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Every so often, I’ll get that forward about friendship in my email. In its infinite wisdom, it breaks friendships into three categories: reason, season and lifetime. I hate this particular email so much that I sometimes imagine printing it out just for the savage pleasure of tearing it into tiny pieces. Then, like a cartoon character, I’d ball them up and swallow them with an audible “GULP!” just to emphasize my point.

I don’t know who the original author of this piece was, but I hate him or her with a passion. What was the point? Unless you are the sort of person who has nothing but “lifetime” friends, reading it will do little but evoke misery. Does it really help me to know that some of the friends who left my life were only meant to be in it for a “season?” Not so much.

Confession: I apparently struggle with miscategorizing my friends to begin with. The “reason” friends typically cause me the least amount of confusion. If it’s obvious that the relationship is temporary in nature, I’m fine. Maybe the person in question is a “work friend,” and is only meant to alleviate the stress of that situation, or make the eight hours pass more quickly. Those kinds of connections are fine, and I can accept them as they are, assuming I recognize the relationship for what it is. More often than not, though, the lines seem blurred to me. Maybe, for example, I hang out with someone after work. If that happens more than a few times, I start thinking the relationship has progressed from “reason” to “season.” Then if the job ends and the relationship vanishes with it, I’m confused. I’ve also been in situations where everyone is initially together for a “reason” but then the other people in the group obviously develop “season” connections. If the “reason” is ongoing then I am forced to sit, nose against the glass, and watch… a witness but not a participant. I once was stuck in that scenario for nearly a year, and it was incredibly painful. Objectively, I understand that people bond with who they bond with, or not; it isn’t an intentional thing. Regardless, as someone who has fallen into the “or not” category one too many times, it’s difficult. Feeling excluded is never pleasant.

My senior year of college, I went to Paris as an exchange student. There were 14 in our group, and by the end of the trip, all of them had forged relationships with at least one of the other students. They would go out and do things in groups, and I was never invited. It was very hard. I mean, things like that are always hard, but when you add the isolation of a new country and a foreign language to the mix, it ratchets up the pain factor pretty significantly. I eventually became friends with someone not in my original group, but it was unfortunately toward the end of my trip. I had the opportunity to stay in Paris, and I couldn’t do it. The prolonged isolation had already brought me to the breaking point. I was so lonely and homesick even the allure of Paris couldn’t keep me there.

Worse are the “season” friends to whom I feel a connection so strong that I can’t imagine they’d be anything but “lifetime…” until their “season” ends unexpectedly. I’ve had that happen once or twice, and it’s always left me devastated. Now even with friends I consider “lifetime” I always feel unsteady, like the ground might shift beneath my feet at any moment.

“Only connect.” Two small words, but no easy feat. I am – and have always been – a difficult fit. Friendships don’t come easily, and even when I feel a connection to people my feelings aren’t always reciprocated. I never know why, and since childhood I have always suffered with the feeling that something was “wrong” with me. Other people seem to do it so easily. They walk into new situations and walk out with one or more new friends. These people seem like magnets to me; they appear to attract people merely by being in their vicinity. I wish I knew that trick. I thought by now I’d be better at it, but I’m not, not really.  When friendships do happen for me they are happy accidents, or lightning bolts, much like poems. They never seem to happen when I work for them.

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