Sunday, September 15, 2002

The Friend Ship

Here's another one of those things that pops into my head when I've been depressed: the Nature of Friendship. Partly it is because of the muffling of positive emotions that is a part of depression (contrasted with the amplification of positive emotions that occurs during the manic phases and I am giddily happy and absolutely love everyone); partly it is because a symptom of depression is a tendency to isolate oneself away from one's friends; and partly because with this isolation and filtering of positive emotions, I intellectualize everything, and then spend a lot of time alone thinking about it.

In the present case, it was the advent of a very old and long-distant friend, overlaid with interactions with other friends, which brought up a lot of questions in my mind about the nature of friendship in general and the nature of my particular relationships with my own friends.

As I posted here before, I've known Fred a very long time, about the same amount of time as I've known Caroline, and we were very close during those years between high-school and college, when he moved away first to Monterey (a mere two-hour drive, but as neither of us had cars, it might as well have been on the dark side of the Moon) and then to Washington DC and Manassas VA (all the way across the country). We had a lot of history together, a plethora of code-words and in-jokes and common experience, certain tastes in common and certain preferences we could learn about from each other.

But then, I don't remember my own history very clearly anymore. I drank a lot, and that tends to blur one's memories a bit... and I have lately managed to overcome my natural alcoholic's habit of counting over my regrets at night, reliving moments that I might have done differently, planning out how I would or should have done them differently, thinking about how my life would now be so much different and better if I had done them differently... and when one stops obsessing about the past, one tends to not remember it so clearly — just as one seldom remembers telephone numbers that one seldom calls, and seldom remembers routes to places one seldom visits.

So when I found myself encountering Fred the Person after several years of living with Fred the (increasingly nebulous) Memory, sitting in the same room with him and having that "I-don't-know-what-do-you-want-to-do" conversation, instead of catching up on personal trivia over long-distance telephone calls, I found myself at something of a loss... as I often do with family members, I found myself wondering if I would want to know Fred socially, if I had just met him.

For one thing, Fred is the only really close male friend I've ever had to whom I was not sexually attracted (and I should set the definition before I go any further: I have a great many Acquaintances, people I know slightly, mostly just a name and a few pieces of trivia; a fair number of Friends, people I like a lot and with whom I have spent a certain amount of quality time, people I would talk to on the phone or email or have over for dinner or take to the movies, etc.; and a small handful of Close Friends, people who know a lot about me and with whom I spend a great deal of time, and generally whose phone numbers I have memorized). All of my other close male friendships were born of a crush on my part that was not reciprocated or which didn't go anywhere... and though the romantic intentions usually die off after a while, there is still a physical attraction that doesn't need to be questioned — one simply likes to be around people one finds attractive.

And then, there are simple differences of politics... though we are both more-or-less Liberal, he is very pro-Military and I am a rabid Pacifist, and he tends toward a brand of Patriotism that I prefer to call Nationalist Bigotry (so he and Grandmother had some lovely long conversations while he was staying with us, conversations that sometimes caused me to leave the room).

On a more personal level, Fred is also one of the only people I know who still smokes, and he drinks as well... not alcoholically, mind you (at least not around me), but after seven years of a mostly-AA social life, it's a little jarring to smell beer on someone's breath. He tends to be very negative, finding fault in things instead of looking for the good; he has no compunction about causing a scene if he feels he has been slighted by a stranger (I remember him once throwing an empty Calistoga bottle at a car that hadn't stopped for him in the crosswalk); he has strange little physical habits that I find slightly irksome, ways of holding his hands or his head that strike me as slightly insectile and bizarre; and he has a tendency to make things more complicated than they need be, ignoring obvious solutions and apparently relishing the drama of failure.

On the other hand... well, right this minute I can't think why I like him; and just reading the above, he doesn't seem a very nice person. And yet he is a nice person, and I do like him. And he seems to like me, which is usually a pretty good basis for friendship. It's weird and I can't put my finger on it... with most of my friends, I can come up with a list, be it ever so short or convincingly long, emotionally complex or simply superficial, of good qualities with which I can account for our friendship. But with Fred, I can't put my finger on one. I partially attribute this inability to my depression (perhaps if he had visited during a manic period, this post would be a panegyric to his wonders and glories), but mostly attribute it to the fact that we do not spend very much time together anymore, and have been separated with only occasional visits and phone-calls and emails over the last ten years... but this strange distance I feel has bugged me nonetheless during his visit.

And when something bugs me, I blog about it. It always helps, even if only to get something off my chest. It's funny, I was never able to keep a journal or diary of any kind unless I had an implied audience... thought-process-journals or project diaries for classes and the like... and the act of journaling is wonderfully useful in working through one's mental knots.

So anyway, I was going to go on about some other friends about whom I am harboring a certain concern or worry or what-have-you, but I've suddenly decided to not do so. I'm feeling all lovely and purged now, so I think I'll take that feeling and use it to get some laundry done.

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