Recently, a close friend of mine, whom I had associated with for over five years, decided to end our friendship. I am not upset by this turn of events; the truth is, the association was a long-time in circling the drain. Simply put, each of us had simply gone in two different directions and life paths. So, in a way, this is liberating since it frees me from the psychological anxiety of interpersonal conduct.
Many people would not take this happening as mellow as I did; others may rant against their former friend and perhaps swear ugly accusations or vendettas. I, of course, felt otherwise and as though this was a natural culmination which needed to happen. But, it should be said, that my history with people was not always so straightforward; indeed, when I consider my past associations, what I notice is a stark uneven quality. A quality which I now hope to sketch out in hopes of connecting with anyone who has undergone the same ordeal.
I will talk of several different modes of friendship which cover different aspects of my life. Some deal exclusively in cyber-space while others are handled in the real world; each section is a vignette and will explore a different understanding of friendship.
Elementary School: Coerced Association
Elementary school (grade school) is an interesting period if for no other reason than hindsight; it is the period that you do not think very much of at the time, but is fondly remembered during the first trying weeks of middle school where you realize, in the social anxiety fest of meeting new students, that the safe and secure pastures of K-5 was the location of your comfort zone.
Looking back, I had three different friends in elementary school: David, Chris, Jacob.
David was my first friend. We had bonded over our mutual delight of violence; I still remember that day in first grade where we repeatedly drew Christ’s crucifixion because we loved to make it violent and adorn the landscape with spikes. We did many things together and were inseparable nigh. I would give him Pokemon and some Yu-Gi-Oh! Cards and we would joke around on the bus.
But things did not last much: around the third grade, we began fighting. At first, it has to the trading card but soon evolved into him being jealous over me befriending a new boy, Chris. Although I had only originally bonded with Chris due to his love of my trading cards, after a while he gained an affinity for me and we started hanging out as friends, not just as ‘kids who only like one another for the things they own.’ David was pushed out of the picture; although there was something approaching a kind of reconciliation, things with David never again reached their pre-Chris status—simply put, I was the subservient friend in the relationship and David was bossy; Chris was more equalitarian and treated me less as an attendant and more as an equal.
But, Chris was also a year ahead of me in school. So, there was always this black hole during the class. So, I bonded with another student, Jacob. He and I enjoyed writing stories together. We would design a universe and split our short stories evenly between one page of writing and one page of illustration. He sat with me on the bus during field trips and we also had our desks next to each other. It was a great time; and although I never truly felt like he was a good friend since I honestly didn’t know why he liked me, it as likely simply my own insecurity which troubled me.
In elementary school, I only truly began feeling comfortable during the fifth grade, just as sixth grade loomed. So when the year ended and I ‘graduated’ to middle school, everything which took so long to make, was destroyed.
Middle & High School: Coerced Loneliness
I didn’t adjust well to middle school. Everyone I knew from elementary school was divided into different wings, and we barely saw one another; drifting happened… I did not respond well. To cover a lot of time, I will just say that in order to cope, I simply refused to attend. Obviously, this behavior made it difficult to learn the curriculum. I was held back twice and isolated myself, only making a couple of contacts whom I faded from associating with as time moved on. I was alone. And that was the way it remained for the remainder of my time in day school; by the time I dropped out, and was studying for my G.E.D, I eventually began to wonder what happened to those old friends I had and ponder if they may be interested in hanging out with me.
During my lonely time studying in night school, I reached out via Facebook and Myspace to some of my old friends. Contacting them was awkward. I was awkward. I didn’t know what to say. To be honest, I didn’t really know how to interact with people online, what some of the slang meant and whatnot. So, the internet helped but what I remember realizing was something that though simple, was deep: in the years I had been missing in action, they had had lead their own lives, lives which featured those meetings of new people and growing up without me. Part of the reason why I found it so hard to relate to them was because they have had a time going through high school and finding themselves as adolescents. Their subjectivity was alien to me, as mine was to them. The void that was temporarily filled, opened back up, if only a bit.
Now that I have offered some brief remarks on my school day interactions, I wish to offer some memories on the decline of friendship.
Daniel: A Gamer
Danny was one of my early online friends; he and I did the sorts of things which you could expect two young Queers to do; though based largely on me advising him and just talking about video games, the friendship was complicated because I eventually grew feelings for him that were never returned. Although the friendship did not breakdown due to our different standings on affection, but rather my own behavior while intoxicated (talking about suicide and depression and the like, as well as begrudging him into a forced obligation), his disassociation was hard to take; upon finding out the Fall I had returned to university that he had blocked me from Steam (out chatting platform of choice), without so much as a message why he no longer wanted to associate with me, I took his rejection hard and nearly drank myself into a coma. Our friendship, though only ever based through the internet, was a long lasting one which had, over the course of around four years, had traversed many an obstacle. I was not well with this happening for a long while. It was the secretive nature of how the friendship ended, that bugged me—during our interactions the previous year, he never informed me that he felt uncomfortable with my actions, nor did he ask me to change my behavior in regards to him; in fact, I did try to isolate him from my actions via encouraging him to go to bed when I got bad. But, he never confronted me on what disturbed him; instead, he waited until the summer break, when he knew that I would not have an internet connection, and removed me from his life. I supposed that I should have suspected something when he didn’t text me over the summer, but I always assume the best in people and had presumed that he had difficulties of some kind and perhaps lost my number. But, he didn’t and under the cover of technological night, had removed me from his life. Though I attempted to apologize via cell, he would not respond.
Justin: False-Friend Obsession
In terms of university contacts, Justin is likely the only person whom I could have honestly called a friend. But all of it was based on pity for my depression and loneliness. First meeting during a summer event at university before we entered as first-year students, I got eyes for him right away. Once the school year began, and the water separated from the oil, I gained an audience with him as a friend by helping him out one day with his schoolwork. From there, I tried to deepen our relation by email and sharing in our mutually shared interests. Well, as time went on, and I sent messages which I regretted and apologized for, and he forgave me while still pitying me, one day I simply gave up and sent him a level-headed, non-hostile message asking him if my accusations—that he was only friends with me because he pitied me; he never responded.
I still feel unsettled by these events, over a year later. I had not held feelings for a guy like I did for him since middle school, but, like middle school, I was destined to be rejected, not only as a lover but as a friend.
Morgan: On the Christian-Secular Redux
I met Morgan during my internet hoopla spree; part of this spree was discovering my identity as a gay man. At the time, I had joined a support forum for gay youth. A little later, Morgan joined. At first, he and I were on opposite spectrums—he, a Christian (Methodist), and I, and atheist. We butted heads in the religions forum a lot but managed to find some common ground.
We became Facebook contacts and would keep in touch that way. However, I am not a person who has a stable emotional life and after a protracted period of us not talking, I deleted him, with a bunch of other people I knew from day school (this was what I called ‘the great purge’). Some years went by and I decided to search him out and friend him once more; we exchanged some messages and became FB friends again. I was surprised to learn that during his time in college, he abandoned his religion. Things were good, for a while, but one day he deactivated his FB account and would not respond to the email that I sent inquiring why. Then, one night, after having a bit too much to drink, I sent him an angry, accusatory email. This earned a response from him (level-headed) which had boiled down to the following: he was entering a new time in his life and wanted a fresh slate.
I wasn’t among those he had deemed important enough to retain; though that was the truth, it was still hurtful nonetheless. As of writing, I have yet to respond to his original response as I simply do not think a response is needed: I accept his proposition and must accept it as truth.
Chris: A Causality of Distance
He was one of my oldest friends. Aside from David, who did come before, Chris and I spent the latter half of elementary school and the whole of middle-school together; for a time, he was my best friend. I would spend many a night at his house and we would stay up late playing video games and talking. Together, with his brother and his friend, we would have a grand old time just fooling around. But, as my depression grew and I felt increasingly confused about my place in the world while my absences piled up, I distanced myself from him. Finally, when I stopped going to school entirely, I dropped out of contact. Though we would eventually, close to a year or so later, reunite on Facebook, things simply were not the same. I would be the one to put in the effort to call him and text him… but never he to I. During my so-called ‘great purge,’ I deleted him from my FB account thinking that things had reached their normal end—for a brief time, we were close, but that time had ended and now we each had our own direction to go. I didn’t even know him, anymore. Better to let the past remain where it thrives and not in the future, where it withers. I will always remember Chris.
Lucien: a logical conclusion
Soon after I met Chris, I re-acquainted myself with Lucien, a friend who had been there in both elementary and middle school, but not in my general sphere. Actually, we had met again when I had been out for an evening walk; since he had lived close by on my very same road, my walking trail had gone by his very house and one day, while some guests were leaving, he saw me walking and ignited contact.
From that moment on we planned many a weekend together. Indeed, over the course of the next five years, we would be very close—this young man is, in fact, the subject of this piece’s opening lines, the boy I had known for five years who had recently distanced himself from me. Instead of talking about how our separation happened, I will simply re-post what I had commented on my FB:
“Unfortunately, today seems to be the day that a long term friend of mine (one in real life, mind you, not the internet) has decided to end our friendship, a 5+ year association; recently, he deleted me from Facebook but the signs were there before as he didn’t acknowledge anything I tagged him in and nor did he respond to my private messages asking him about his life.
I do not know why he refused to respond to my entreaties, but I suspect it has to do with either the content of my FB postings (in which case, he may just want to withdraw from FB), since we never really talked much about politics and whatnot in real life; or, the other reason could be that he no longer wanted to handle or be in the way of my depressive episodes. As he has remained silent on his course of action, I can only grasp at straws.
I supposed that I should be upset, but I am not.
Honestly, each of us has just gone in different directions: he, a blue-collar worker, and I, an academic; even a couple years back, we never had much in common and there were moments where I needed to ask him to talk about more serious, relevant issues than the sort of abstract humor we usually conducted; I had told him that it was simply hard for me to spend so much time with him, and yet not having anything concrete to talk about during that period: I liked joking around and playing video games, but there comes a point where discussing current events and real life needed to make an entrance. He agreed and things during the last couple of years have been swell; but, university happened and it grew increasingly hard for us to get together.
Lately, I have, admittedly, been distant– I did not make any great efforts at getting together (provided, transportation, financial matters, and simply scheduling made it hard) but neither did I talk with him much via cell due to both my irregular service and my own psychological hesitancy in contact. This, in addition to my own (recently), intensified battle with depression, and how it has put him in some difficult personal emotional situations, may be why he has selected this path.
It has placed me in an uncertain spot. On one hand, I feel that it would be a concession to my depression should I let this friend go, but on the other hand, with my own studies intensifying and graduate school being a real possibility for the future, and subsequently, it meaning a time when I will not be able to see anyone from Maine except for on special occasions, I feel that with everything considered, it could have ended far more acrimoniously.
I mourn the loss but it is a part of growing up and defining your own personage. One one side, I have lost a good friend, on the other, I almost feel liberated in my deepening isolation because it releases me from the psychological stress associated with talking with him on the phone and planning a get-together– it means that I can go forward in life knowing that the past is passed and the future is golden from this point forward, in that, I am able to press forward.
Well, there is still grey areas to fill in so maybe I am making too much, but there has also been no effort on his part on establishing contact or informing me of his non-communication (he was always the better at maintaining contact; my phobia prevented much proactivity on my part). At any rate, I will treasure those moments with him and wish him the best in his future; hopefully, everything works out for him and his decision.”
If this is not defined as ‘self-explanatory,’ then I do not know what is.
Why do you make friends? Because you are forced: the situation you are thrust into, whatever it may be, such as, during elementary school—and like middle and high school, or like the job you toil in so as to avoid eviction—you are forced into association with people for a quarter of the day, five days a week, or more, for the next twelve years (or life). You have to find someone who shares your interests, or at least, doesn’t hate you or mind you hanging around.
So, what did I learn from all of these experiences? I have some extrapolations which should clarify my views.
Meditation 1: Be proactive, not Overactive
When making new friends, whether you are a student or an adult, the key to building friendships is not to be overbearing. There is a difference between sending a few emails and spamming. Generally speaking, unless someone is greatly put off by you, they will not mind you asking them or messaging them a few times to hang out or do something sometime, especially if it is for a shared interest. What puts people off is the over activity, where you spam them nonstop with the same request every time you see them. Although it can be difficult if you are desperate to make a friend, remember that every interaction you make registers on them on some level; if the only thing they are registering is you single-mindedly perusing a certain interaction, then that tells them very little about you the person while telling them a lot about your personality. Interspace your desire for quality time with some small talk. Don’t give up trying to do something with them when their schedule is busy, but neither incessantly hound them. Maintain a good distance between reality and the future; if you try and rush things before the burgeoning bond between you two matures, then it will make you look either manic and odd, at best, or mentally unstable at worst.
Meditation 2: Best-Friends forever do not exist
I know it seems like a downer to say that BFFs aren’t real, especially with all the media which likes to say otherwise, but it is true, they do not exist. Yes, good friends whom you have known a long time and are close to, do exist, but to take that concept and extend it to absurd lengths with the BFF concept, or even best friends, is simply ridiculous.
In some measly twenty-something years on this planet, there have been three different people that I have called my ‘best friend’ at one time or another. All of them are no longer my best friend. Why is simple: life happens. In something as loaded as existence, where you, as a person go from a young person with (likely) little life experience to a full adult with their own existence and history spanning decades and decades… how can you think that any one person will be able to sympathize with you (even if they have the time to do so with their own life) throughout the vast changes which transpire over the course of you living and changing? Throughout high school college, a job or career and the building of that occupation, of you maturing and possibly starting a family or seeing someone, of you moving to new cities where seeing someone you knew from back home, or wherever, and then gaining new hobbies and tastes and interests… the list goes on; assuming that your BFF remains as you knew them from your time together, and, perhaps, takes up your new interests with you (something that is both unlikely to happen as well as, if it did happen, a clear sign of co-dependency) , how could you expect that you two are still ‘compatible,’ that is, still share the same interest and personality traits which brought you together in the first place? Exactly, there is no reason; this fairytale idea of BFF, where two close persons know each other for life and never tire of one another’s company over the years, is just a premise for melodramas and comedy films. Good, long term friends exist, but they come and go.
Meditation 3: Friends are Ephemeral
During my first year in college, I briefly talked with a consoler there about how to associate with other students. A remark of his made an impression on me; though incredibly basic, something which should be known by everyone without thought, it had never really occurred to me precisely because it is so basic. He said that my friends at university would likely change semester to semester depending on my friends’ schedules. At the time, this allowed me to conceptualize my exteriority and making sense of my reality enabled me to find some degree of inner peace to the troubles which had been plaguing me.
But this bit of information, this advice, is also applicable to really anyone: the people in your lives have their own thing going on and are only going to be able to associate with other people to the degree that they are free and find you compatible enough with them that they wish to share in your company. Many of these friendships will blossom as quickly are they fade since they are based on momentary collisions and random exits; you meet one-another for but a short time (a week, a semester, couple of years, etc.) and then, through a vast agglomeration of factors and variables, are torn to new directions depending on your respective goals and hopes.
Losing and gaining friends, when considering these factors, thusly becomes just a part of life—you associate with those whom you find valuable in some regard, and then are forced to part with those friends and make new ones depending on your circumstances. Lacking friends or lacking close friends is therefore not a rejection of your value as a human being, but just an indication that other factors in your life, or your target friend’s life, are preventing you from realizing a friendship (a busy schedule, professional or recreational obligations, etc.). Lamenting a lack of friend or close friends serves no one save your own self-doubt and simply does not match up with reality; perhaps there are personal issues which many people, save a select few, find it hard to put up with, but there is additional variables to consider as well, many of which you have little to no control over as you prepare to live and lead your own life.
Meditation 4: Leave the Past Where it belongs
I am not going to tell you to never reach out to people you used to know; sometimes, checking in on people and getting to know what they have been up to, will result in fantastic premises. But, honestly, most of the time, it will not. For the most part, I am of the opinion that the past should be left where it is—in the past.
Friendships are odd. You meet people and then, for whatever reason, you fade away and find new people. When considering whether to reach out to someone you used to know, you have to ask yourself this: “Why did we stop seeing each other?” More often than not, the reason was because that you either, didn’t, and never did, share much in common (really think about this), or because you diverged on what brought you together in the first place, or, additionally, because something came between you two and conflict ensued.
The thing about time is that it exacerbates difference (both positive and negative); as the old saying goes, time heals all wounds. In terms of the first two reasons why you and the ‘blast from the past’ that used to be the person you associated with, should think twice before reaching out is the following—do you really believe that someone you fought with, or someone whom you never shared many interests with, is going to be different? With the passing of time, do you believe that your interests will collide or that the altercation which drove you apart will have healed? I supposed that there is always a chance, but one has to be realistic and remember that although people do certainly change, and time does heal some wounds, you have to consider the plethora of other variables as to what may have happened in the interim, and what did happen between you and how things may not even be worth touching on again.
Everyone is haunted by the ghosts of their past and the point is to move on, not to befriend your ghosts in the hope of becoming ‘best bros’ with your demons. If you hold onto the past, then you cannot move into the future; it is such a cliché but a cliché for a reason. If you constantly ruminate on what has happened, then you become paralyzed and do not undertake the necessary actions to actually triumph over your past. The point is to be your own exorcist and rid your body of the need to re-do the same thoughts over and over again.
Well, those are my remarks on friendship. Perhaps in certain places it was overly negative or preachy, maybe in others still, it was an inspiring moment. Whatever the case, however, those are my own idea on what friendship constitutes.
As always, feel free to share your own experiences and ideas regarding friendship and friends in the comments.