Thursday, July 8, 2010

With Friends Like These...

Sometimes, things are easier on Facebook. If I haven't talked to a Facebook pal in few years - hello, entire graduating class of 2002! - and I get tired of their bad grammar and insistence on wriiitttingggg likeee a moronnnn LOLZHAHA, I can quietly click "Remove from friends" and the person vanishes in a silent fiesta of zeroes and ones. Likewise, when my Facebook homepage becomes overrun with people ranting about weird political stuff I don't understand (or, frankly, care about), I can hide those folks so their dark assertions that Toronto is a gestapo state aren't visible. They're free to rant away in their own loony-bin corner, and I'm free to delight in my other friends' pictures of their gardens.

But in real life? Oh ho. Unfriending someone is fraught. Totally fraught. Way less easy. There's no button. There's sound, there's fury, and ultimately, there are feelings. Hurt ones.

I feel like ending friendships used to be a little easier. In high school, people tried on various personae all the time: you could shift from band nerd to theater geek to overly dramatic goth girl to scary raver chick with enormous ear plugs in the span of a few years. I was lucky: my high school's social scene was a little more permeable than most of the schools that I hear about, and was fairly free of the cliques that are so often portrayed on TV shows about teenagers. Aside from a crippling inability to interact with boys - I was so shy until I was about seventeen - I moved fairly easily between friend groups, and didn't feel resented or judged when I did.

Sure, there were some great big dramatic breakups between friends. There were a few "You could NEVER UNDERSTAND ME" letters written, and received, by yours truly. What can I say? I can be a sucker for the drama. (Every guy I've ever dated is out there, nodding to himself for reasons unknown.) But most of the time, friendships that ended did so because we all got interested in other things, other people. There often weren't hard feelings.

Fast-forward into my adult life, and ending friendships is A Big Deal. A small minority notwithstanding, most of the people I'm friends with now I met in university. Weirdly, a lot of us lived together, or close enough that I could throw a tennis ball from my windowsill and have it land in a drink perched on theirs. Despite the fact that most of us were high-strung and gossipy, friendships grew, and a large and integrated social circle developed. As people moved out of our hippie commune-type arrangement and became more like actual bill-paying adults, some of the friendships naturally became more distant, while some deepened and grew along with us.

Ending a romantic relationship can be a tough deed, but you can generally justify it by reminding yourself that you don't want to be faced with no sex/beard trimmings in your toothbrush bristles/lousy communication/the urge to hang yourself out of boredom whenever you go for dinner...for the rest of your life. Whether the ending is a huge drama-fest with weeping and pleading and drinking yourself into a three-day blackout a la "magic four", or it's an amiable and sedate affair, at least romances have a clearly defined ending. "We broke up" has a meaning.

Friendships? Not so much. It feels weird to call someone up and say, "You know, this friendship just isn't giving me what I want. I think it's time we quit hanging out." Usually, folks just quit hanging out. Or, if there is some mega trauma that erupts, there's a fight, with some yelling or some shoving, and there's a clear end. But most friendships don't die that death. While I've encountered some, they tend mostly to be about cash (word to the wise: be careful who among your friends you choose as a roommate).

But sometimes, shit gets weird. Friendships evolve into something else, and all of the sudden, I'm sitting at a swim-up bar in Thailand with a girl I went to high school with, wishing I was anywhere else in the world, including hell, rather than listen to one more word of her explicate her relationship with her boyfriend. That friendship is done. It's dead. It's finito. I no longer care about her. I actively dislike her. But we, as a society, will not turn to this woman and say "I can't handle any more whining about his retarded cats and his lack of employment, and I can't handle you," dump our cosmopolitan in the pool, and swim serenely back to sanity. It's just not done.

I wish it was. I have a few friendships that are limping along, terminally wounded, but both parties are too shy or miserable to put the relationship on the curb. Instead, we smile tightly at each other at social events and make halfhearted plans to "get together some time," even though we all know that time will be never o'clock. We've grown apart, gotten into relationships, picked up different habits, schedules, ethical systems, and hairdos. If we met now, we wouldn't be pals; why are we pals now?

Maybe that should be my new year's resolution. Not January - that's, like, two seasons away - but September. While I'm not heading back to school, I can still resolve to pick up new habits and try new things. Including ending the friendships that make me feel like a shitty person instead of a good one. I mean, with friends like those, who needs enemies? And instead of enemies, can't I just have people I recall fondly as my friends, without needing to drag that whole sordid relationship into the present tense? Emphasis on tense?

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