We were friends once, and young

Today’s screed is a situation that probably everyone can relate to or has experienced in one form or another.

From The Washington Post:

Best friends just. . . disappear. They stop returning phone calls, texts, etc. And you’re left wondering – what did I do? Sometimes you can figure it out, sometimes not. Although this piece is written by a woman, this does happen to guys too.
A woman I was dating back in the day did this to me but I knew exactly why and it was my fault. I won’t get into the details because even now it’s too hard for me to admit how stupid I was. There was no rancor, no anger, just a – ‘no, this is not going to work’ kind of feeling. I called her twice before I gave up. I knew. And I didn’t blame her one bit.
Gemma Hartley’s incident is a bit more baffling and, well, cruel. Her bestie was to be a bridesmaid. They had a long history together. Her friend joined the Marines but still had an obligation to at least tell Gemma ‘you know, I’m just so busy with deployments/training and such, I just can’t make it now but I wish you the best and we’ll get back together as soon as I can.’
But that didn’t happen. The comments are, are they usually are, pretty cruel in ascribing where the fault lies but I have two ideas in this case.
1. Her friend was fully inculcated into the Corps lifestyle. In many ways, it’s like becoming a cop. You’re taught the Marines are your family, the only family you can trust and those ‘civilians’ back on the block represent your life before the Marines. Family doesn’t count: you are still expected to cherish your family as you do God and country. But having friends outside the Marines can be problematic depending on the unit. You need serious friends in the Corps because you might be fighting and dying with them. God help you if your outside friends are seen as more important. It’s hard social conditioning to overcome. 
2. Gemma herself may have been a bit too clingy, especially to a friend who is living in a whole different world now.  What seems cute and normal growing up may seem childish in light of life in the Corps. The Marines, like cops and doctors, tend to believe only their own kind can understand them. This make outside relationships difficult. In this case, it’s really a case of two people going on widely different life tracks.
Still Gemma’s friend should have made some effort to explain or at least apologize for running out on a wedding – that’s pretty cold.
This is something I have had to face and I bet you have as well. People I been friends with for many years slowly fell by the wayside for one reason or another. After awhile, I found some of them had let the world turn them into unlikable people (by my standard) and some of my friends must have felt that I had turned into some kind of maladjusted misanthrope.
It happens. But as Gemma said, for some of us the memories of these people last, literally, forever. I remember people I met in kindergarten and I wonder about them from time to time as well. There’s always Facebook and many other ways if you really want to find out what’s going on with lost friends. Rarely does an individual leave any electronic record behind them nowadays. 
OK, I was in military intelligence – this kind of thing is what I do. What? None of YOU have ever Facebook-stalked anyone? Hey, I never post or interfere. Sadly, I just look and remember. My memory bank is full of regret, not hatred.
Thirty-five years after high school graduation, I re-acquainted with a lot of people who, like I, had grown up and had lives. Many of them had become whatever they became but in each of them I could still see a thread of their personality stretching back to high school. The pressures of modern life affect each of us differently. We break a little on the good and bad side but rarely, thank God, do we break all the way over to evil. The class of ’81 was still a fun bunch and glad to be together. 
I was of course, worried that I wouldn’t fit in or become a wallflower again, but it didn’t happen. Ten years after, we still were comfortable in our own cliques. Thirty-five years later, we were one big happy family. And that was great.
I had a good friend in high school who was not at the reunion. I really didn’t expect to see him so I was not disappointed. I wasn’t ‘ghosted’ by him but perhaps we could call it a long-term ghosting. We used to really tear up Mentor Avenue in the day and had lots of great times together. 
It took a little while but I remember the moment it was over, but I didn’t get it at the time. 
It was his bachelor party and he’d rented a bus so none of us would drive drunk. Near the end of the night, something strange happened. This friend, who was never one for sentimentality, looked at me straight in the eye and said “Keith, you’ve been a very good friend.” I was taken aback for a second. I felt great about that and mumbled sometime back about ‘you too.’ But it was the way he looked at me – like a last long look. I didn’t know this was really goodbye.
To make a long story short, our lives really did diverge after that. He has worked very hard to make a name for himself in his industry and has succeeded admirably. He’s earned everything he’s got. Now with a wife and two adorable sons and a nice house, he’s living the dream – really. His job takes him all over the world and it seems like one big party. I am genuinely happy for him.
As for me, the road has not been as smooth but then, with my conditions, I’ve been something of a fuck-up, like Moonlight Graham, getting so close to my dreams I could almost taste them but then they were lost forever. Still, I didn’t do too bad for myself, all things considered.
We friended back on Facebook and I suppose would could look at each others lives. I would like and comment on his posts, he would like mine – but I don’t recall comments. I once texted a suggestion we get together sometime for beers following up on an similar text from him when we re-acquainted. I never got a reply. 
Recently, I defriended him. Not because I was angry, but as an admission that we were never going to relive old times and I was deluded to think we would. I live in the past – he does not. I would probably not mix well with his friends – we would have almost nothing in common. In fact, I would bet he’s worried that I would embarrass him in front of his high powered friends by bring up ‘old times’ that he’d rather not revisit. 
But looking at pictures of his life and remembering the good times we had so long ago was too much for me. These forays into ‘yearbook yearnings’ are not good for me. I need to try to be more in the ‘here and now’ even though I know I’ll never be fully successful at it and the ‘now’ is a daily struggle.
There were others that I was truly ghosted by and again I understand why. It still stings a little but I had something to do with every one of them so I am not blameless by any means. But in the case of this one friend, it was nothing that was done, no offense committed, just a calculation made that I would not fit into the lifestyle and circle of friends he was going to be a part of – maybe like Gemma’s friend. And I get that.
In American culture, our friends and relationships outside our family circles are generally transactional. That is, they exist if both parties are getting something tangible out of the relationship. Not just power, money or status but emotional support as well. When of of those supports is lost for whatever reason, the friendship tends to disintegrate. Liking someone as a person is often just not good enough. What your friends think of the friendship is equally powerful and there still is a strong attachment to our own kind whether it be race, income, education or whatever. It is what it is. 
The big one now is politics. Many, many friendships, even family relationships are being torn asunder during this Presidential election campaign. We used to be able to disagree and still love and respect one another. That has gone by the wayside and we are a poorer people for that.
It’s tougher, of course, with a mental condition. People regard us warily as if we’re going to go psycho any minute or just flake out. We may seem to needy or worry people that we will become too needy, emotional or clingy. I get that. 
But I guess where this article struck a chord with me is that real friendships, no matter how long lasting, are, essentially, thin threads that can break surprisingly fast and leave a lot of pain and bitterness. Some of us try to shield ourselves from that pain by have few or no relationships. Some stick to acquaintance level friendships where no firm commitments are made. 
I just think perhaps we could be a little more decent to each other when we go our separate ways. We’re so afraid of each others reactions nowadays that people cut themselves off so as not to engender ‘drama.’ It may be the way of the future. But it is kind of sad when you think about it: we are, especially as we age, the collections of our memories and past relationships, good or bad. It would be better for all of us if the closures were make with kindness rather than a cold split. I’m probably engaging in hopeless sentimentality here.
It’s hard to realize that, in many situations, you can never ‘go home again’ and that good times once had can’t return. You mourn, like Genna does, but in the end it seems so cold to close a mental door on someone even though they’ve done that to you. So we leave it open because, I guess, memories of a friendship is better than never having one at all.
Perhaps this is the best way to think about it. But it’s hard

This entry was posted in bipolar, Catholic school, class reunion, getting old, good memories, growing up, middle age, society. Bookmark the permalink.

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