I must have had a decent childhood because I honestly still cherish many of my early memories and I often think fondly of old friends that I had during the ages of 5-14. Things were easier back then, so positive vibes are abundant from those years. Maybe I am just a sentimental fool, but I cannot ….. and will not change that.

I think happily back on my first day of kindergarten, when I had already made my first friend before having even set foot into my new school. A pretty, blonde-haired girl down the street was waiting for the bus too and we continued to yell “hi” back and forth from our respective bus stops. We spent many years after that initial meeting, exploring the woods behind her house, playing with My Little Pony, and putting on musicals with the neighborhood girls. I still think of her and her family fondly many years later.

I still remember jumping into the pool with “M” in our Wonder Woman bathing suits. We would take turns saving each other while imagining ourselves as the gorgeous superhero. We would choreograph dances to her brother’s record collection. Remember records? We fawned over Michael Jackson in the early days of MTV. We mistakenly but lovingly referred to Boy George as “that beautiful new girl singer,” while we waited through the 20 videos that the fledgling station played on repeat, just to get a glimpse of the new singer. I have nothing but positive, happy thoughts if I think back to “M” and those times.

I will never forget walking the hallway holding hands with “K,” when I was terrified in the 3rd grade because we were only a few among our peers being asked to walk the hallway to take some unknown test in an empty classroom. (I hadn’t known there would be any test and I hadn’t studied……oh no!) She grabbed my hand to calm me down and excitedly explained that we had been chosen to be tested for the gifted and talented program. She portrayed it as a wonderful thing, and I wasn’t scared anymore. We talked every day after school, and she helped me grow into a person who loved art, music, writing and a desire to achieve in school.

I remember sleepovers with “D” where her deaf cat would wail all night long. We would sleep on the basement sofa bed and her large golden retriever would sleep under the bed. Throughout the night, her dog would move around continually, making the bed rise, up and down. “D” would always just laugh about it, and she had THE BEST LAUGH. She was always kind to everyone, and you felt secure with her.

I no longer talk to any of the above-mentioned friends beyond an occasional Facebook message, although I am lucky to have numerous friendships that HAVE endured over the years.  In this blog, I wanted to discuss early friendships that did NOT endure through adulthood. I still love my memories and have fond feelings for those past friendships. I am a sentimental idiot and I accept that. I mentioned in last month’s blog that sometimes people just move on and grow apart and there is no negativity and no bad feelings. Moving on is just life. Many of my old friends might never even think of me anymore, but I don’t work that way. Once you have been in my heart, you will always be held in high regard……….even if things ended badly.

Even if things ended badly. At least this was what I had always believed.

Until there was you. You were my BEST friend. Until you weren’t. Our friendship ended badly, and I hated you for it. I hated you for a very long time. I no longer harbor resentment. There is no longer any hatred. I love you actually, for the time we spent as genuine friends and always will, but I am also relieved that we had to move on. Relieved… with a tinge of sadness because losing a good friend is never fun.

We had met on the first day of junior high and I am certain that the teacher regretted his seating assignment choice because we didn’t stop talking and laughing throughout the entire class. I have no doubt that we were super annoying. He had put the two most inattentive, goofiest children humanly possible together to share a table, but he never made us sit apart in future classes, so why not continue the antics? We were terrible and most likely EXTREMELY annoying in that class, but I knew that I had made a new friend that day. Our group of friends would soon expand even more and eventually, I would move into the same neighborhood. I would become the sole girl in our neighborhood band of tiny statured hooligans. We would terrorize the streets in our bad 80’s fashion while riding bikes, kicking soccer balls, and shoveling driveways, or having snowball fights on snow days.

As we grew older, some of my closeness with our other friends would dwindle but our friendship remained, despite my changing schools. I would frequently stop by while walking home from school and we would watch bad television shows because in a far-away time before Netflix, you had no choice but to watch whatever terrible programming had been scheduled. Your choices were limited, and it was usually the news, soap operas, Sally Jesse Raphael, or boring game shows. If we were really feeling wild, we would listen to some music on tape. Remember tapes? We were just kids, but it was easy and just a comfort to always have that one friend to just be yourself with. We had each other as sounding boards or to just sit with and not even talk to. It was a nice and simple thing to just be able to sit in silence with someone and know that you are accepted. Until I wasn’t accepted.

The ages of 12-25 had been the time of numerous transitions. You were there for all of it. Being a “tween” is difficult. You had been there for it. Being a teenager isn’t much better. You had been there for all of that too. When I was 15 and felt like my life was falling apart for some reason that I can no longer remember, you met me blocks from my house with a box of Kleenex. You were there for it.  You were there for me. Through the more challenging college years and for years beyond, you were still there. Living in different college towns, old-school snail mail and telephone calls would often have to suffice, but we still managed to keep connected. You were my best friend. You were there for everything. And then, you simply weren’t. That was a difficult thing to accept.

It would be an abrupt end to thirteen years of friendship. We were in our mid-twenties at that point, and I had known you for half of my life. To go from speaking to someone almost every day, and through so many of life’s changes to abrupt radio silence…..well, it sucked to put it mildly. But here’s the strange and unexpected thing that happened. I became free. The lyrics from the one-hit-wonder Gotye (Somebody That I Used to Know) come to mind to best describe what I mean about feeling free.

Told myself that you were right for me

But felt so lonely in your company

But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember.

Love shouldn’t hurt. Love shouldn’t alienate you. Love shouldn’t ask you to change or be someone different. If the puzzle pieces don’t fit easily, there is a reason. The pieces most likely belong somewhere else. Love as friends doesn’t always translate easily into romantic love, despite the numerous rom coms that might tell you otherwise. Harry and Sally should have stayed apart. I never found their ending to be very plausible anyway. If he was annoyed by her quirks while they were friends, it would only get worse once married. To quote an old friend, “Marriage ain’t easy. It’s every day.” When someone suddenly doesn’t accept small things that are innate to you and have been a part of you throughout a lengthy friendship, that doesn’t bode well. Even in a new relationship, it is never a positive sign when someone makes you feel “less than,” even if it is unintentional and without malice. Impact means more than intent.

When my male bestie would tell me something like, “I don’t like makeup,” the friend part of me would laugh and think ….ummmm, then don’t wear any! (A smokey mauve would have looked great with his eyes though, lol)  The friend part of me laughs it off and is unbothered. The part of me that was considering a romantic relationship with him believed that I was inadequate for not being a natural, fresh-faced gal. When later conversations on my being an anxious soul turned into my being asked, “Why can’t you just love yourself more?” the fighter in me wanted it to be understood that I have been this way since the day we met, and it was never about being insecure. As my best friend, how did he not know this? Also….why NOW, was I suddenly so flawed and problematic in his eyes? Other young men whom I would date often took this approach of believing they were saying helpful things that were slightly insulting to the core of who I was. This is how I presented myself when you decided that you found me interesting so why attempt to change all of that? If you don’t like it……LEAVE! Young girls today, please take note that you are perfect just as you are. You don’t need to change for anyone.

Here’s where the freedom part emerges. I would blame myself for quite some time after the friendship dissolved; maybe I just hadn’t been good enough. Deep down though, there was a part of me that knew I was more than enough. I was perfect in my imperfection and the right person would see that. With the correct person, the puzzle pieces wouldn’t feel like they didn’t quite fit. I just had to wait for it. Then I would meet the man who would become my husband and new best friend. Suddenly, I didn’t have to fight to be seen in a positive light. I never had to doubt myself. I never had to doubt anything.  

One night recently, my husband turned to me while we were getting ready to go out. I was fixing my hair and makeup and he commented, “I love your confidence. I love that you love yourself enough to always want to put your best self forward.” I am seen. I am fully appreciated just the way I am, even when I’m a pain in the ass, which is often. The puzzle pieces fit. Life is tough enough without having to constantly fix or reconnect your pieces.

Jenn Miele Leslie lives in Woodbridge, CT with her husband, three kids ages 8, 10 and 15 and two bulldogs who likes to fart and snore. Originally from Long Island, N.Y. (yes, that IS how you say it – if you’re from there you just understand) she misses being able to find a decent bagel or breakfast sandwich. Once an Art Therapist specializing in working with adults with various developmental disabilities, Jenn now spends her time shuttling her minions to: school; playdates; dance classes and competitions; occupational therapy; coding classes; and what feels like a million additional places, on a daily basis. In her occasional down time, Jenn enjoys photography, painting and an iTunes playlist that boasts way too many 90’s alternative songs.

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