I’ll be honest. When Maddie proposed the idea of Friendship month, my reaction was along the lines of, “Meh, fine. I guess we all think a lot about friendship when we’re getting hitched.” I wasn’t particularly fascinated in it, but I thought I’d take one for the team. Well. We’re just two weeks into the conversation, and already I would like to take all that back. I’m now convinced that these conversations about friendship are some of the most important and least heard conversations we’ve had on APW. What does friendship mean? Why is it important? Why should we get off our Netflix-watching asses and go find it, even though tracking it down and keeping it is scary? When do we let friends go for not treating us right? When do we continue to love the shit out of them even when they’re (and we’re) sometimes infuriating assholes. (Anyone who wants to talk about undying loyalty in sometimes-difficult friendships, meet me in happy hour with a drink.) But today’s post hits on a core part of the conversation: how do we let people love us without anything tangible we can do to love them back? And how the hell can we get more penguins in our lives? Penguin BFFs, even.
The beginning of our engagement is a story I regale often, simply because people ask. “Is your fiancé really the one who proposed with penguins?” they ask. Well, yes. But also with our friends, and music, and laughter. It’s these details that make me smile and crinkle my nose in laughter when I think about that day.
Until the moment I caught sight of twenty of our nearest and dearest surrounding the penguin enclosure, I didn’t have a clue. (Seriously, I just thought we got to go backstage with the penguins out of lucky coincidence. How dense can I be?) But until that moment, I also didn’t have a clue how much I would appreciate the presence of our friends and family: not for validation, but simply a presence of overwhelming love.
My fiancé and I are fortunate enough to have a wide range of friends from many backgrounds. There are the friends we met through our many nights spent at the theatre and in rehearsal, the friends from high school and college, the families—older and younger folks both—who we are close with. I was not only impressed that he had managed to gather them, but that they had all, one hundred percent, kept it a secret from me.
More than anything, however, I was struck by what our friends would do for us. One of our closest friends drove seventeen hours the previous evening to make it to the proposal in time, battling crazy weather and night driving with little sleep. (Unbeknownst to me, my fiancé left the room to talk our friend through his drive, keeping him awake and sane. I thought he was doing laundry.) My best friend since the fourth grade had seen me two days before, hugging me goodbye and saying, “See you in a few months.” But yet there she was, two days later, a big grin on her face and camera in hand, watching our engagement.
When I caught sight of a large group of people around the penguin enclosure, my first thought was that it was feeding time (always a good show!)… Then, I recognized two friends of ours. “How weird,” I said to my then-boyfriend, “Alex and Jennie are at the zoo today!” “Weird,” he replied. When I realized I knew everyone, of course, I understood immediately what was going on. I did not expect the sudden onset of tears, nor their reason: I was crying not just at the enormity of the moment, but the overwhelming fact that everyone was here for us, and solely for us.
At the risk of sounding like a sob story, I rarely feel indebted to my friends; I rarely feel as though people have done something purely out of the goodness of their hearts. Of course the people in my life are good, decent people who do me many, many favors. What I mean to say is that I, being the crazy person that I am, usually attempt to mitigate these favors so that they don’t inconvenience the other party. I do favors in return. I attempt to make others happy. I would much rather attend lunch at the restaurant of your choosing and drink the punch you like, because I know you like it. This isn’t lack of preference, it’s what makes me happy. Then, I feel, we are on equal, friendly footing, no matter how close you and I may be.
Up to this moment, never had I felt such a rush of unconditional love from my group of friends. The tears flowed as my mind raced, realizing that these people had gone out of their way to support us. The rest of the story is a blur, but I came out of it with a very distinct feeling—apart from excitement and love, of course—of guilt. I felt guilty that my friends had gone out of their way to do this for us, with nothing in return but many thanks. I felt guilty, like I was eating up people’s time and energies, guilty that I could not possibly return this favor, and that awkward flavor of guilty when you don’t know how to take a compliment, all rolled into one. Not to mention all the hours some of them put in, rehearsing a song in secret, getting the harmonies and guitar intro just so. (Music rehearsal is hard, y’all. This is seriously some friend-love.)
I started crafting elaborate plans in my mind. When so-and-so proposes to so-and-so, we will totally be there. Heck, I’ll plan it. And then I’ll plan their wedding. That’ll be a great way of returning the favor, right? And then I’ll babysit their kids.
We moved, just a few weeks ago, and all of a sudden my focus has shifted from repayment to giving these relationships the value and time they deserve. My challenge, going forward, is not one of guilt, as I realize that this is simply what friends do: they support you, particularly in the greatest and hardest moments of your life. And so I am committing myself to cultivating friendships where I am proud and happy to be the supportive one, and to be supported. I know this will come up, again and again, through future moves and wedding planning, and starting our baby family. I need to remember my friends are my friends for a reason: not just because they’re the best (although they totally are), but because they care.
Maybe this simply boils down to needing to learn to accept a favor (or a compliment). While my friendships have always been fulfilling and true, this was the first time I recognized a need within myself to let go, and accept the reason for “friendship” in the first place. It’s a lesson a long time coming and certainly a giant mountain to climb, in the future. With friends like these, though, I’m venturing a guess it won’t be so bad.
And if they want me to show up when they get engaged at the circus or giraffe exhibit or Disney World, I am so totally there.
Photos by Jenny Donoghue, Ashley’s best friend.