The other day, I hinted at how good friends make everything better. My friends are, and always have been, a very important part of my life.
So I thought I would share an article I entered in a writing competition for Elle Magazine in the UK last year. I had heaps of fun writing it and felt full up with gratitude in the process. It’s slightly longer than my usual posts but I’ve been waiting for the right time to share it. Sitting on the sofa with an ice pack on my ankle seems just about as good a time as any so read on…
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There’s a saying that blood runs thicker than water. I’m not so sure. Not in my case, anyway. I seem to have spent a good part of my adult life running away from my family roots rather than embracing them. They say you cannot choose your family (although some spiritualists might beg to differ) but you can choose your friends and I guess for me that has mostly been a true reflection of my experience.
I was twenty when I left Germany for good. When I say leaving, I don’t just mean I moved out and started university or a job, in which case twenty might seem a little old. Instead, I made a complete break by leaving the European continent straight from my childhood bedroom. Growing up in a wealthy middle class family, on the surface it seemed I had everything I could have wished for. Everything except closeness. In our family, distance and reserve were nearer to the scale of daily emotions than the love and affection I longed to experience.
I married young, even though I never thought I would. My husband’s American family showed me unconditional love and acceptance before we had even met. Initially I felt suspicious and did not know how to handle such affection. I suppose I found it hard to believe they were sincere; yet even after our eventual divorce, I am still fortunate to be considered their daughter-in-love and am very close to my ex-sister-in-law and her daughter, my favourite niece.
I’ll never regret moving to the States for love because I found love in a great many other ways. Living in Nashville, I met two of my closest friends in a string of serendipitous events. Jason and I worked in the same hotel and after a morning of combing the countryside for yard sales and vintage finds, we dropped in on his friend Sue (aka Suza Belle) in the middle of nowhere in rural Tennessee. We walked into her mansion filled with both priceless antiques and roadside junk and I instantly felt at home. It was Suza Belle who taught me that we make our own family through the friends we chose – a motto I have lived by ever since.
As I moved my peripatetic self from Nashville to Atlanta, and eventually to London and Brussels, I continued finding my chosen family. Moving from city to city and across continents quickly teaches you to separate your acquaintances from your friends. True friends are the ones with whom you can pick up your connection where you last left off, even though you may not have been in close contact for months or years. They are the ones who get who you are, and accept you with all your flaws and quirky character traits. The ones you can call on when the proverbial shit hits the fan, and the ones you share and celebrate good times with: big occasions like significant birthdays, weddings and joint travels; and small ones like a fabulous dinner or simply an afternoon catching up. They are the ones who travel across borders for a hug and a laugh, let you crash their family Christmases and entertain your 6-week-old daughter while you indulge in your first post-baby pampering session. The ones whom you trust to navigate you down single-lane tracks in a hire car in rural Greece, and the ones who you forgive for occasionally falling asleep during said navigating duties due to the lingering influence of liquid fun from the night before (this being before the advent of satellite navigation, of course). Great friends are also the ones who don’t hesitate to pick up the phone when they need a bit of cheering up themselves. It’s all about giving as well as taking, and I trust that I contribute as much to my chosen family as I receive.
Of course friendships, like all relationships, are not without friction. Some friendships require a lot of effort and not all are destined to last happily ever after. It took me until I was almost forty to learn the latter. I decided to let a very close friendship of almost ten years go and it was hard and awkward, not unlike breaking off an intimate relationship. Naturally, I have committed a few friendship faux pas myself, such as failing to reply for weeks and months to concerned calls and text messages from my best childhood friend when my life was seemingly consumed by international business travel, or letting something slip that I had been told in confidence. Thankfully in both cases, the friendship was strong enough to weather the storm.
For all those who might want to judge me for valuing my friends as family, I should probably add that due to my parents’ and most grandparents’ untimely passing, my blood family now is really only a nucleus of one, my younger brother. And now that I have a family of my own, I hope to show my daughter the values of both kinds of families. Because beyond family ties, I guess it’s all about love… and choosing the ones you want to share and celebrate that love with.
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