Upon returning to my hometown I found my reaction to the place that I grew up in to be a mixed bag of emotions. Most of the time it is nostalgia mixed with happiness as I recall fond memories of myself growing up and learning how to be a functional human being. Yet along with these memories, there are new realities, many of which force me to confront issues that I wouldn’t necessarily confront anywhere else. There is nothing like walking in your hometown and bumping into old friends to test your resolve to be the person that you have chosen to be.
When you live in a city far away from your hometown you can easily hide from your past. No one around you knows who you once were, no one cares about what your struggle was when you were 5, 10, or even 17 years old. In this grand new city you are whoever you have chosen to be in that very moment. This is part of the magic of moving to a larger city.
Yet, being in my hometown, I find that it is difficult to escape who I once was. Instead of fighting it, I have chosen to face “old” me head-on. This has proven to be the most difficult around old friends. When your friendship is based on commonalities you had years and years ago, it is difficult to accept that someone has changed, because maybe, just maybe, that means accepting that you might not have much in common anymore. I’ve found that with some friends it is significantly easier to have conversations with them than with others. Some friends have been pleasant surprises in that while I have been getting to know them again, I have found very different people standing in front of me. They have grown and become people who had I not known them before, I would want to get to know.
There are however, those who haven’t grown, those whose self-definition seems to have plateaued at various moments in the past. There are those who remain defined by who they were in high school, others who allow undergrad to define them. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, I find it difficult to maintain a friendship with any of these people.
I suppose the only pattern I’ve been able to discover is this. The people who have managed to remain an integral part in my life despite my redefinition of myself are ones who have grown and redefined themselves at the same rate as me. This isn’t to say that they have grown in the same direction as me. In fact some of my closest friends are wildly different in personality and are pursing very different goals than me. These people are devoted to their new understanding of themselves, and are always seeking to improve themselves. Not only are they willing to “re-create” themselves, but they are empathetic and accepting of my own redefinition. This piece is crucial. With friends who have stopped growing I find that some level of resentment and animosity always creeps into the conversation. It’s almost as if my decision to change myself is a rejection of them as humans, and this automatically creates distance between us.
Ultimately, I find that in order to truly commit to being a happier, healthier me, I have to commit to only allowing people into my life who help me maintain this perspective. Those friends that grow and adapt to their new life and goals are much more compatible. With those that are not, well, all I can spare is a steady wave, a soft smile, and a quick memory of times past because my time has been recommitted to grander things.