I don’t have any friends. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total recluse or a social pariah or anything. My various media profiles each have a few hundred connections, though I’m regularly whittling them down from the several hundred they used to have, as I come to value closer relations the older I get, and I no longer see the point in maintaining an open window into my life for that one dude I met at that one event that one time, and the like.
My mom has a best friend — there’s 1400 miles between them, but they get together at least once a year or so, and stay in touch regularly. They’re around the same age, have a lot of shared history in common, as well as similar family backgrounds. Most important to both of them, though, is sharing the same faith, and everything else that bonds them just sort of falls into place behind that.
I’ve never had anything resembling that level of closeness or longevity in a friendship, though it certainly looks appealing from the outside, and I’ve often wished I understood such a basic and valued life blessing firsthand. There’s an entire widely popular movie genre dedicated to the experience of the “buddy adventure,” giving the impression it’s so commonplace, it seems like most everyone must have that one special someone who will drop everything in a heartbeat to take their call, be by their side, or stand in as an accomplice to their next half-baked hair-brained scheme. But not me.
There’ve been a handful of times in my life I’ve had a best friend. In each case, I hadn’t known we were best friends until the other declared it to be so. I’m usually not the first to notice when associations make it to any of the “stages” many might take for granted... I rely on people who put stock in such things to keep me in the know about the milestones we’ve reached and labels we’ve garnered, and I’m usually accommodating enough to go along with it, so long as it comes from a person whose company I enjoy, especially more than others.
In junior high, it was a smartly cosmopolitan gal who wrote me sappy poetry throughout 8th grade, but had forgotten my name by the time summer was over. She went to a different high school — a private institution — and couldn’t be bothered to connect with anyone from her former life. Friends told me not to take it too personally — they said I wouldn’t have any reason to know it, because I’d moved to the state in the middle of 7th grade, so I hadn’t grown up with her the way they all had, but she’d had a different “best friend” every year — she’d simply latch next onto whomever she felt could help her climb higher up the social ladder.
Moving in the middle of the schoolyear had pointed a lot of eyes in my direction, so it seemed I was just popular enough to draw her attention. I had thought she was a more sincere person than that. Finding out I’d been wrong — that I’d been duped — made me question my judgment of character for a little while... at least until I realized her abrupt departure had left me feeling less betrayed and more puzzled, and I was surprised to find, I wasn’t actually all that bothered. I guess maybe we hadn’t really been that close, after all.
I don’t remember when exactly my high school best friend designated us besties...* I think it might have been our senior year. Before that, I’d gotten by freely socializing with a small nerdy clique of musically oriented, theatrical type whiz kids who’d regularly have brainy but nonsensical conversations about ridiculous logic puzzles filled with absurdity and laughter (i.e., If A = B and B = C, then A = C; ergo, If God is Love, and Love is Blind, is God blind?, etc.). Part of that group included Emma, who was in most of my classes, and we often walked together to and from, occasionally tripping over each other in the crowded halls, which resulted in the kind of tweedledeedum inanity that went something like:
“Whoops! ’Scuse me — didn’t mean to elbow you in the boob!”
“No, not at all, that’s quite all right, I believe I boobed you in the elbow!”
At some point along the way, Emma decided we were BFFs,* and I was honored. Emma was exactly the kind of person I’d have chosen for a best friend, if I’d have ever given any thought to seek someone out for that position. She was sweet and smart, and silly and funny, as well as talented and pretty, without being stuck up or taking herself too seriously, while stirring up just enough drama to keep things interesting, but not unnecessarily complicated.
*Though we didn’t use such terms back then... they weren’t part of our collective cultural lexicon until millennials added them.
Unless you were a generational “lifer,” though, committed to plant roots where we walked to pomp and circumstance, plenty of folks from that backwards suburb — not nearly as tiny as it was podunk — couldn’t get away fast enough, and most didn’t look back. I fled all the way to the other side of the Twin Cities, but never left the state, and Emma took her aspirations off to someplace more exciting, while I floundered for a while trying to find a direction in life. This was back even before MySpace was a thought, so we naturally lost touch, as was the custom, in those days.
Fast forward a couple decades until I was blackmailed into joining Facebook, and we were added to each other’s social media circles, but it’s hard to say whether or not we have that much in common anymore. After being widowed by a victim of the 9/11 tragedy, she now lives on the East coast, with her second husband and their blended family of teenagers, where she runs her own Vegan café, which she seems pretty fanatical about. I would imagine on some level, she’s probably still the same adorkably fun gal I treasured thirty years ago, but I don’t figure either of us will ever be an active influence in each other’s worlds again.
My first office job out of school served two distinct functions — teaching me I had absolutely zero interest in a customer service telecommunications work environment, and introducing me to my best friend of the next several years. I was only 19 when I met Rebekah, 10 years my senior, who bonded with me over my intense love of music. She was surprised to meet someone else she considered so “deep,” especially in one still fairly green around the gills.
I was pretty mature for barely out of high school, though, as evidenced by the fact I was the only one in the department without a college degree, and no one on our team had any idea I was the youngest in the group, though the next two closest to me in age were 24 and 25. I had my own apartment and my own car, and I certainly didn’t look or dress or think or talk or act like a teen, so I “passed” for a normal adult like everyone else there. But by then I’d been interacting with people decades outside my standard peer group since I was a kid, from the time I was in grade school sitting in on lectures with my college friends — a byproduct of ambitious parents who taught me to read before I could speak — so I never considered it a warning sign that Rebekah was stunted at my emotional maturity level.
She had gone through a string of breakups with a handful of live-in boyfriends during her twenties, and eventually landed back at home with her aging parents renting the room she’d grown up in. She gave them a small token of her earnings for the space, but she also kept a fancy new red sport coupe she made payments on. I’d pinched pennies and saved up until I could pay for my first used car with cash, and it wasn’t in great shape, but it was all mine, and didn’t take up any of my income, other than for gas, insurance, and the occasional repair.
Bekah spent her weekends going to record shows, chasing state fair tours of rock legends whose fame had peaked in the 70s, and feeding her habit for her favorite pastime — a social addiction to which she would introduce me and get me hooked on — dive bar karaoke. Our routine outings of this nature kept me entertained well into my mid-20s. We were a regular pair of rock & rollin’ road trippin’ banger sisters.
On one of our very first excursions together, while poring over the selection catalog at what would become our regular local hangout, we were approached by a youngish gal — probably about halfway between both of us in age — who told us she was there by herself, and we seemed okay, could she sit with us? We were more than happy to share space and make company, which our new pal enjoyed for about a half hour or so, before suddenly having to bolt with profuse apologies, rushing off to join another table — she said her best friend in the whole world had just walked in the door, and they hadn’t seen each other in ages, so she had to go catch up. I told Rebekah I thought that was the oddest thing... how can someone be your best friend in the whole world if you haven’t seen them in ages???
I probably should have taken Bek’s response as a red flag... it was a mere two flippant words, but it spoke volumes... “a man,” she’d said, flatly. When I asked her to explain, she expounded, only a man could come between best girlfriends like that — they’d hang out all the time together, so long as neither one of them was in a relationship, but as soon as one of them was attached, they’d each forget all about the other. I said I thought that sounded like the resentful voice of a bitter experience, but she told me to just wait, I’d see... it was only a matter of time before a man would break up our happy best friendship and take me away from her — which is how I came to learn we’d become best friends — such an unexpected turn of events that I completely missed the glaring air raid siren this news had been delivered with.
I was young, outgoing, energetic, optimistic, attractive, wantonly brazen and vibrantly sexual. We couldn’t go anywhere together without me getting hit on — it drove Bek up a wall, often sending her deeper into a clingy, brooding, touchy, irritable and argumentative state. Throughout our friendship, I had scores of semi-regular booty calls, fast flaming affairs, and brief encounters, but I’d tell every one of them to go take a hike rather than infringe on her time... after all, sex was plenty easy to come by — horny guys were a dime a dozen — but good friends were much rarer, and more special.
In the end, Rebekah determined she needed to keep her distance from me. She let me know this by ditching me, and effectively disappearing from my life. (I think these days they’d call it “ghosting,” though I don’t know if the term still applies when you’ve been so close for so long.) I tried following up for a while, but gave up without too much of a fight. I wasn’t going to go all “Say Anything” on her — I don’t need to be pounded over the head to take a hint, and I’ve got no my room in my life for passive aggressive games.
A few years later, I dropped by her parents’ house, to see if she was around... they told me she didn’t live there anymore, she’d bought her own townhouse, so I left my number if she ever wanted to reconnect. She called me a few weeks afterwards... I was invited to her new pad — popped in for a visit, met her dog, watched a movie, tried to catch up.
It felt good in some respects — like no time had been lost — we could almost pick up right where we’d left off, chatting like we used to. But I realized we were only rehashing the same tired, trampled ground we’d covered when we were last hanging out together. I could still casually shoot the breeze over such things, but that wasn’t how I filled my life anymore... I’d moved beyond that point, and had other ideas to be more zeroed in on, more relevant to my age and stage of life and less... superficial.
A couple years after that, I ran into her at a karaoke joint. She’d never dated anyone the whole time I’d known her, but had ended up getting hitched at nearly 50 to someone I’d never heard of. I’d always figured someday she’d be my maid of honor whenever I eventually settled down, but I hadn’t been in her world enough to know she’d tied the knot, much less be involved, or even invited.
She bickered all that night with her new husband — about whom I can only most kindly say, I guess charisma isn’t really that important??? — while fawning all over me like the “I love you man” guy in that commercial who isn’t getting the Bud Light. Her hubby eventually had to carry her out, load her into her little red sports car, and drive her drunk ass back to the boondocks they called home. I felt a little wistful for what used to be, but I knew then that relationship was just an antiquated relic of a past that couldn’t exist anymore. I’d outgrown my former best friend, because I’d grown up, and she hadn’t.
Not too long after that — about the time I began preparing a wedding invite list, I noticed she’d dumped me from her FB list. Maybe it was all just a little too painful for her, too.
I met James and his wife through Craigslist, while experiencing some turbulent times. I was in transition from a tumultuous cohabitation with an overbearing business partner who’d methodically isolated me from every connection I had outside his world — presumably for the purpose of imposing codependence on me — and I was desperately seeking human contact with sane people who weren’t hell-bent on controlling every aspect of my life. I’d placed an ad with a teaser about the geeky sort of company I like to keep — folks who grok “Doctor Who” and table top games and conversational trivia about random minutiae — hoping to meet likeminded fun, whip smart nerds for dorky revelry.
I’d set out to find a fresh social outlet, but I’m sure some part of me was looking for a personal escape, too. In many respects, the infusion into my life of the total package that came with James the giant peach effectively gave me exactly what I needed. After every thread of support previously tied to me had been severed, James and his wife swooped in with their established social circle of nerdy game enthusiasts, bad movie night aficionados, and geeky trivia masters who orbited around the hub of his humble abode to revitalize my faith in those characteristics that comprise my distinct individuality — and based on his impressions of who he perceived me to be, James made me a central star in his universe for a while.
I was treated with basic dignity and respect by James and his crew, like I was any normal human — which in and of itself had eluded me for quite some time — but the nature of our friendship more or less amounted to two people who were in the right place at the right time to be there for each other while each of us was going through some stuff, before we both otherwise moved on with our lives. For both of us, it was an ugly dissolution of a long term partnership — breaking loose the chains of oppression from aforementioned cohabitation, and a sort of “breakup” from his “bromance” with his long term best friend, who had ironically become convinced I was brought into the group to replace him. I certainly hadn’t intended that, though that is how it worked out... at least at first.
It should have been a sign to me that it was such an easy thing for James to rip that label off someone he’d been tightly attached to for so many years to pin it on me, but at times I can miss cues like that even when I’m not nursing painful wounds. It was just such a great relief to be free, and the rejuvenating power of being lifted up like I was special was such a vigorous healing drug, I was probably wearing blinders to a lot of overlooked signals then, which I imagine a more stable version of me — i.e., one not trying to rebuild after experiencing prolonged abuse — likely would have picked up on. I’m not usually that self-absorbed, but it’s hard not to be when you’ve been stuck in the mode of retreating to a private shell for a spell.
For example, I completely failed to recognize the reason I got involved so quickly afterwards with a smoking hot professional wrestling genius 15 years younger was because he showed me the kind of tenderness I hadn’t known for the better part of a decade. Or the reason I fell so hard so fast for someone I barely knew was, because I was so thirsty for it, his affection was like drowning in a desert oasis. Otherwise, that steamy fling that fizzled out in only 41 days — because apparently, he’d just wanted to gain XP points from an experienced older woman in her sexual prime, and was through with me after “the novelty wore off” (yes, he actually used those words in our breakup conversation... then he went back to his old girlfriend with his newfound moves) — never would have shaken me up as badly as it did.
Fortunately, my best friend James was there to hold my hand through the tears and the sighs and the hanging of my head to get me past all that. James helped me prove to myself I was over the wrestler by rolling him into our social circle. (We were both pretty gung-ho about bringing in fresh meat — anyone who was willing to commit to the latest Dungeons & Dragons** campaign.)
*That’s a multiplayer tabletop roleplaying game, for those of you who don’t speak nerd.
In fact, that’s how I met Minion. Minion had been rooming with James’ former best friend — they’d gotten to know each other at the local liquor store when Minion was going through recovery from his divorce and the loss of his mother — he’d made enough visits there to become chummy with personnel. James had convinced me to come hang out at his next D&D gathering — despite my protests that I hadn’t played in over 30 years — where I found Minion, the tiefling warrior of the raiding party... and there may have been a spark ignited.
The next new recruit I pulled into gaming was a gal I’d also met recently at one of my geek group outings, and was just starting to get to know. I was meeting a lot of new folks then — trying to feel normal again, after having lost everything. But James and his wife were immediately completely enamored by her, and as the feeling was mutual, they latched on and adopted each other right away, so that potential friendship had sailed from me before I ever even got off the dock, as she sort of became “theirs.”
About that time, though, Minion was looking for new digs, as James’ former best friend wanted his space back for a new relationship, and so did the new housemate who’d taken me in to help me get my feet back under me, so we decided to split costs and find a place together. I told Minion up front, I knew he had a crush on me, but he needed to find himself a girlfriend, because I was not about to get involved in another codependent cohabitational relationship of convenience. (Of course, we all know how well that worked out.)
Minion and I had searched for a place that would accommodate socializing with our large collection of nerdy compatriots, expecting James to be leading the pack to anywhere that would allow him to take an occasional break from hosting, though, as it turned out, we needn’t have bothered. He didn’t come to our open house, couldn’t make it to our game nights, missed our holiday party, wouldn’t accept a dinner invitation, and in fact, never once darkened our door. Eventually, I knew to stop asking.
James had begun to become increasingly more maniacally focused on his gaming, to the point I would almost call it an addiction — the only way you could squeeze into his schedule to see him was to come over to his house on any given night of the week for any one of the six different games he was running. He never went anywhere or did anything else. From a greater distance, I was able to better put together the pieces, and recognized this as one in a series of symptoms indicating a greater pattern of obsessive-compulsive behavior.
But it didn’t matter anyway. James and his wife had invested so much of their lives in their new shared companion, he didn’t have any more need for the kinds of deep, philosophical explorations, emotional support, twisted humor and daily pick-me-ups we used to trade over chat. (Not that I had that kind of time to devote to lengthy exchanges once I went back to working full time — I can’t imagine how James had done it while he was at work... I guess maybe his job didn’t take much out of him?)
Between his doting wife and their mutual girlfriend, James’ cup was overflowing... and there just wasn’t any more room for me. Though, honestly, I was happy to keep myself from getting in the middle of that dumpster fire. I’d once made the mistake of accidentally rubbing their playpet the wrong way during a game — by suggesting it was going a little long, as he’d made a commitment to me if I would agree to come over on a weeknight, he would have us finished in time for me to be home by midnight so I wouldn’t be wrecked at work the next day, but there we were, after midnight, and he was having us gear up for another big battle because that’s what excited his wife and girlfriend — and she was so jarringly disrespectful in response, I flew out of his basement in shock and distress.
To be fair, I’m not normally that sensitive, but she’d stood up and screamed at me to JUST LEAVE ALREADY! I beat it after I looked around with my jaw hanging open, and could see that not a soul in that room was going to say a damn thing about it — everyone was too busy staring at their feet. James let me know in the many online discussions we had about that incident afterwards that — in words, he wasn’t going to get involved, it was really no big deal, and, without words, it was totally okay for her to be as rude to me as she felt like — it was all just part of the game, as long as it didn’t infringe on play.
From that point on, she’d effectively moved in with them, as she didn’t have her own bed anywhere; instead, she had three different boyfriends — counting James — and split nights between them. So I never found any more reason to be over there after that. I later learned (from Minion), issues with gaming are pretty much what caused the fallout between James and his former best friend.
I quit gaming then — I didn’t need to endure anxiety from a leisure activity that’s supposed to be a fun diversion with friends. Plus, Minion and I were beginning to become more of a support for each other, too — if perhaps not quite as quickly as Minion would have liked. After a while, I came to realize, I already had everything I needed, a lot closer to home.
The only irregular attempts James made to communicate with me over the next couple of years were solely for the purpose of reminding me he and his wife had once come to my aid out of concern for my wellbeing during a brief period when I was jobless, broke and hungry, and bought me a couple rounds of groceries (which I’d not asked for but they’d insisted upon because they’d been to my place and had seen my cupboards), and to dun me to get back some DVDs he’d pirated on my behalf in order to “inflict” upon me. (Which I’d also not asked for, but he was always trying to initiate me into some fandom club or another, whether I wanted it or not.) In the end, it seems for him, those materials
By the time my 40th birthday was approaching the same year I’d moved in with Minion, after not connecting with James in months, I made one last attempt to convince him to join a few friends to help me celebrate — since, after all, 40 only comes around once, and he usually made a big deal about birthdays, I thought surely he would make an exception to his self-imposed exile from socialization with us for such an occasion. He made the lame argument that every birthday is important, and he would just try to catch another one. I knew then whatever there had been about either of us the other had considered friendship, was now no more than a fading memory, all because I once committed the ultimate sin... I was demonstrably less than enthused about entering into the 7th hour in a row of late night D&D game play on a weekday evening.
Even though the entirety of the time we were in each other’s lives was merely just shy of four years, only about 15 months of that involved any real-life, in-person interactions with James. I did the math, and figured it was time to concede. His name came off our wedding invite list, and I eventually removed his access to my social accounts, so I wouldn’t have to feel a twinge every time I scrolled past him.
In hindsight, I can see I never really mourned the loss of the relationship we had — I was mourning the relationship I’d thought we had, and a closeness with the person I’d thought he was, which was only an illusion. In reality, he wasn’t much different than Chartreuse or the wrestler — I’d just been duped in a different way — instead of using people for social advancement, or experimental intimacy, everyone in James’ sphere of influence are just pawns in his game, and he gets to control the playing field. But despite whatever else I might feel about what might have been, I must always be grateful for having known James the gentle ginger giant... without him, I wouldn’t have my Minion, my Firebird, or the life I’ve come to love.
There were others along the way I admired enough to have a strong desire to get closer to, but never felt I was the “right” kind of cool, or just never worked it out to be more connected with — especially if our paths didn’t cross that much — or we just didn’t click naturally in a way that allowed for a more interpersonal link between us. I haven’t done much lamenting for any specific losses of friendships that never came to be, but I have questioned how it is I’ve never been able to either maintain or deepen friendships I’ve established. Is there something wrong with me as a friend? As a woman? As a person?
There’ve been three different people I’ve imagined would have been by my side when I waited at the end of an aisle for a lover to take my hand. But none of them stayed around long enough to still be in my life when that moment finally came — not even the one who brought that lover into my life. There was no obvious choice to take on that responsibility — instead, four of my five brothers, three of their wives, and one cousin stood up for us... so it’s at least a good thing I’m close to my giant family.
Minion says I’m being too hard on myself — he says I’ve been given a romantic false impression the rest of the world functions in a way it just doesn’t, and I shouldn’t expect my life to be the same as others, because we’re not like other people (have I mentioned there are so many very great reasons I’m crazy in love with this man?). He’s right though... stories suggesting characters can hang onto lifelong best friendships have them growing up on the same block, experiencing the same history, going through the same changes together. But that isn’t how things happen for most of us.
In my case, I was raised in abject poverty, endured countless childhood traumas at the hands of people closest to me who were supposed to safeguard my best interests, survived the upheaval of a broken home, was taken from my family, and had been in 17 different foster homes by the time I reached second grade. I’ve moved at least 43 times in my life — that I can remember. If you happen to be an easygoing, precocious, outgoing prodigy, that kind of upbringing teaches you to relate to lots of different types of people, make connections easily and quickly, but never get too attached.
I guess when I look at it from that angle, considering how much influence formative years have on the overall trajectory of life, it’s a wonder I ever had any friends, or settled down at all. But I have, and I did. So maybe I should take a different perspective... instead of seeing myself as failure for not maintaining a long-term best friendship, maybe I should see it as a success that I overcame all the obstacles in my way to ever have one. And, in reality, I do still have one.
My best friend is my partner. My lifemate. The one I most want to come home to. The one I can’t wait to share my day with. The one I always want to be with. We don’t always talk late into the night, try to make everything fun, or go on grand adventures. But we support one another. Entertain each other. Bear each other’s burdens. Keep each other’s secrets. Feed each other’s dreams. Carry each other’s worries. Enjoy each other’s company, whether times are exciting or mundane. We make each other laugh. We’ve made a home, memories, and a person together.
I hope to bring him up in a way that doesn’t make connecting with others such a challenge for him as it was for me. But I beat the odds, so I bet he could too, if it came to that. After all, we gave him a powerful name to empower him to survive anything life throws at him. More than that, though, we give him all the love we have. And that has to be enough.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 12 - Topic: FAILURE
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