My husband has no friends, and I envy him. He loves gatherings, enjoys a good crowd, but he doesn’t seek out companionship. He doesn’t call a friend on the phone and invite them for a drink or a meal. He doesn’t chitchat. He can entertain himself for hours. He rarely seems lonely, quite the opposite actually. I, on the other hand, am a social butterfly with intense social anxiety. I crave human connection and conversation, yet I’m a nervous wreck in a crowd of people, whether they be friends or strangers. I am a poor group performer, I always have been, inevitably my nervous social energy leads me to all sorts of social mistakes and misunderstandings. I talk too much, offer too much, ask too much, expect too much, sometimes, I am simply just too much. This behavior turns people off, it would turn me off, plus, it opens me up to ridicule and harsh judgements. My husband, sits in the corner, reserved and calm, if someone approaches him, he is receptive, if no one approaches him, he is completely nonplussed and content on his own. He is a people watcher. Sometimes, he makes me nervous. Other times, I worry if he is happy. Most of the time, I envy him.
This past year, I have struggled to change my approach to friendship, to re-write my own definition, particularly in female/female relations. I have never excelled at being friends with women, the friendship between women has a propensity toward the intense. My personality has a predilection toward intensity, as well. I willingly shut my eyes tight and leap full force into these types of friendships. I read too many books. I am warped by the stories of friendship of which I have filled my head. I become fiercely loyal before building a relationship in which to be loyal to, convinced this is what defines friendship, convinced this is the path to the idealized friendships I have read about. It’s not. It never ends well, but rather with the pain I have caused, to a one-time friend, as well as myself. Often, I pick the wrong friends. I get caught up in the fever of shared secrets, the idea of a close tie that binds two people, the loyalty and comradery, the chitchat. I expect too much and I end up let down. Years ago, I asked my husband why he doesn’t have close friends, he responded that people always let you down. I smirked at him, felt pity for such a close-minded view of the world. In hindsight, I think he has a point.
While reading a section from Proust’s “Within a Budding Grove” the other afternoon, I came across a passage about the dwindling last days of a friendship. In the book the young narrator is avoiding contact with his friend, Gilberte, he visits her house to see her parents, but only when she is not home, because he wants her to know he was there, yet to not actually come into contact with her. He turns away any invitations that she extends. He is hurt, mainly due to the lack of intensity she feels in their friendship in comparison to his own. He denies himself her company, even though he longs for it, based on principle. In his mind, he tries to will her to make a grand gesture, make her need for his companionship take center stage. He converses with Gilberte in his head, tells her that every passing day makes him love her less, that the more time that passes the wider the gap between them grows, until one day he will cease to need her friendship, he will feel nothing for her, it will be too late. I was thunderstruck, to say the least. It is always unsettling to find yourself in words written by someone so long ago. I realized that I am that narrator, and that is not a positive personality trait. I slowly slipped the book back into it’s place on the shelf and quietly went about my day. I told no one of my discovery, I hadn’t anyone to tell.
I have spent a lifetime pushing people away when my feelings have been hurt, blocking contact and any chance of reconciliation while secretly attempting to will them into fixing the ever-growing breech between us. I have felt the exact moment when it becomes irreparable. I have relished it, that moment, because it signified an end to a bad situation, packed my pain and loss into my suitcase and headed for home. Until recently, I learned little from these broken loyalties. I just swallowed the anger and disappointment and moved on to new friendships, to try my hand at it one more time. This time is different. I have taken a page from my husband’s playbook, I am learning to be less socially intense. I am learning to have pleasant interactions without all of the baggage of expectation. I am enjoying it, and people, for the first time in many years. If friendship blossoms from such simple moments I will take it as a gift, if not, I will not mourn.
In October of 2013, I took a weekend trip with a group of female friends. I was nursing the wounds of my latest unhealthy friendship, coaxing them into scars that I hoped would fade with time. I had no expectations. It was a good weekend, full of music, food, wine and laughter. That Sunday morning, as I sat on the porch of my friend’s house in the hills of West Virginia, writing in my journal, I was finally able to let go.
On the Death of Friendship- October 2013
There’s a song on a record in my house about having no regrets.
It’s sung in French.
But French regrets are as good as any, and besides
it’s a starting point.
So, let’s pour oil on troubled waters, shall we?
It’s here, in the hills of West Virginia,
in a house full of cooking smells,
boots clicking on torn linoleum floors,
a swish of a skirt,
a stunning silence,
calm, but for a rustle of forest at 3am.
This is the nighttime of my childhood,
dark and deserted.
Here, is where I appreciate
its absence, marvel at its existence
in the first place. Perhaps,
it was just something I dreamt up
on a bleak October morning
in the mountains.
Or was it the plot
of a book I read long ago,
long enough to have forgotten
it was only a book, and nothing more?
This house is a womb,
small and warm, even
the walls are soft.
We lounge in the corners,
the nooks and crannies,
of a room as high as it is wide,
wine is passed about,
sloshed into glasses,
mugs, jelly jars,
No one is left to thirst.
And somehow, I miss you
less than I have ever missed anyone.
You broke me so firmly and cleanly,
without a moment’s hesitation,
as an errant reader,
snaps the spine of a book,
flat backed upon his desk,
caught between elbows.
I am on the porch
packing the remnants
of our drought throated
friendship into heavy wooden crates
to be tucked away in the eaves of my mind.
An attic with plenty of room to store you,
shove you deep into the shadows of memory.
Non, rien de rien.
Non, Je ne regrette rien.
But, I am foolish that way.
I admit it.