4.14 Friends with Benefits


Okay, a few months ago I saw an old teacher of mine. Yes, she was a skating teacher, and anyone who has ever participated in some kind of competitive sport, you understand the amount of time that you spend with these people. And sports are weird, if you stay plugged into it, you keep bumping into the same people, and soon, twenty years goes by and you watch each other age, you watch people grow into men and women. So, I see this teacher and she's happy to see me. After the usual small talk you do with someone you haven't seen in a while - relationship status, employment, etc. - she looked at me, tilted her head and asked, "Yes, yes, yes, but are you happy?" I mumbled an answer, but really was at a loss and in the end just said yes. She paused and in that pause she seemed to understand something about me that I had failed to grasp. She just smiled and we went our separate ways.

A few days later, her question still swirled around my head. I wrote her an email saying that I had not been truthful in answering her question, that I was not happy and that stepping back and thinking about it made an impact on me. A simple question, but one that few people ask sincerely. A question from someone who is very special and who you cannot see for years and yet they can look at you and talk to you for a few minutes and see inside you.

As everyone knows by now, I do a podcast and I got the opportunity to interview this person about her accomplishments. It's a very interesting interview because we were talking about her, but at the same time, I'm talking to her as a student, not as an interviewer. There's a weird dynamic that occurred. I can't wait for you to hear it.

Listen, I'm terrible at making new friends and keeping friends and keeping in touch with friends. I have this strange affliction where I actually believe that no one wants to be friends with me. I rarely call anyone because I don't want to bother them. I imagine that when people see my name on caller ID, they roll their eyes and let it go to the answering machine. Seriously, I actually think that people would be better off not knowing me.

What a selfish and cowardly disposition. Selfish because this is all about me. I'm projecting my thoughts on to others. Cowardly because it conveniently allows me to never get close to anyone. In any friendship, there is a certain amount of risk involved.

Selfish and cowardly. And strange. Strange because I've developed a compulsion over many years to express myself. Where does this come from? It's interesting to think about. Maybe it's because I'm such a quiet and reserved and internal person. But you don't want to be in my mind, in here, things are moving at a quick pace, at break neck speed.

I make it very difficult to be my friend. I am passively aggressively needy. Watch out, because if you're one of the unlucky ones I latch on to, one of those people who break through the surface, I won't let go. I can't because there is so few of you. I don't really have groups of friends anymore. It's mostly one-on-one and I'm okay with this. I've toyed with the idea of having a party, something I haven't done since in my twenties. A house warming party two years after moving in. Naturally, my first thought was that nobody would show up. A very real possibility. The next problem is shoes: do I ask people to remove them or allow them to wear shoes inside? Depends if it rains. The real problem is that no one would really know each other. It would be a bunch of people who mostly only know me. Either this would be the worst party ever where everyone just awkwardly tries to make small talk with a completely random group of people. They would leave the party unhappy, feeling it was a waste of time and never talk to me again. Or, it could be the best party ever where no one knows anyone and so establishes real and deep and meaningful connections almost immediately due to the shared experience of not knowing anyone.

Last summer I went to Jordan to visit an old friend of mine. Yes, I was sad that he moved away, but he had to, he had no choice, a new life awaited him there and I needed to support him as much as I could. From the moment I landed and met him and met new friends, they took care of me, took me around, fed me, housed me - it was hospitality that I've rarely experienced. When something happens, I write to him or Skype, and he answers my call and he is my brother in Jordan. I leaned on him and there has been nothing but warmth and an ability to deal with my tendency to act like a maniac.

So, why am I afraid to make more friends? What I want to say that I'm not saying is please don't give up on me. I know this is sad and pathetic and begging, but I am trying to get better.

Another friend of mine I talk to almost everyday. She talked me off that metaphorical ledge many times. We work together and we even started this aforementioned podcast together. Through all my doubts and insecurities, she sees something in me that I cannot. And this damn podcast, what an excuse to connect with people in ways I thought were out of my wheelhouse. I'm doing something here that I've actively avoided my entire life: I'm putting myself front and centre and creating the opportunity to express myself in ways I never thought possible. I'm used to sitting in the background and being invisible. And you know what? My fears are unfounded, no one is telling me to shut up. Yet. They're actually asking for more. But I’m sure this will all stop soon. I wouldn't have been able to do this without my friend.

It's easy to be friends with someone in good times, hard to be there for someone in the dark times. I am trying to be better at this. I used to shy away from this kind of thing, felt I was not useful. The truth is, this is when you're needed, when someone is going through something. You better damn well drop everything when the shit goes down. This is me moving away from my selfish self. I have a writer friend, someone that I see every once in a while, but someone who contacts me right at the right time. Always at the right time. I don't know how he does it. He got in touch with me the day I got dumped. It was so weird because I was trying to get my ex to meet me for coffee on the following Sunday, to talk about what was going on. Meanwhile, my friend wants to meet me on Sunday, without knowing anything that was going on. It was like he was pulling me in the right direction, saying, "Come over here, it's better over here." I chose the friend. He was there when I needed him and damnit, I needed him at that moment, I needed him to hear the pain in my voice even though he didn't know what the problem was, I needed him to steer the wheel while I had my eyes off the road, I needed him to just say, "It's okay."

This is the thing, this is the situation. Look, as I said, I don't have many friends, I don't have anyone over to my house because I don't think they'd want to come here, I think that too much time around me would be too much. But this is all simply not true, or at least I think it's not true. Listen, I'm trying to change my brain here, I'm trying to move this goddamn oil tanker of a brain around and it's not easy. That's why I'm talking about this kind of thing so much, I'm trying to figure this out, at the same time, trying to let go of some things, trying to realize that much of what I am worried about is conjured in my head. What I do know is this, that these people I've spoken about, damnit, they don't come around often and when they do, you have to grab them, hold on to them, be around them, call them, bug the hell out of them because they have wisdom, awareness, insight. I believe there are people out there that have a different level of awareness and they shall not be dismissed, they shall only hold a place in your heart, a place of risk, a place of affection.

All of these people I wrote about above have something in common. They use the word love freely and in a way that makes some people uncomfortable. My teacher talked to me about how she tries to make her students love themselves so that this feeling will be evident in the way they express themselves, that they will be able to reach people and connect. My friend in Jordan talks to me of brotherly love, a love where we have been through so many damn things together, that we have been there for each other when we needed it. My writer friend sends big hugs my way and seems to contact me right at the right times. It is about being there for a person, but more importantly, being present for a person, to establish a connection not out of some preconceived notion or requirement, but to simply give of your self in a simple way. To love. And there is a risk in that kind of love, but what I've come to realize is that there is no use putting pressure on this, no use forcing anything or moving away from it because it is really out of your control and isn't it amazing, truly amazing that you have no control over this? Even if it hurts, even if you are betrayed or forgotten, and even as I write this, the type of people I've found and grabbed on to and grasped with both hands, well, there is no being betrayed or forgotten because it's bigger than both of us, more complicated than we could imagine, yet at the same time so simple.

Because there are those that I've lost, people I have failed to keep in touch with, and maybe this is a product of growing older, maybe this is the result of living a solitary life where I have the excuse of losing touch because I can say, "Oh, that person doesn't want me around." I miss some people. But another product of getting older is that I've reconnected with others, we have maybe grown up a bit and can just understand that we were just a lost for a while. Maybe this will happen with others.

I hope the people I've talked about don't feel strange that I'm talking about them. I guess this is something that is going with the territory of being around me, the idea that I'm trying to pull my writing life together and in parallel with my actual life. That this person I write about is me, but not me, the person on the page being about as truthful as I could at the time of writing, and wishing, damnit, hoping that I can be half as truthful in my life. I am trying, one of the steps is to tell these people, however publicly, because for some reason it's almost easier to write about then tell them, which is kind of sad in a way. I wish I could write about everyone that has risked being my friend, surprisingly, when I sat down and thought about it, there were many I wanted to write about, to write to, there are people I've reconnected to and others that have never gone away, but I think I have already said too much.