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There's a Code to This Sisterhood Thing
Being Bound is not Bondage
In the wake of my immediate social circle collapsing, I wonder what role I played in some of the superficial relationships that made up that so-called friend group. In my anger, I think of how often I ignored feelings of discomfort, my gut telling me something wasn’t right. There were times when I felt the sting of insincerity be it in gesture, or spoken off handedly in remarks, where I am culpable of being both the voice and the subject. Friendships, as adults happen with intention, opposed to perhaps, the haphazard ways people in their youths find one another in neighborhoods, schools, or places where they work. A gathering as welcoming as a picnic, as inviting as a birthday party, is often a site where people come together with the spirit to celebrate, to love, and to be unified.
So, it seems people are one of the institutions in which grown folks meet, to befriend one another – although not exclusively. For me hanging out, with friends, crossing the threshold into a homie’s life where I encounter others who know and cherish the same person that I do, whom I do not know – was always a chance to stretch beyond the comforts of my familiar circle. You come out, celebrate, maybe revel a little, and hopefully – with good fortune you run into them again – maybe within a year for birthdays or longer in other cases.
It seems though, that distance or a boundary that might have been naturally enacted by the person at the center, has or is collapsing because of social media. Social media is such a weird place sometimes. When recalling the mores of social etiquette that were handed down to me (perhaps a version of an African tradition, or scarier a colonial custom, or some bastard of the two), after people showed up to support an event you thanked them. Usually, a note or maybe even a phone call. There was no way to address folks of your party all at once by mail. No one in their right mind would agree to coordinating a conference call to thank everyone who came out to your birthday last week. I know I wouldn’t, and I for sure never witnessed it happening – at home, or in the movies. Though, I might have been a recipient of a massive group text. Eyeroll.
Still, the idea of wanting to share your appreciation is the basis of the “thank you.” In the times we live in, one defined by our love (obsession) and curiosity of digital-visual culture; the group photo, the Instagram story, the carousel of images proclaiming, with pride the gratitude for your people is the response of today. The outfits we wore! The food we ate! The drinks we drank, and drank, and drank. The fun we had! The hope to remember, when returning back to the beautiful-ordinary days of our lives. That is our new thank you note, it is expedient and tony.
A particularly sweet birthday celebration of mine, where I wrangled 40 friends on to the top of a double decker bus, was filled with laughter, call-and-response, inside jokes, spilled drinks, smoked blunts and close calls with traffic lights (for my modelesque friends) – and all lovingly and in some cases candidly captured. It was such a thrill to be surrounded by so many people who love me, and who I hoped to express in return the joy they bring into my life. My personality has always been defined by friends, friendship groups and places of congregation – and so often bringing the many disparate parts of my life together, with the people I have encountered along the way.
The morning after my party on the bus, the rain that threatened to ruin the day before – my day - broke through the graying humid skies, and I felt the familiar ache of my kinda blues. That sadness that lives in the cyan shadows, waiting for an overcast – desperate to become the environment, threatened to erupt. But instead, the moments from the day before, pure elation, came back in the form of social media posts. Story-after-story, I fell in love with my life again, with my friends again, with the suspect sweet September winds of Manhattan and I felt that rush of gratitude. So yeah, I’m moody. Prone. I reposted everything, excited by the varying points of view, thankful for the memories. It was the way I could thank everyone all at once, at the same time, and enact, somehow, the provocation of fun and delight that we all experienced together the night before. It’s what we do now.
I say all this to say, that I understand the compulsion, and nuances of emotions behind the sentiment of social media posts, tagging everyone to thank them. I don’t think it’s abnormal to take a looky-loo at those who you might be newly acquainted with or even socially familiar. I’ve even sent follow requests to those who I may have shared an indulgent laugh with, or who may have adjusted my collar if the tag stuck out. I know I have accepted a few. This is customary, so much so that’s it’s hard to imagine a time in our social media world when this was not an option, and people in photos were just static images on our screens. It’s cool while being Orwellian that we can get a peek into the lives of those in our orbits, without as much as a word. I imagine most of us rarely announce our online lurking, those of us willing to even admit to it. We all do it.
After my party, like many have experienced I imagine, I saw friends cropping up, connecting on social media. Cute! Community! Some seemed likely, but others not so much. Not cute. Weird. I doubted my suspicions at first, wondering, questioning really, what bothered me so much about certain people in my life being in touch with others. I had to admit that a lot of my private life is divided amongst a few people, and it made me uncomfortable knowing that people that I might not be in a good place with, or people who made me question theirs and my own sincerity – would be in touch with the folks who I trust the most. My private life is more than just what I share, though there are things I don’t tell everybody, but about how I show up for people, who I am to them. It was a quiet spiral of self-consciousness. It became obvious who shared similar, yet unspoken, boundaries around friends and friendship group crossovers – and who did not. I was not pleased to realize that after a friendship ended that I would potentially have to be around them – because they would remain friends with my friends. I would create scenarios in my mind for what an unsavory reunion would look like. Lot of drama in the shower, preparing rebuttals just in case. And though my homies made sure I felt seen, heard and validated it was still stressing me out.
The fall out in my friend group as a result of some boundary crossing relationships had left me on edge, and I found suspicion everywhere. Harkening back on a time when it was unlikely that someone, I had a falling out with had pollenated another friend group, I made it all about me. A lot of my reasoning was self-centered. There was and still is they only know each other because of me, or how can you stop speaking to me but want to keep in touch with my homegirl? In these cases, folks had connected and formed a bond, one where I was not included. In other cases it felt like clout chasing and perhaps a play for social capital. Was it that I felt left out? Was it that I was being isolated? Was I just a conduit for their relationship? And a million other questions unraveled but forced me to shift my perspective. It’s not about me. One can be at the center or can create the circumstances for how people meet, but one cannot control what the people around them do. No matter how badly she might want to intervene, people are going to find ways to belong to one another. And sometimes that belonging is hurtful, even harmful though it shouldn’t be, people are entitled to make friends. Though I do not believe people should make friends at the expense of another person’s feelings.
I come from a place where there’s a code to this sisterhood thing. Mostly, if I don’t fuck with her, then we don’t fuck with her. I’m not sure how positive it is, but I know one thing for sure, those who share that belief with me – are enacting a similar boundary. These feel like my true friends. A way of ensuring that the people around me feel true is by having active, intentional conversations about what makes me feel safe and seen in a friendship. I’m working on it. What my frustrations in boundary naming, making, keeping, and the aftermath of doing none of those things taught me was that I’m not at the center. Despite the main character energy, I believe I exude, my friends ain’t sitting around thinking about myfeelings, they are probably thinking about theirs. I asked what would happen if I decentered myself from a friendship group? It caught me up. I gagged really. Yes, my feelings are valid, and yes that’s because a person who hurt me is still capable of being another way with someone, and I have the displeasure of being witness to it. But I can’t throw away the baby with the bathwater. My community has value, with its flawed and even oppy people. I don’t have to hang out with, be friends with, or be disingenuous about who I like. I don’t have to hide how I feel about a person. In fact, with practice, they can take up less space in my imagination, and the time I spend with friends if I remind myself that we are bonded by love. When I move myself from the center, I see that we are bound to another we are not in bondage.
I can and will always be the center of my life. Prioritizing boundaries and having the courage to name and act on them, is self-preservation. Love. Self-love. It is hard, but for me, having friends, from all different walks, from different places, who do all kinds of things, is vital to my wellbeing. I am inspired by people. [Also annoyed.] I’m unlearning the beliefs that in order to have community; everyone has to be friends, shit even friendly, as long as you’re kind that’s what’s critical. I am unlearning the need to completely cut people out of my life, unless they are despicable, violent, and ugly-on-the-inside. Even if I tried, they would probably show up on the timeline anyway (SIGH). I have to remind myself that I’m kind when I feel overpowered by feels as a result of relationship anguish. There is a bounty of love with the friends I have now, the ones I’ll undoubtedly make in the future, and I have a lifetime to figure out how to show up best for myself, to be better for loved ones, for community.
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