There are very few parents I’d be willing to eat dinner with without my friends. It’s not that I dislike or hate any of them, but it’s more that if I am going to have dinner with someone who is not family, it better be someone who I can have decent 1:1 conversation with who won’t bore me to death.
A friend from college has parents who, during our college years, would come to visit her at least once a year during the school year. Each time they’d come, they’d generously offer to take one of her friends out, and oftentimes, that lucky friend was me. It was usually her dad coming, so he’d indulge us and provide us temporary respite from the monotony of dining hall grub. And we’d eat delicious things like Ethiopian/Eritrean, Indian, or Tibetan, and he’d happily and enthusiastically dig in with us. And we always talked about things that were interesting to me, like culture, travel, food, and more food. It was so much fun, and I loved seeing him.
Well, my friend’s parents were in town this week, and they messaged me on Facebook to let me know they were coming and would like to see me, so I guess the feeling was mutual. Tonight, I treated them to BCD Tofu Korean tofu stew, and we talked about their daughter, Arizona, politics, culture, language, art, museums, and travel. I was so happy.
And then I thought… it kind of makes me sad I can’t have the same conversations with my own parents.
After hearing about a disturbing Netflix TV series called 13 Reasons Why, I decided to try watching it. In a nutshell, the show is about a teen girl who suddenly commits suicide, leaving a package of tapes to each person who is a reason why she killed herself. She leaves instructions to each recipient of the tapes: each person who receives a package needs to completely listen to all the tapes, and then that person must pass along the package to the next person. If anyone breaks the chain, a separate set of tapes will be released to the public.
So tonight, I watched two episodes, and it’s clear how bad bullying can be with kids in real life. Everyone at some point gets bullied in school, but the extreme cases can and do result in suicide and lasting ramifications on people’s lives and psyches. I realize that this is all fiction, but I can also see how real it can be. In a lot of ways, and maybe it’s because I was confident from an earlier age than average, but I never really got bullied in middle or high school. I was always school or journalism obsessed, always studying. Going to an academic high school, I feel like I may have been shielded from a lot of the usual sex, drugs, and alcohol abuse, bullying, and popularity contests that the average American high school has. And maybe it was a good thing because I don’t know how I would handle even a fraction of what’s in this show.
Tonight after dinner with my parents, I met two of my friends for ice cream. One of my friends came with her boyfriend, who for the last two years of their relationship has pretty much been a mute. He rarely says anything. He just kind of stands or sits there and eats. He’ll occasionally look at you and seem like he’s listening to you, but you’ll probably never know because he rarely verbally communicates. My friend has expressed annoyance to him and says he needs to make an effort to talk to her friends like us (because that really needs to be stated). So tonight, he actually said one or two full sentences. And our second friend gave him credit for it afterwards.
“He was actually a bit more talkative than he normally is,” second friend remarks. “He said like two things.”
You know the bar is set so low that it’s nearly below ground when you’re complimenting someone for speaking two sentences over the course of an hour.
Despite it being her wedding day today, my friend decided to organize an out-of-town friends brunch at 10am. Although I felt that the idea would be very ambitious given that her wedding would be at 5pm, I selfishly hoped she’d follow through with it. It would give me more time to catch up with her, and also more time to get to know her friends from all over the place. Aside from me and our friendship from college, she had a friend and her boyfriend also travel from New York City, who she’d met in Beijing while working at a magazine after college; her high school best friend and his husband come from Minneapolis; and her middle school camp friend and her husband attend from Indianapolis. “You have someone representing each part of your life at this table!” her friend exclaimed.
My wariness over how well we’d get along immediately ended when her high school friend and I hugged and greeted each other, and we already knew who each other was because we’d heard so many stories from our mutual friend about each other. “I feel like I already knew you, but I just hadn’t met you yet!” he exclaimed. It’s like that Michael Buble song “Haven’t Met You Yet.” The entire group got along really well. Her friends were what I imagined — a varied bunch of intelligent, ambitious, witty, and very opinionated people from different parts of her life. We were all loud and laughed insanely, and we all had very strong opinions about Trump Nation, the current state of the union, and how racist and intolerant society was becoming because of this new leadership. We discussed cultural differences across the country and the nuances even in the same metro areas. We even discussed sex and cheating. That’s how much ground we covered over the course of brunch and then the wedding evening. It was a day of very intellectually stimulating and varied conversation. Meeting friends of friends doesn’t have to feel forced or be fake after all. I genuinely loved the entire day.
I’m getting ready to travel to my friend’s wedding in Phoenix this weekend. This will be the first non-family wedding I’ve attended without a plus-one as an adult, and it immediately reminded me of my friend who hates attending weddings without her partner and plus-one. I wonder how I will get along with my friends’ friends, because I’m sure as you know, for the most part at weddings, you will spend probably 10 percent or less time actually talking to the bride and groom. My friend is very opinionated, so I’m sure she also has a lot of friends who are like this, too. I actually am a little sad that my own friend table at my own wedding didn’t seem to “click” that well. I guess their individual personalities didn’t really mesh that well even though they all had me in common. Or maybe they just didn’t drink enough.
But if all else fails, I will still have her dad to chat up, as I always loved having him visit her in college. He was always so kind and generous, and would offer to take me out to eat with them, and we always ate interesting food together — Indian once, Ethiopian another — whatever cuisine you wanted, he’d enthusiastically agree. It was such a happy and welcome break from the mundane dining hall food in college. I remember those moments fondly because I remember thinking, how does someone my age have a parent who is this interesting and funny and witty? He’s a father’s age, but he seems to look at the world the way we do — he’s liberal, open-minded, loves to try new things, and is so creative. This is a world I was unaccustomed to, and I can’t wait to see him and his wife again.
Tonight, we went to meet my friend visiting from out of town at a karaoke bar. She’s a self-professed “karaoke monster” who Chris finds particularly interesting, especially after she’s had a drink or two. Why does Chris like her? In the past, he has said that she seems confident, she can talk about anything and seem comfortable, and she doesn’t shy away from controversial subjects. Chris doesn’t think this of a lot of my friends.
After a few hours of hanging out and having a lot of back and forth banter, I realized that I’ve never dated or been with anyone who really liked or got along with all my friends. I realize that’s a bit hard considering that I’ve never really had a single “group,” and so my friends are all very different from disparate parts of my life, but I’ve never had any partner readily accept all of them. One of my friends, who loves to co-mingle all friends as much as possible, once said that she doesn’t understand why people don’t “all just get along.” I think you only “all just get along” when you have no opinions and no desire to truly be yourself, because like Bill Maher says, if you are not offending anyone while saying what you think and being who you are, you must be a pretty dull person, or you are not truly being who you are at the core.
I set up time today to meet with a friend at a nearby coffee shop to the hotel where Chris and I are staying at in downtown San Francisco, but after some thought, I realized… why am I asking her to meet me at a crowded coffee shop with terrible acoustics when I could just invite her to the hotel lounge during prime afternoon tea time hour, where she could have access to whatever food and drink she wanted? I called her and asked to meet at the hotel instead, and as soon as she walked into the lounge… I wish I recorded her facial expressions changing. Like me, my friend is very expressive, and she shows all her emotions on her face. I’m sure Chris might have likened it to my face when I first walked into the British Airways International Lounge at JFK airport, when I’d never been into a single airport lounge in my life other than the terrible and bare-bones United lounge in LAX. She was blown away by the food setup, the access to drinks, the massive floor-to-ceiling windows, and the overall decor.
“Is this the life you are used to?” my friend marveled, as she sat down to enjoy her just-made latte and crustless mini egg salad sandwiches. “So la-dee-da, aren’t you? I could get used to being you! Can I just stay here even after you leave?”
We ended up staying in the lounge for about three hours, and Chris was even able to join us and meet this friend for the very first time. Chris made the fancy hotel and lounge seem like no big deal, like this was what he was used to given his hectic work travel schedule, and my friend marveled even more. She was not used to this type of travel. And for the longest time, neither was I.
As I thought more about it as we sat down together for that time, I started feeling like somewhat of a disappointment, like a Stepford bride who relies on her husband for all the money and luxuries and pleasures she enjoyed. I don’t get this type of experience or treatment on my own or through my own work; I get these privileges because of the work and accomplishments of my husband. And what’s worse is that he’s had it way harder than me as someone who isn’t even a U.S. citizen and had to prove himself as a foreigner; I’m natively born here and I’m nowhere as accomplished as he is. He’s set in his career and enjoys every minute of it; I’m still wandering around, figuring out what the hell I’m really supposed to be doing and what my purpose is.
These are the first world conflicts of someone who is privileged, or “la dee da” as my friend said.
When you have been friends with your friends for over two decades, it’s easy either to note the evolution in their characters and beliefs…. or not. Sometimes, we turn a blind eye to our friends’ changes because we want to see them how we always saw them — as the great people we originally loved and became attached to. But for me, I think what’s been a very strange change is seeing one of my closest friends, who I’ve always considered a deep thinker who has shared her feelings, stop doing that and stop probing to find out more about why I think the way I think. Before in high school, she used to always challenge my behavior or voiced opinions. She always cared about the family drama I had to deal with at home. She always seemed to want to understand. Now, she seems to zone out when our third friends asks questions to find out more about anything about me that may be sensitive or personal. It’s like a lesser desired level of understanding. Or maybe she just wants to remove herself from understanding because it takes too much effort, is too tiring because a lot of the facts are negative, or just wants to have more superficial relationships now. I’ll never quite get it.
If there is one thing that unites pretty much all of my friends, it’s that they all love to eat. Some have smaller appetites than the others, but they all enjoy eating food and see eating as a pleasure in life, not something they do simply to survive. One of my oldest friends from middle school has always been a stick, and she’s always had the largest appetite. She’s also known for eating slower than anyone I’ve ever met in my life, and after you are done eating, she has just barely scraped the surface of her dish, and then slowly will inch her way to your leftovers on your plate. We were on the phone tonight, and she said that in the last two years, she’s realized her metabolism is finally slowing down, and she cannot eat as much as she used to. She’s managed to surpass me in weight even though she is two inches shorter than me, and the bridesmaid dress she wore to my wedding stopped fitting a month after the wedding. She asked me for advice on how to lose weight and what I did to lose weight four years ago.
This is part of getting older — realizing that you can’t do all the things you wanted to do and eat all the things you want to eat without consequence. It means recognizing that your body is changing and that you need to slowly adjust what you are doing to it to treat it right, otherwise it will come back and be very mean to you.
I think in our time together as a couple, Chris and I have really only made one net-new couple friend in New York City, and we just happened to meet one half of this couple during my friend’s nonprofit food tour last year. I feel this way about individual friends, but couple friends are even harder because all four people need to get along to a certain degree, and that makes it even harder to make the relationship sticky and to continue to want to see each other and spend time with each other. We had them over for dinner tonight, and we talked about everything from family to travel to our futures. When we are with them, something happens that rarely happens when four people are all together who are parts of couples: we all listened as one person spoke at a time, and few side conversations happened. That almost never happens with my other friends and their partners, and it’s probably because someone’s conversation is going to bore the other. It was so refreshing, and I relished every second of it. It didn’t feel like we were at war to be heard because everyone just wanted to listen to each other. It was like a utopian conversation.
It’s so nice to feel like people actually want to listen to what you say and respect what you have said.