Dear, Friend

I turned 30 this year and feel a societal pressure to stop wearing band t-shirts, get married, work full-time, and make a baby. I found and plucked three grey hairs (which I immediately regretted). My friends are scattered throughout the country and, if we're lucky, we find ourselves in the same room when one of us gets married. At some point after college, I stopped adding new friends to my life. Maybe it's the lack of school which places us in the middle of hundreds of peers to choose from. I don't know, but after a year of living in Chicago, boldness wore off and routine settled in. I finished improv classes, and the parties were gone. The group hangouts disappeared. I stopped looking for them and they certainly weren't looking for me. It dawned on me adult friendship is bizarre, rare, and more necessary than it ever was.

On the spectrum of social behavior, I imagine two poles: butterfly and recluse. A butterfly spends their time dashing from person to person, investing marginally in each conversation, but covers a lot of ground. On any given night, they could call up any of a dozen casual friends to have dinner, a drink, see a show. They replace friends easily because time is evenly distributed amongst many. The recluse, on the other hand, invests heavily in one or two friends. For them, a party is simply the noise they have to talk over to be heard by the other person. They know each other intimately and their bond is deep. Over time, they develop similar habits and mannerisms. Their character enriched and pushed by the profound connection with another human. I am a recluse.

And this works really well in high school. And in college. But despite the immeasurable love felt for one another, life marches on. People get married, get jobs, move away, have kids. No one has ever declared a lifelong plan to stay in an active friendship with someone. Imagine that world: Save the Date. Nick and Tim have decided to be buddies forever. Drinks and video games at their house. Indefinitely. But when you spend your life invested in a handful of people and suddenly find yourself on opposite sides of the country, the world becomes a very lonely place.

As adults, most of us have our friend situations pretty well sorted out. We have the ones we have and that's that. The diaspora leaves us with friends we see once a year, and yet we rarely fill the holes in the lineup. Most people fill it with romantic love and trade the time we spent with our friends for time with our partners. This works for some people and I envy them in the way man envies God. More often it seems to place an impossible burden on an already tenuous arrangement. Your lover already bears the sole burden of your sexual happiness and is saddled with filling the shoes of a friendship built over decades. Who could handle this?

This, I imagine, is why friendships are so enduring. We ask a single thing of them: shared joy. They are uncomplicated. Pure. Consider the following example. I encounter two people: i) an attractive female and ii) a guy wearing a shirt of a band I like, who is reading a book I studied in college. I am fifty times more likely to approach the girl and create a flimsy excuse to make conversation with her rather than explore the real possibility of making a new friend. If both tell me they love The Big Lebowski, I'm likely to fall in love with the woman and shrug at the guy. And while the drive toward sex is certainly a distraction, if I were to encounter the guy alone, without the female variable, the likelihood of my starting a conversation is minimal. Is it because we've come to view other males as competition for all life's precious resources? Do all interactions begin with the assumption of hostility and scarcity?

I hung out with a guy the other week and we instantly bonded. We liked the same bands, movies, books, superheroes, food. Every sentence out of his mouth I responded with, "I know, right!?" If he were a girl, I'd be crushing so fucking hard right now. I'd be sitting on Facebook waiting for him to log on so I could invent some dumb reason for us to hang out. I'd fidget after sending a text. But I didn't ask if he wanted to hang out sometime. I didn't get his contact information. What more do I need to make a friend?

Obviously this discussion has left out the very real (and necessary) possibility of making friends with members of the opposite sex. More needs to be said on this, but where members of the opposite sex are concerned, our motives are often suspect. And these arrangements are rarely without complications. 

I want to get nervous when I ask a buddy to hang out, to wait by the phone for them to call, but I know it will never happen. Maybe that's the point. Friendship is uncomplicated and yet still magical. They choose us. We don't have to invent pick-up lines for friends. We don't offer to buy them a drink. Friendship unfolds. It reveals itself. He and I will see each other again and we will have excellent conversation and I will enjoy every minute of it. Or we won't. Maybe I should aim to make my romantic relationships more like friendships. Less stress, more joy. Let them come as they are and wish nothing to be different. I may have ended in a different place than where I started and landed on something I'm not quite sure about. Some things are stirred up I'll have to devote more time to. Whatever the case may be, I have decided to renew my efforts in investing in friendships.

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