I was in first grade when two of my friends started talking about this girl they didn’t like. They called her “Apple.” It was their not-so subtle way of telling me they were not a fan of certain behaviors. They hated she was bossy. They thought she was mayabang. Every little thing they said about Apple sounded awful. It wasn’t long after until I realized that they were talking about “Apple” but, really, they were talking about me.
I’m not sure how this was resolved then, or if I ever confronted them about it. Now I can laugh about it and roll my eyes at the pettiness. But the fact that I can remember it in detail years after means that it left some sort of impression on me. I became quite conscious of how other people saw me, and how my actions reflected on them.
It was around that time, too, when my classmates would just stop talking to me because they felt like it. They made a habit of pretending not to be friends with people just for the sake of it. The next day, they’d pick on someone else and they’d be friends with me again. People called me iyakin back then because I’d always be crying in school. I always thought it was unfair that I wasn’t part of this “game” they were playing, but did I really want to make someone feel bad just for the heck of it? Maybe more than anything, I just wanted to be in on the joke. I didn’t want to be the clueless girl, always wondering if my table mates would be talking to me that day.
In high school, we had a “group dialogue” with our guidance counselor as a form of conflict resolution. Whenever there was a misunderstanding, we would schedule a meeting, where we would air out our grievances and have our guidance counselor moderate. Mostly, this was done to skip out on classes, but on the rare occasion, it would somehow mend friendships and help us let out our pent-up aggression. The details of past sessions are a bit fuzzy. The funny ones always come up when my friends get together. Sometimes I wonder, did we ever really resolve anything in that room or were we just wrapping things up, so we could go back to class?
In college, most of my friends were women. I’m quick to connect with them because I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have sisters. And friends, I suppose, are the closest thing I’ll have to that. I only have a handful of friends from then that I still keep in touch with today. There was a time when I fell out of touch with a few of them. I even thought it meant the friendship was over. Tampuhan turned cold war turned forgotten blips of the past.
At work, all my bosses (mostly women) treated me as their friend more than their colleague, so I did the same when I handled my own team. It turned out, sometimes being a boss is difficult when you also try to be friends with your team. I learned the hard way. You’re always trying to be approachable enough, so they don’t feel like they can’t talk to you. But you’re also trying to be authoritative, so that they respect you. When the lines are blurred, when does the personal cross over to work and vice versa? Can you rate someone negatively in their evaluation just because they decided not to invite you to join them for lunch? (The answer is of course not, lol.)
It seems easier to manage relationships as I grow older. I no longer have this need to be liked by everyone. Of course I still think about how other people see me—who doesn’t?—but it doesn’t consume me anymore. After all, what other people think of me is their business. I can’t do anything about that.
I’ve also accepted that there are people in your life that will disappear for different reasons. Maybe if it’s for their well-being—maybe for yours, but I’ve learned that female friendships can’t just be completely black and white. They’re messy and complicated, but also tender and delicate. You’re always learning how far you can push each other until you find that equilibrium of not minding and caring just enough. And sometimes, those people you swore you would cut off forever (or people who swore they would never talk to you again) find their way back into your life again. And you wonder, is this what it means to be friends forever?