice civilized glass of wine at least once a week or so. But I no longer feel the need to go out partying and feeling like crap the next day, just because those are things I'm "supposed to do".

joy suzanne said...

What a lovely post, Alice. The memories, the pictures, the spaghetti strap...

And the years will run like rabbits, right?

Thanks for writing this.

The Late Bloomer said...

Thanks, D. Metz -- it hasn't always been easy bonding with people here, but some of my friendships go back a long time, from when I was a student and a teacher's assistant, like you are now -- so I'm sure you will soon make some friends, either with the French, with other expats, or with both! It's just a question of time. And you are curious and enthusiastic, so that definitely helps. Most of my friends here are English-speakers, and I have a couple rare French friends. My friend Sarah was an au pair in DC, so we met under very particular circumstances!

Oh L, don't even get me started on the kids I used to babysit -- one of them is now a junior in college (yikes!!) and I took care of him when he was 2 YEARS OLD! Just to give you an idea... His mom and I keep in touch from time to time, but it definitely is tough to do so over time and distance.

Wendz, yeah, I've made peace with myself bit by bit, with regard to many things, including my interests. They do change, but then there are the things that always remain a part of us. I've always worried far too much about what people think about me and what I enjoy, but gradually I'm learning to let go of that.

Page Fr., so good to know I'm not alone in the homebody feeling! What's better than spending time at home doing your own thing?! I do love to get a drink with friends once a week or so, but late nights in clubs are just NOT for me. C'est comme ça !

Joy Suzanne, thanks for your sweet words -- like I said, my memories aren't super vivid, but some things (like clothing, strangely enough) stand out like sore thumbs!

Poppy Fields said...

I have a good American friend in my small town in provence, but we only get to see each other once every couple of months. I wish it was more often...

Anonymous said...

oh but alice...when i was a student, i was a social butterfly. now it seems like i am forever busy and so is the world around me. but, even though you feel you have to squeeze in things and people...in the end it is worth it :) you only go around once in this life.
delphine

Roam2Rome said...

What a wonderful post! Especially the love story! Who doesn't love a good love story? :)

Yes, our needs change as time goes by, but it might be phases rather than age, since I know people who were "home bodies" in their twenties, and are always on the go in their thirties...

Ah, how I wish I could also catch up with a few good friends as you recently did... I missed a few of your posts lately, maybe I'll catch up with your blog instead :)

Aralena said...

I love the progression of this post, Alice. It's so true that the older we get, the more time seems to grant us less leeway for just being social and not cadré. And being with friends, being out, moving along with the city does speed all of that up, but in the best way. For now!

simon said...

I agree with Destination metz!
Relaxing is not a sign of age at all! Mind you I find it hard to sit still.

But life does flash by too quick!

maitresse said...

wonderful post, alice; I especially love the detail in the final paragraph... that's what makes all the difference, as I'm always trying to tell my writing students. that snapped strap is going to be in my head all day.

I'm sorry for being responsible for 2 of those social outings in one week! you were such a dear to come to both of them, and I loved seeing you. xx L