A couple decades ago, as I was recovering from divorce, I met someone who would become a good friend, confidant, and soon enough, a house-mate. It was a rough time in my life, and it was great to connect with someone who shared so many common interests. Motorcycles, EMS, fire service, and recent divorces. We had some good times together – camping, partying, even a memorable trip to San Francisco on our bikes.
Just as suddenly as our friendship started, it seemed to end. He met someone who eventually became his wife, and they went on to live happily ever after. I’m glad for that – they have always made a good couple. It just caught me a little off-guard. And being guys, we didn’t have the luxury of the break-up conversation. He didn’t come to me and say directly that he’d met someone else, nor did he ask for “a break.”
Being young and insecure, I missed the cues and began to get clingy, jealous, and pouty. Yes, it was very pathetic and obnoxious. When I eventually figured it out, both of us had already moved on with our lives and found new friends, new interests, and new directions. We had good times, but that was then – this was now.
A few years later, I started hanging out with another friend – he was a bit younger than me, but we seemed to share a lot of interests. His girlfriend happened to live in the same suburban, yuppie apartment complex as my girlfriend – and amazingly, they were both nurses. We had some good times together. But then the dynamic of the friendship changed. I didn’t really understand what was going on at the time, but I was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic.
My new friend started showering me with gifts – music CDs, restaurant meals, and other stuff. Most of all, it seemed as if he always wanted to be with me. Again, being young and unwise, I didn’t really know how to handle this attention – so I baled. Yep, just disappeared. I quit returning phone calls, stopped being available, and just moved on. I treated him the same way girls in high school used to treat me when I developed a crush on them.
It wasn’t until today that I connected these dots. It wasn’t until today that I realized that the man who enjoyed my friendship probably felt pretty bad when I dumped him – without even the courtesy to talk. Not even a “let’s just be friends” speech.
I don’t blame myself. I was young. But I do feel bad about it. I understand that guys don’t really have those kinds of conversations. I also know that that’s just the way it is sometimes. However, twenty years later, I can sit here and realize that conversation is always the best way to handle things.
If people are important to us, we should give them the opportunity to figure out the situation. Right?
What prompted these thoughts? I was listening to an Erwin McManus podcast and he was talking about strengths, talents, and uniqueness. At one point he talked about how imitation of others is a great compliment, but we have to move past imitation to emulation. When we do that, according to McManus, others will start to become our fans and will start to imitate us.
I clearly didn’t understand these concepts 30 years ago, but I am much more comfortable with the idea now.
30 years ago, I was so “damned independent,” that I refused to imitate anyone – save for a few key people (eg; my Dad). Also, I was living a pretty erratic life and I hadn’t yet discovered how to be comfortable in my own skin. I was afraid to cast my allegiance to anyone else – because I didn’t yet know who I wanted to be when I grew up. I also didn’t want anyone trying to imitate, or emulate me – because I didn’t want to lead them off of a cliff.
I didn’t have a “man crush” on my paramedic friend, but when he fell into a relationship, I was jealous. We had a pretty balanced friendship. But I was jealous of “the other woman.” It was stupid and pathetic (did I already mention that?) – and I can laugh about it now. I just didn’t want to lose my good friend.
Someone told me once that melancholies make friends for life. This has certainly been my experience. I still think of friends I grew up with and I wonder where they are, what they’re up to, and I’d like to at least touch bases. I’ve learned however that not everyone feels those strong bonds. They’ve moved on and they see our years together as just for that time – and now, it’s over.
Now that I’m more comfortable in my own skin, I’m OK with that. In fact, sometimes just a quick connection on Facebook is enough. It’s like bumping into them at the mall, being really glad about that, and going back to whatever errands I was taking care of. Now we have each other’s numbers, we promised to “do lunch sometime,” but we never will.
In fact, Facebook has allowed me to “friend” the girl with whom I shared my first kiss, my first girlfriend from high school, and a lot of old classmates. We don’t interact, and we’ve probably filtered out each other’s posts, but we can see pictures of our families, spouses, and activities. It’s almost like calling someone and hoping you get their voice-mail so you don’t actually have to have a long, “friendly” conversation. I just pop onto their wall, look at recent posts, look at their photos, and move on – or not. 😉
During my early years as a firefighter, I made another friend. We worked on the same shift and we were the about 15 years younger than the other six guys. Somehow we started hanging out together. We shared many great experiences. For a couple of years, we had a great friendship. One of my favorite activities was throwing the Frisbee with him. On duty, that was how we worked out – we went out in front of the fire station and played a pretty athletic version of Frisbee, all the while flirting with the girls who were going to the bar next door. Sunshine, Frisbee, and girls – what could be better?
But like many friendships, it just stopped. His girlfriend, and eventual wife, moved in with him. I decided I needed to quit drinking and partying. I didn’t know how to do that very well, so I just became a hermit.
Several years ago, when The Wife and I were still relative newlyweds, we were in Portland to visit family. I tracked down my Frisbee friend and we went over to visit him. I apologized for dropping off the planet. He was quiet, like all normal guys are, but his wife looked at me, and with a bit of a tear in her eye, thanked me for my words and apology.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of closure. But closure isn’t always possible.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of closure. But closure isn’t always possible. Cross country moves, sudden changes in employment, deep emotions, fear, anger, frustration, and confusion can lead us all to changes in our relationships. I’ve always had a strong need to understand the people in my life and the changes that surround them. I know longer take it personally, but I do still find it curious. I look it as an opportunity to grow.
Yesterday, on the way to my employment medical evaluations, I was listening to a radio talk show as various experts discussed the BP Oil spill. I don’t know what show it was [Talk of the Nation], or who the guests were, but at one point the hosts asked one of “the experts” [Dr. Slyvia Earle] what the worst case scenario is for this Gulf of Mexico disaster? Her answer floored me – it isn’t what the typical pabulum we’ve come to expect:
The worst thing, she said, was that we won’t learn from this disaster.
Interesting. Think about that for a moment. Thousands of fishermen have been put out of work, hundreds of deep platform oil well operations have been shut down, millions of animals will die, the Gulf has been turned into a soupy mess of toxic waste, and the effects of this will be felt for a generation – or longer. But the “worst-case scenario” is that we won’t learn from it?
Why is that the worst?
Because, as you know, if we don’t learn from our history, we are destined to repeat it.
From a purely academic approach, I believe this “expert” is correct. But from an empathetic, humanistic point-of-view, it’s a little early to be overlooking the human and environmental costs. Just as when someone loses a loved one to death, we don’t jump in with advice about the future, but instead, grieve their loss at the moment.
But it is true, we do need to learn from our mistakes! I learned to move on when my friend moved and got married. I learned that I can “break up” with people in a more courageous and forthright manner. I’ve learned that it’s never too late to go back an make amends for the mistakes we’ve made. And I’ve learned that not all friendships are permanent – but the memories will always link me to those people who have been important in my life.
I’ve learned that not all friendships are permanent – but the memories will always link me to those people who have been important in my life.
Not addressing the importance of the friendship, and merely slinking away into obscurity, is immature and lacks integrity. To say that this friendship means, or meant nothing, is a lie. To simply disappear, like I’ve done, is to ignore the state of being that exists. Eventually the other person takes the “hint,” but it would be best to be honest and forthright.
As I conclude my thoughts here, I realize I have a friend from years gone by that I have been ignoring. I need to call him and make some adjustments in our friendship. It isn’t fair to leave him hanging. It’s the right thing to do.
Do you owe anyone some explanations?