life

Some go, some stay: summer thoughts on friendship

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.
Even longer,’ Pooh answered.”
― A.A. MilneWinnie-the-Pooh

For those living abroad, summer comes with high expectations and mixed feelings. Holidaying home is a trip down Memory Lane, a well deserved resting bubble and the perfect time to catch up with old friends. Sometimes, though, that comes with the unpleasant realisation that friendship, as love, can’t always stay afloat despite time, distance and life itself. Shared memories can take a relationship only so far. At some point, they start to fade and you need to infuse new life, new moments spent together, future commitments to see each other to take the whole thing to the next stage.

(Photo: public domain)

(Photo: public domain)

I lost many of my youth friends on the way. They still sit among my sleeping Facebook contacts, those whose name is solidly present on the list without having properly interacted in the past decade. We see each other’s posts and recent pictures. We sometimes struggle to recognize that boy/girl we had so much fun with between thinning hairlines and new wrinkles. We think we’ll write a message, just to catch up. Then we never do it because there’s another life happening. Now.

I don’t know if it’s a women’s prerogative but we can’t seem to keep our friends for a lifetime. Men tend to hang out forever with their primary school classmates and rarely form deep, profound friendship after a certain age. Women’s friendship is a different world: new friends keep coming into a woman’s life till her last breath and naturally some get lost on the way.

Women give generously to their friends, they discuss everything: from mundane occupations to the most heartbreaking moments in life. They nurture friendship as a form of love. As love, it’s not always time-proof.

Someone told me once that marrying a foreigner is a statement. It means telling the world you weren’t so comfortable, after all, with those people you grew up with. It might be true, in a certain way, for mixed couples tend to have the best time together while they often struggle with same-nationality partners. What’s certain is that the only “old friends” I kept so far are those living abroad, or married to a foreigner. We don’t need many words or long written catch-ups. A message here and there will do it. We know how our lives are.

As someone who grows attached to everybody and can’t imagine to change hairdresser or doctor, I can’t but feel sorry for the others, every time I am reminded of how much time has passed since we drank lemonades together on the beach, dreaming of our future. But I am learning the 30s lesson here: you have to let go of the past. Some friends go, some stay, some will eventually come back, at a different stage of life and some new will come to cheer you up.

You can’t make everyone happy and at some point you might have to cut branches, in order to become who you are. Yet, I still have to deal with the random nostalgia.

Have you been able to nurture old friendships while living abroad? How?I’d love to hear your stories.

Eight minutes, eight years: tale of a Victorian wedding

Image

It feels as eight minutes, but it’s been eight years. This afternoon, in 2005, I walked down the aisle to marry a guy I barely knew, having spent with him less than 30 days over a year’s time. It wasn’t love at first sight and we weren’t carried away by passion. Impulsive marriage was probably the only way out for the strongly independent, easily bored, constantly challenging characters we were at that time.

It certainly was the only way to go for me: after an endless list of unreciprocated romantic interests over teenage, my 20s were punctuated by a series of wrong affairs. They tended to be so wrong one could easily explain them with coffee-time psychology: I wanted them to be wrong, so that I could keep being on my own AND talk and write about my bad luck to anyone who’d listen. Just before meeting my husband, I remember confessing to a friend, over a Cosmopolitan (oh yes, I love Carrie Bradshaw’s favorite drink, I am THAT lame) that I didn’t care about love. And even less about passion or commitment. I just wanted someone to travel with, to eat and drink with at night and smart enough to keep me intellectually stimulated. It sounds like a checklist but it’s what 20s are after all: a list of things you think you need in order to be happy. I never found that person.

I did a bit of traveling alone in order to show off my independence: I hated it since I find no satisfaction in experiencing something I can’t share. But it was good to lose weight: I never ate at night, finding it depressing to have dinner alone.

Many of my friends discovered the pleasures (and sorrows) of being a couple early on: they started kissing on the school’s steps, went on going out together, partying, driving the first car, graduating. They lived everything with their companion. Then, usually, sometime after graduation all these happy couples started to get married. Some lasted, some others split shortly after tying the knot. It’s the story of the world.

I never thought of marriage as the natural conclusion of love, mutual respect, common projects and whatever you think a shared life should be about. I wanted it to be the beginning of love, and not its evolution.

In order to accomplish my plan, I had to marry quickly, trusting my instinct and without a safety net. Some called me crazy. Some others asked if I were pregnant (I was not). I loved the idea of knowing only a fraction of the man I was going to spend my life with: I knew he was decent but I didn’t meet any of his friends or his family till after we were already engaged. It was a huge risk, but one I rationally thought worth taking.

I don’t believe in marriages based on passion. Passion sweeps you away but it can’t last. None would survive longer than a few years with butterflies in the stomach, anxiety attacks and the constant fear of losing the person keeping us on a constant high. Passion tends to diminish over time, love tends to flourish. Love grows with mutual knowledge and understanding, it increases with the time spent together, it alleviates bad moments and underlines the most joyful ones. This being my personal take on marriage, I was extremely lucky in finding someone who shared a Victorian idea of all things related to love.

I knew my husband so little when we tied the knot that I ignored if he took his coffee black or with milk, what sport he played during childhood, where did he study and how was his childhood like. I had to learn all of this, and I still am.

It’s been smooth sailing, through so many different times. The early years’ freedom, traveling, dining, holidaying. The following first worries on work, getting our place, having children. The sleepless nights, the doubts, the extreme happiness of child rearing. Moments of grief, when we lost people dear to us and we learnt that life gives and takes in the blink of an eye, and so we better start savoring the present, without worrying about the future. Moments of relief, once the storm had passed and we realized we were still here and we were safe.

It’s a special anniversary, this 8th one. Thank you, my Victorian husband, for being with me through this amazing adventure that life is.

Five things I learnt about love

Image

I spent more time thinking about love than probably Elizabeth Darcy (née Bennet). At the age of 6 I engaged myself to a boy named M. without him being aware of that. I would take him by the arm to show my classmates we were close and I would leave messages in his duffle coat pockets every single day. He was shy and initially complacent but after a while, when the other boys in the class started mocking him and he heard about my engagement story, he publicly dumped me with a note his fellow classmates had previously agreed on. It said more or less: “I think our engagement is off. Please stop bothering me”. It was the end of the world.

If this makes a cute childhood story where all the characters can barely read and count to 100, things got a little bitter later on. I was determined to find the love of my life but I didn’t have the slightest clue on the following points:

1. How to find him

2. How to recognize him, admit I would actually cross him at some point

3. How to get to know him and to look interesting

4. How to make him fall in love with me

I thought falling in love was the necessary and sufficient condition for anything else. And so love I pursued. For YEARS!

It hasn’t been bad. Looking back now, I wish I had more fun on my way to perfect love. I wish I took myself less seriously and were able to laugh more. But, you know, I have now made peace with my limits. There’re a few things, though, that seem now so normal and that I wasn’t so sure about then. And they would have saved some tears and some end-of-the-world drama.

  1. Give guys the thrill of the chase

Risking to sound as old-fashioned as the Dowager Countess of Grantham I really have to warn any good-willed young lady out there. Please, don’t play the conqueress. It may seem to you that the pale, skinny, smart boy you spotted the other day at the workshop is too shy to ask you out. Don’t help him. There’re not really shy guys. Not so shy they can’t ask a girl out. They can be goofy, or embarassed. They may even flush when looking at you. But there’re no interested guys that won’t go great lenghts to propose something. Anything. A cup of coffee, a movie, a walk. Even time sitting together in a library. Studying.

Of course, there’re tons of women who decided on marrying a man and eventually did. They imposed themselves and got their way. You just have to be fine with the idea that in future quarrels you will always be the one that forced him into the relationship. I always found that annoying.

2. Forget everything you’ve read and/or watched about love and marriage

Do you know the all-consuming love we all hope to live at least once in our life? The kind of love that makes you lose 10 pounds in a week, sleep 2 hours per night, feel every heartbeat as it was the last one and yet look gorgeous and young and bright? Well, let’s hope you never marry that guy. Because that is not love: it’s passion, madness, desire, a total eclypse of the heart brain.The minute you start doing the laundry or scrubbing the bathroom sink or – even worse – the minute you have a child together and experience the Guantanamo year(s) (sleep deprivation + house confinement + falling asleep by exhaustion on floors or sofas or wooden chairs) you will need more than butterflies in your stomach, breathtaking sex or cosmic connection. You will need a good laugh, then. Believe me.

Passion is a thing. A crazy, sublime, unforgettable, necessary thing we need to live at some point in our lives. Even more than once. It’s great. But married love is another thing. And it’s more precious, and rare, and longer lasting. It’s the kind of love that comes with time and it’s made of time spent together, intimate knowledge of each other families and friends and secrets. Yesterday I watched with the boys the video of my wedding day. I barely knew my husband then and yet I had this huge smile stamped on my face the whole time. I was crazy. And lucky. Because I had no idea of what life was going to be made of. I couldn’t think much further of having breakfast together or travelling or having friends over for dinner and watching films. I didn’t know that real life is made also of less glamorous things: losing one’s parents, battling illnesses, caring for other people, spending hideous Christmases with families who’re not yours and whom you don’t even feel connected to, having children and wanting to kill your husband because he is looks useless and you need so much a shower and a 7-hours uninterrupted night.

3. If he gives you goosebumps, then check that he can laugh as well

I loved bad guys. Complicated, smart, dark characters. Ideally with a troubled past. It looked SO sexy to me. No wonder I am crazy now about Damian Lewis/Nicholas Brody and Homeland. But I bet the moment I’d start cooking Congressman Brody his dinner or waking up with a migraine in his bed, I’d love him to be able to just laugh.

4. Find the one that likes/loves you just as you are

We all loved Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’ Diary for that. Remember? He liked her just as she was. It may seem obvious but it is not. I have overweight friends that go out with guys who publicly declare that they despise overweight women and that their beauty ideal is Kate Moss. Now, if you like Kate Moss, then you don’t go out with Nigella Lawson. Or, if you do, you don’t ever say that she should lose weight because you prefer the skinny, androgynous type. Ditch that kind of partner. If he doesn’t like you as you are, than he’s not worthy of your attention.

5. Never give up on love

I have friends who panicked around their 30s and got married. To someone they were used to but that they didn’t admire, or trust, or actually love. They thought at least they would have a life, kids, holidays. A past. There is nothing worse than a marriage you don’t believe in. Don’t let age trick you into one of these plans. Never give up on love, you will regret it eventually.