They say you know who your real friends are when bad things happen to you. Or when you stop being Fun McParty and take a leave of absence from a group’s social scene. Life has taught me there’s some truth to this cliché slice of pop wisdom. But it has also taught me things aren’t quite so black and white and not all of our friends are equally reliable or sensitive to our needs at all times. And that doesn’t necessarily make them bad friends or bad people. In fact, I’d go as far as to say we are all worse friends than we think we are, at least to a portion of our friends, for a portion of the time. We all know great people who hurt our feelings. But somehow it never quite occurs to us how we may be that great person who is careless with other people’s emotions and expectations to someone else. That disappointing friend who makes us feel like we’d be better people if we were walking in their shoes: they could, in another scenario, be us. Leaving Amsterdam, I couldn’t help but evaluate the friendships I’d built there over the years and wonder which of them would hold once everyday commonalities started to fade through the process of living new experiences. In other words, how much support and closeness I could count on remotely.
Although not much time has passed, I’ve been right on the money with my assumptions so far. As much as I don’t enjoy being right about these types of things, as expected, the people who have always been there and aren’t even necessarily part of my routine yet are my close friends have remained just that. Close, caring and present. Others, as self-involved as ever. And now that I’m not an adjunct of their ‘self’, their ass is ghost! – I read this hilarious phrase on an internet forum once (his ass is ghost!) and I’ll confess I’ve been dying to use it but haven’t quite worked up the courage to say it out loud, so here it is. It’s an interesting thing, when life’s little disappointments no longer surprise us. Maybe that means at 26, with a little life experience under my belt, I am pretty jaded. But maybe I’ve just learned to spare my sentimental heart and that’s probably a good thing.
Until fairly recently – say, the beginning of my early 20s – with very few exceptions, I thought I had the worst luck with friends. Aside from my best friend who is like a sister to me and still one of my favorite people on the face of the Earth, every time a friend turned out to be selfish, or a stereotypical mean girl I thought I chose wrong. I thought I deluded myself into thinking a friendship had been real when in actual fact it was all a sham and a one-sided mess where I was the victim and the other person a villain. Even as a teenager, I was never incredibly popular but I had my close friends whom I thought I was very loyal to. It’s not since a few years ago that I started to understand my role in the complexities of my friend break-ups. I’ve never been very good at managing expectations and so having my feelings hurt is quite a common occurrence. I’ve often expected to get out of friendships what I put in, and that’s not always entirely fair nor objective. I’ve put romantic interests before girlfriends in the past and acted like a hormonal psycho on several occasions. I’ve put people I admire up on a pedestal which in turn made it very hard for me to accept their flaws. And the list goes on. I too have been to blame for friendships gone sour. And I get that now.
The thing about dealing with people who haven’t come to the above conclusions yet is that they are totally fucking blind to their own shortcomings as friends. They are demanding but have no clue how to be a real friend beyond their own needs. And so I apply a wonderful piece of advice my best friend gave me once when I was dealing with friendship-related disappointment: not all of our friends need to be an all-or-nothing-type deal. If that were the case, we would all have at best one friend we would call ‘real’. If that. Supposing my life is any parameter, the vast majority of people I lovingly call my friends fall short on the ‘all’ criteria but are so much more than ‘nothing’. And while that’s really okay, the thing that’s still hard for me to deal with is where in that spectrum between all and nothing people end up falling.
I am nowadays very cautious with allowing people into my life. Making room for someone new is tiresome and can be wonderful but I rarely feel the urge to do so in any meaningful way anymore. Maybe it is age. And if I’m brutally honest, experience has taught me that the investment of time and energy that goes into new people doesn’t always pay off. At the risk of sounding unnecessarily harsh, I barely have time for my existing real friends, never mind attempting to make real friends out of new ones. And yet I can’t help but insist on one or two empirically proven lost cases. I idealize good moments and am somehow always surprised when they turn out to be exactly what I knew they would be. Not ready for the kind of friendship I want, very much willing to take all that I offer. A little too close to ‘nothing’, a little too far from ‘all’. The real question that troubles me is whether I’ll ever be able to accept some people exactly for what they are minus the disappointment. Or whether, rather, I’ll forever be a friendship romantic.
Prone to heartache and looking for love in all the wrong places.