My mother taught me that it wasn’t important to have a huge number of “friends” around you. “If you have only one friend, and she or he is truly a friend, count yourself lucky,” she said. “What’s important is to make sure those you confide in, those you spend your time with, those you care about, truly care about you too.”
I remember a particular case in point. In high school I was stuck on this guy named Oscar. He was an unusual choice for me: a foreign-born student from Eastern Europe. I knew that he had a very troubled life and that somehow was appealing to me. So I asked my parents if I could invite my new “boyfriend” over for dinner.
“Mom,” I said, “I don’t think he’s ever eaten steak in his life!”
Food was always a way to show affection for my family and my mother was pleased to share our bounty. My father was less enthusiastic, but he always was when I told him I had a boyfriend.
Let me be clear: we were far from rich or even in the middle of the middle class. Anyway, Oscar started to come over on a regular basis and began eating us out of house and home. I loved it until he started acting weird. He became jealous if I even talked to another boy and made fun of the fact that I was co-chairman of the Boosters, a group that cheered on our not-so-winning high school basketball team.
“Why do you care about this silliness?” he said. “You are spoiled rotten by your parents.”
Now maybe he was right, but my life was warm and I was surrounded by love, and I didn’t understand why he felt that I was being spoiled. I began to doubt myself and was having a very hard time dealing with his criticism and cynicism. Through it all I still liked him, but wound up confused and mad at myself. So, you guessed it, I took it to my mom.
She had a simple solution.
“If any person in your life doesn’t really care about you, hurts you, especially if you have shown them love, then walk away and walk away fast,” she said. “Why do you need it? What good does it do you? I know you feel bad for Oscar because his life isn’t as good as yours, but if your warm family life makes him jealous, well, that’s his problem. He doesn’t understand that there’s a big difference between being spoiled and being loved.”
There she was again: giving me advice I would have had to pay an analyst thousands for if I couldn’t follow her wisdom. I told Oscar we should break up because I was too young to have just one boyfriend. He didn’t argue, just looked sullen, as if he expected it. He walked away. As he did, I felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from me. Maybe it was lifted from him too.
So, yes, find good people who truly care about you, give them your love and support, give them respect, but expect it back. Otherwise, take a hike. Get away. Find real love, real friendship.
No wonder when I was eleven I wrote the following rhyme to my mother. I found it in her jewel box after she died
This article appeared in ELLE USA