I have been sick all weekend, the unsatisfying kind where you are not totally bed-ridden from the flu (and can therefore feel justified in canceling all of your plans and staying in for the weekend), but lightly sick, enough to not enjoy anything, but to not ethically be able to back out of important things. And beyond being important, my plans for the weekend were something I actually wanted to do, and had been looking forward to for some time. Friends from Annapolis were in town, so the Annapolis people already in New York were gathering, and the small group of us spent the whole weekend together, dinners, brunches, poker at our place, long walks in the snow, and mini-shopping trips to thrift stores in Williamsburg. It was lovely, and though I couldn’t rage the way you very much should on a Friday night when you’re having a mini-high school reunion, I vitamin-C bombed my way into enjoying the whole thing, and now find myself on the other end of it all, slightly sicker for having done it, but glad I sucked it up nonetheless.
Last night, when everyone left and Marc and I were settling in to watch one episode of Intervention on Netflix and get to bed early-ish, I said to him how nice it was to be around those people, and how much it made me realize that I am no longer riddled with the insecurity and petty jealousy that I once was. Being with these longtime friends, with whom I feel totally and utterly myself, I was able to share my good professional news — and listen to theirs — with the most wonderful, calming feeling of total happiness and excitement for one another. We all want each other to succeed in our respective fields and lives, we all enjoy hearing about what we’ve been up to, and can spend the whole weekend together without getting tired of one another. It’s a real blessing to have that sort of group in your life, but it shocked me this time how much it didn’t shock me.
Usually, when I would spend time with hometown friends, it would feel like a mini-vacation in the rest of my life, a time to be myself and enjoy the company of people who want nothing from me, and from whom I want nothing. It was a moment without uncomfortable competitiveness, or passive-aggression, or the tense sentiment of judgment. I used to be surrounded (or, rather, surround myself) with people who made me feel less-than, and from whom I got a strange, masochistic measure of joy, because it made me feel like I was working for something. Envy and insecurity, in my mind, felt like indicators of upward mobility, striving, and becoming a more desirable person. I was used to the feeling of being “on,” and attempting to fit in with certain people and groups, because it felt like the thing a normal “adult” should be doing. I was motivated by envy, but in the worst way. And no matter what successes I achieved, personally or professionally, I never felt happy.
But over the past year — and a great amount of this is due to working for myself now, and from home — I’ve really whittled down my social circles to a place that feels extremely fulfilling and intimate. There are a few people I muted on social media, and forgot about entirely within a matter of days. There are people with whom I simply stopped reaching out, and realized immediately that the entirety of our friendship depended on me extending the effort. (Those friendships dissolve quickly, but honestly feel like a weight off your shoulders.) I had a few people with whom I had to come clean to a certain degree, initially uncomfortable talks that ultimately led to a much more healthy and honest relationship. In total, I probably cut down the amount of people I see or interact with by about 60 percent, and everyone who used to fill me with that bitter, wonderful envy when I would stalk them on social media has been completely cut out of my feeds. It turns out, when you stop feeding the green monsters, they quickly dissipate — it is not a special hole in your life that needs filling, unless you create it.
Because of this, the people who are left are people with whom I feel great, and utterly myself. I can feel happy for others’ success, and not at all threatened in my own. And with my reduced circle, I have the pleasure of spending more and higher-quality time with the people I really enjoy. I have daily gchat buddies, go on weekends with treasured friends, and manage to see my favorite people on a weekly basis. And all of them leave me with that great, refreshing feeling of being with my hometown friends: sincere, joyful empathy that radiates in both directions. Yes, being with my old friends was a special, more intense version of that — where you have 10+ years of history to build on and make jokes about — but it is still something that is now a constant. It is no longer the mini-vacation from my regular life, the one that leaves me drained and insecure.
It has felt like cleaning out my closet, like getting rid of things to make room for more of what I want, or to just have the pleasing simplicity of open space. I feel lighter and more confident, and while I know that I have work to do and goals to achieve in my work and my life, I am no longer surrounded by the things that make me unproductively jealous, or leave a party worrying if I was convincing enough in my attempt to be someone I’m not. I get to be who I am, and work on my own projects, every day. And if anyone doesn’t like it, or want to be around it, that’s more than fine with me. I have more than enough love in my life as it is.
Feel like you’ll never save enough money to be a real person? So did Steph Georgopulos. Read about it in Some Things I Did for Money.