Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One of the things I don't like about New York is how people are always leaving it.  It's an exciting and dynamic place, and people are always moving here or coming to visit (one of the things I do like about New York is how frequently I see friends who don't live here, sometimes entirely by accident), but it's not the kind of place, for a lot of people, that is suitable as a permanent home.  It's a difficult city to put down roots in because the soil is always shifting.  This summer a good friend of mine will move away to begin a marriage and a master's degree in Kansas, and the tragedy and beauty of the city is that, although I'll hopefully stay in touch with her, her place in my life will quickly be filled.  Nothing stays empty here for long.

I've lost one friend already this year, and in a more upsetting way.  A woman I'd become friends with last spring, and become much closer to over the course of the fall, stopped speaking to me abruptly in January over my unwillingness to enter into a relationship with the IB.  I feel that this is unfair and a little bit ridiculous, but I'm still bothered by it.

My friend - ex-friend, I suppose - is an intelligent, vivacious, likable person.  Our lives were very different, but we used to get together once every week or two for lunch or a drink or a shopping expedition, and we became each other's sounding boards, in large part because our lives were so different.  Her husband and I always had plenty to say to each other, and we liked each other's other friends.  (Yes, it sounds like I'm talking about a guy I used to date, but the similarity of friendships to dating relationships is hardly accidental.)  I knew her friendship would change when she had her baby (which happened a couple weeks ago, according to Facebook, ever the go-between in these situations), that I'd see her less and that she'd always be preoccupied, but I didn't expect it to be so thorough, and I didn't expect it to start three months before the baby's birth.

I understand it, though.  She's not the first friend I've had whose gotten married or had a child, or for that matter taken another job or found an amazing hobby.  People's lives change, and their friendships ebb and flow.  New mothers have more in common with other new mothers - at least, in some ways - than with single women, and people who make lots of money have more fun going to fancy places with other people who make lots of money than eating stale pizza with postdocs.  People change when their lives change - but, also, people like to think they've changed.  They like to think they've outgrown or evolved past or transcended who they were, and sometimes that means outgrowing the people they were once friends with. If they didn't - if, while working their amazing job and living in their huge house and raising their three children, they still wasted their time with people who were important to them in college, people who don't have any of those things, well, that's a little bit threatening, isn't it?  Because if  you can still respect the people who don't have the things that you think make you respectable, maybe those aren't the respect-bestowing things after all.

It takes a lot of guts to be exactly who you are, even when other people are different, and that seems not to be less true at thirty-five than it was at fifteen.

I've almost-lost friends to this sort of thing before.  My best friend and I went through a rough patch - okay, we went through approximately two dozen rough patches, but I'm talking about one in particular - right about the time she got married.  There were a lot of components to it, involving all the expected bridesmaid/bride clashes plus my own unhappiness in my then-current relationship, as well as some more difficult stuff going on in both our lives.  But the part I remember most clearly is a comment she made to me over instant messenger that she was more interested in selecting the correct sofa for her apartment than in discussing my "non-committal relationship issues".  What stung so much was not that she was more interested in her life than in mine, but that she really did view the most emotional aspects of my life as less important in an objective sense than the decorating quandaries of her own.

Fortunately, time tends to even things out.  Eight years have passed, during which time I've bought two sofas and she's had two children and both of us have weathered plenty of ups and downs in all areas of our lives.  While we don't always understand each other's viewpoints, she's a good friend and an impartial one, it's been valuable to me to have her in my life if only to have a differing viewpoint as well as some idea of how a person with her life lives.  I can't imagine what our friendship would be like now if we'd followed similar paths in our twenties.

I'm sad that my ex-friend and I seem destined not to develop a friendship like this, but I know there's nothing that can be done.  It takes patience to tolerate your friends when they are living your lives in a way that seems blatantly wrong to you, and it takes a lot of honesty and humility - more than I have most of the time, anyway - to accept that maybe your choices aren't right inherently or for everyone, or even - possibly, some of the time - for you.


  1. I have many, many character flaws, but one of them didn't include changing who I am after I got married. And this to me is a really important measure of staying true to my essence, and finally, at 33, actually knowing myself quite well. (Whew. Wish I could have told that to 15- or 25-year-old me.)

    There's another blogger I love who said (I paraphrase) something like, "You always identify with the person you were when you were at your most awkward." That explains a lot of my behaviors, including the ones like never forgetting why a friend's dating experiences (and sometimes pathologies) are more important than micro-level home decorating choices.

    OK, self-satisfied me is done with this comment.

  2. In retrospect, I totally understand where my friend was coming from. All the "does he like me or not? should I talk to him or not" get very tiresome, even for the friend who's directly involved. And a lot of married people, while delighted to be with their spouse in particular, derive significant satisfaction from not having to deal with the annoying elements of dating. I could certainly see a newlywed getting caught up in the euphoria of that - at least until she realized she had signed up for a lifetime of dealing with the annoying elements of being intimately conflated with another human being.

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