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Do you have to choose between friends and family?

by Dezi Hall

The phrase "friends and family," implies that at any given time in your life you will likely find yourself in the company of both of these types of people. But I have found that life doesn't always lend itself to that kind of simplicity. It seems that the different stages in a person's life mean we're often left with a more realistic "friends or family" dynamic.

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When you're growing up, if you are lucky enough to grow up in a stable and loving environment, your family is more like a backdrop for your life, rather than the focus of it. Your parents and siblings are like a constant ever-present hum, like your refrigerator quietly chugging on, always there and yet almost always unnoticed. Your friends are everything. They consume your life. Your physical space is dominated by them- crammed into cafeteria benches, sitting behind the frizzy hair of your counterparts in science class, packed into the school bus, sweaty thighs squeezed in with musical instruments and Jansports. They consume your thoughts. Who said what about me? Who is going to sit next to me tomorrow? Why didn't they sit next to me today? Who is having a party and what should I wear to it?

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You still spend time with your family, and you still occupy the same house, but they do not occupy the same space in your mind or on your calendar that they did when you were very young. When college arrives, you pack up your belongings and you quite literally remove yourself from your familial unit. Now even the reverberating hum is gone, and you are left to create your own noise in the void. You make new friends and form new opinions and create a new relationship with yourself. The friends you have will almost certainly change, but the need for friendship as such only gets stronger.

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Entering into the post-college years people's paths start to splinter off. Some stay single and cement their friendships even further. Some peel off and get married and begin nuclear families of their own. It is in this peeling off that a boomerang effect begins to take place. With diapers to change, sleep schedules to follow and lunches to make, the idea of maintaining friendships becomes another chore to complete in a long list that regenerates like a Medusa's head each morning. Suddenly the idea of friendships seems like an unattainable luxury. You once again find yourself turning to your own mother for help. You find yourself seeking out your siblings for advice and comfort.

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While in this nascent stage of finding myself of the other side of the family dynamic (mother rather than child), I also catch myself lamenting not just the loss of specific friendships, but the loss of friendship itself- the loss of the entire institution. Though, watching my child grow as shown me just how temporary life stages are. Less than a year ago my child did not exist outside my own body. Now I struggle to keep up with her moving body. So while I photograph my child's monthly milestones, I remind myself that this stage- this familial cocooning- is a milestone of my own. This isn't the season for friendship, but like all seasons, this one too will come and go.

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