Tuesday, July 6, 2004

What About Your Friends?

My mind has been dulled by prime time. I sat down, I tried to write, I had a beautiful and terrible story to share. Then it happened, Eric and Donna were having problems again, with hilarious consequences. A lot of things have been getting in the way of writing recently.

I thought the end of school would bring on more time to write. It is only now that I see that my initial claim, that I only started writing for fun in order to put off the things I was supposed to write for others, was true. I was trapped. No friends close at hand, no place to go, no money, no car. Now, all that’s changed. For one, nothing gets in the way of writing like reading, which I’ve been doing a lot of. Reading for fun is wild. I have a job that keeps me busy. It also provides money with which to go out and do things. Which brings up another distraction, I now have people to go out and do things with.

The people I’ve met over the past six months have become actual friends. The kind you see outside of the context in which you originally met. This belies my previous theory that it’s impossible to make friends as an adult. Of course at that point I thought I was going to be married, with kids, and a job and a life other than the one I have now. The theory went something like this:

“Once you become an adult you simply don’t have the time to make new friends. You have school, you have work, you have your significant other. Then, later, you have kids. Next thing you know your friends are the parents of your kid’s friends. It seemed to me that you don’t have the same opportunities to make friends as an adult that you have as a kid.”

Until recently, I had made exactly one truly close friend after the age of twenty. Almost everyone else had been a friend since high school or before. The rest, even the people I have been close to, and keep in touch with, people I cherish, even those relationships a accompanied by a tinge of transience.

Now my perspective has changed. I feel like I’ve made friends. Friends I’ll have for a while. People I can open up to. Friends. Which got me thinking, what is it that creates friendship? The old theory was based on the idea that after high school you simply don’t have the time required to establish a friendship. Think of all the time that goes into becoming friends, you have to hang out a lot, especially at first, in order to become more than mere acquaintances. But it can’t be just time. So it must be something else.

I think it’s adversity. Adversity, real or imagined, is the mulch from which friendships poke their little shoots. As teenagers we have plenty of adversity. It’s us against the world, against our parents, against school, and often, against each other. But we do it together, we go through it together, we make it out together, even if we don’t all make it out alive. In the years between high school and grad school I didn’t face a lot of polarizing adversity. The closest I came to similar experience was with the woman who would become my wife, which helped bring us together, and then my ex-wife, and lo, another bout of adversity.

On the first day school one of my classmates mentioned that there had been a catastrophic event that had brought the previous year’s classes together first the Gallaudet murders, then 9/11. She urged us not to give up if we didn’t gel right away, it sometimes took a tragedy to bring people together. That first year we had The Sniper, but we didn’t need it. Well, they didn’t anyway, they became fast friends, I was wrapped up in my impending marriage. We went through the hell of the dreaded “third semester” together, but it wasn’t until my divorce that I really found friendship with my classmates. All of a sudden they were there for me. I didn’t know they cared that much, maybe they didn’t, but when I needed friends, when I needed support, they were there. If not for them I wouldn’t have made it through the semester or school. I know how it reads. I’m a terrible user. I didn’t appreciate these people until I needed something from them. That’s partly true, but on top of my personal adversity we all went on through school, and, despite what some of us feared at various points, we all graduated, together. We pulled each other through, just like we did when we were kids. At the time I attributed the strengthening bond to having more time. After all, the time I had been devoting to my ex was now being dispersed among my friends.

Perceived adversity can also foster friendship. I always liked my teammates, but we weren’t friends. I saw them at practice and games. I saw them for beers, after practice, and games. Then we went to London. It is here that time and perceived adversity took hold. Us against the world. Us drunk in a hotel room talking shit, philosophy, and nicknames. Coming back, I had friends. People I see outside of team functions.

Finally, I recently found that shared adversity doesn’t have to be experienced together. This may not seem like a revelation to some of you. I guess it’s not really one for me either except in the context of approaching the enigma of friendship from this angle. I have a friend with whom I have only recently crossed the event horizon moving from people who hang out to real friendship. The point where you talk about more than the mundane and superficial. She’s also been through an extremely difficult break up. Sharing our tales of woe, examining the differences and similarities, produced the same effect as shared adversity. I don’t know a lot of people who can relate to what I’ve been going through the past six months. Of course people understand, and sympathize, but few actually know the feeling as intimately. That feeling, being able to provide comfort born of experience brought us closer together in two days than we had been in six months. Our friendship, which had been based going out drinking, reached a new level when we were able to finally convert our common experience into shared adversity. What really lent power to the situation is that the conversation was brought about by trust rather than alcohol.

So I was wrong. It’s not time that forges friendships, though it’s still needed. It seems you need something else that binds. You need to face something, overcome something together in order to forge a friendship. I don’t mean to devalue the other friends I’ve made. The people in my life are important to me, and of course I got through the last six months with the help of people other than classmates. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ll bet that if you examine your close friendships, your long-term friendships, you’ll find some truth in what I’ve written here.

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