Know Who Your Friends Are
The last five years have been a kind of reckoning. A revelation into who’s got your back. And who doesn’t.
As kid growing up, I didn’t have many friends. I was friendly with people, but for the most part, I was quiet. I had been taught to behave this way, to tamp down my spirit despite the tugs to do “louder” things.
We’re talking now. Don’t talk. Don’t interrupt. Go in the other room. No, English only. I’m busy now. Behave. Keep quiet. Why do you have to cry? Stop whining. Why are you so bad? Behave. What kind of example are you setting? Behave.
It felt safer to be invisible.
Besides, any friend wouldn’t understand. My inside-home life was different from outside life.
What friend would understand the big Filipino gatherings full of food, a whole roasted pig on the dining room table, raucous laughter, piano playing and singing show tunes, kids running around up and down stairs, in and out of doors, around the house in circles? What friend would understand that everyone there was my cousin?
Still, I managed to make a few friends along the way.
In 6th grade, it was Kelli with an “i” who was my “best friend” as eleven-year-olds do. She was the opposite of me: outgoing, excelled at gymnastics, experimented with breakdance and learned how to do the worm (she even tried to get me to do it). She always had a French braid in her hair. And she was white.
I don’t know why she was friends with me. Maybe she saw me as someone she could take under her wing. Show me the ropes. Teach me a thing or two. Like what to do at the movies on a date. (Hint: it wasn’t to actually watch the movie, to which I was shocked. My naivety ran deep.)
Then I moved away. I never saw her again.
In 7th and 8th grade it was Ann Chang — the only other Asian person in the whole middle school. But you already know that story.
High school was just weird (to me), but typical, as I later found out. Friendships got broken over petty shit I can’t even remember. White girls throwing around the “BFF” label but then conveniently forgetting it when a boy shows interest or when a popular girl extends an invite to her lunch table.
These coming-of-age friendships were what they needed to be: girls learning how to grow into women, trying to understand what it means to be there for a friend, what it means to love and how to do that. Let’s just say there was a lot of fumbling around.
(I’m currently working on an essay about my high school friendships, how I floated between friend groups and how that floating pretty much embodied my diasporic experience as an American-born Filipina to immigrant parents. “Home” was neither here nor there. So stay tuned!)
College was where I learned about true friendship. About who shows up for you. Who goes to bat for you. College was where I learned that, when push came to shove, I really didn’t have any “I got your back” friends.
After I was raped by someone I knew, it was a ghost town. No one believed me. Made excuses for the dude. Gaslit me. (“Are you sure?”) The folks vanished. No one supported me. No one even tried.
Lucky for me, I was graduating two weeks from that moment and so I didn’t need to have anything to do with any of my so-called friends. I could start fresh. And that’s exactly what I did.
During my twenties, I had a friend from college, Carolynn*, with whom I stayed in touch for the next 20 years. Inevitably, though, that friendship got tested and it failed.
It was the Election of 2016 that did it. Specifically, the Women’s March after the 2017 inauguration.
After the election, I was fraught with distress, just like all communities of color. Was this really happening? What can we do about it? I needed to take some kind of action.
I have always been a political activist, but now that I had three kids, there was more than just my own safety to consider. I was a mom, now. I was responsible for three human lives. But I had to act. What kind of example would I be setting for my daughters? That the response would be to wait-and-see? To let others do the work on our behalf? To do nothing? No way. (Of course, this is not to discount the various actions one can take. We take action that feels right for us. Me? I’m a “go big or go home” kind of gal.)
So I decided to participate in the Women’s March. From my past experiences with protests, there’s always an air of danger but I go anyway. It feels important to me. And I’ll tell you, with this one? I was scared shitless to do it after the wave of hate crimes against people of color, but I knew this was something I needed to do.
I reached out to my friend Samara, who seemed less scared, and asked to join her contingency. I wasn’t going to do this alone!
In the days leading up to the March, I had mentioned something to Carolynn in our latest email exchange. It turned out she was going too!
My lily-white friend who says she avoids talking politics because “what’s the point?” was marching?
Whoa. Stop the presses.
Fast-forward to a few months later.
I reached out to her for a freelance piece I was writing about this new activism that’s emerged. I asked her if she could talk a little bit about what she was doing now, after she has marched. Just a quick note about some actions she was taking — postcards? Phone calls? Signing online petitions? Donations?
Her response? The timing of my email couldn’t come at a worse time. She listed all of the things in her busy life. And reiterated her practice of not talking politics.
Oh. I see.
The privilege was on FULL display. Also, it was a full disregard for me as a woman of color. Once again.
This time, I have learned my lesson.
[*not her real name]
Several weeks ago, I spoke out against the violence in Palestine. One of my friends from a training I did-a white woman who has expressed her support for the anti-racism work I’ve been doing, telling me that she was trying to do her part-unsubscribed from my mailing list.
Oh, I see how far your support goes.
Also, so interesting to see how someone is trying to “do their part” by simply opting out when it gets uncomfortable. There was no conversation. No expression, even, of her option or position on the matter. Just a ghosting.
I even tried calling her forward (versus a call-out), saying: Oh, I noticed that you unsubscribed. Was that accidental? Because sometimes that happens (true.). If not, could you let me know why so that I can know better for next time to best serve my community?
Soooo when push comes to shove and you have to show up and back up your words, you disappear?
Oh, okay. Got it.
We need to expand our lexicon in talking about interpersonal relationships. “Friend” is a general catch-all word used to describe various kinds of platonic relationships. We need something that captures the nuance of certain relationships. Something that describes the proximity of a relationship. Can we invent some new words to describe these? “Acquaintance” doesn’t quite cut it. “Colleague” is too business-y.
But really, what I’m saying here is that I’m working on cultivating friendships that are real. The kind where people don’t ghost me when things get hard. The kind where I’m not reaching for friendship, but rather, there is a mutual connection where we both meet in the middle. The kind where my intuition says, yes, this is one of our people and my heart sings.
And how do I do that? By radiating out who I am, who I am BE-ing. Like attracts like. Brilliant recognizes brilliant.
And fortunately, I’ve already got a few folks in my crew.
This is part of the Maverick Monday series, where I talk about healing trauma (micro and macro) through the lens of a woman writer of color (that’s me!). Each week, I’ll share a personal story from my healing journey in the hopes that others will find comfort in knowing that they are not alone. I hope that by doing this, you can see that YES! healing-true, lasting, deep healing — — IS possible and that you can thrive in your life, living as your most authentic self without shrinking from the world. If you’re interested learning how to do that, check my offerings, from memberships to retreats to coaching, and find what’s right for you! RETREAT time is next month! Early bird deadline is this Thursday! https://suryagian.com/write-in-ritual-retreat for more info
Originally published at https://www.suryagian.com on June 7, 2021.