The Physics of Friendship

In my freshman year of college, I was scared to death. I was away from home and family for the first time in my life. I was being exposed to new ideas. I was working toward my future. I was adulting with no instruction manual.

Fortunately I made an amazing friend, and we became practically inseparable. She was my lifeline. We were like binary stars. No pressure there, right?

She was from a different country, with a much more reserved culture. So when she occasionally acted rather cold, I cut her some slack. I’m a loyal friend, and that’s what loyal friends do.

And then one time she cut me out entirely. She avoided me and didn’t speak to me for about two weeks. I have no idea why. I didn’t have a clue then, either. That was the worst part about it. I had no idea what I had done to deserve such treatment. And since she was the only close friend I had made there, it felt like someone had scooped out my heart with a rusty grapefruit spoon.

Finally, her roommate couldn’t stand to see me so distraught, and forced her to talk to me. I was so relieved that I didn’t even question anything. I don’t even recall there being any awkwardness to our friendship after that. We just picked up where we left off. So be it.

During one of our breaks, she came to Florida with me and stayed with my family. Two years later, when I was studying abroad and she was bicycling across the United States, she left her bike in the garage of a total stranger in Texas, hopped a bus, and came to visit me in Mexico. In a time before internet, we would exchange 30-page letters with each other. I loved those letters.

I considered her my best friend. She never said the same to me. (That’s happened a lot in my life. A whole lot. It’s hurtful.)

Over time, we’ve drifted apart. Thirty-page letters are no longer feasible for either of us. Still, I continued to reach out, despite the oceans and continents between us.

She’s never been very comfortable with the internet. She doesn’t have a Facebook Page. She stopped answering e-mails at least a decade and a half ago. My attempts to connect have been ignored.

I still think of her often, but I’m no longer the girl I was at 17. I’m no longer willing to be the only one who makes an effort to sustain a friendship. I realize that I deserve more than I’ve gotten in recent decades. I know I’m a good friend to have. But I can’t force anyone to care.

In recent years, I’ve taken the Physics of Friendship much more seriously. Newton says that an object that is in motion will not change its velocity unless a force acts upon it. The same applies to friends. We are all objects in motion. If friends drift away, I used to try to be that force that slowed them down. Now my energy is much more limited.

Maybe I should stop viewing it as her pushing me away, and start looking at it as her pushing herself from me. Because I don’t need to go anywhere. I’m in a good place.

So when you feel that gap starting to widen with someone you care about, let ‘em drift, I say. You are not responsible for their motion. Don’t cling. Nothing ought to be that hard.

And then, too, letting go is sometimes all it takes for someone to want to return to your orbit. But mostly not, truth be told. Mostly not.

And that’s okay. As Max Ehrmann wrote, “No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Drifting Apart

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College Admissions Scandal? Seriously?

Here’s what I find most scandalous about the college admissions scandal: that people are scandalized by it. I mean, come on. Does the fact that rich people are using their money, fame and influence to get their (sometimes undeserving) children ahead in this world come as a surprise to anyone? Does the fact that colleges and/or their employees are motivated by greed shock you? Honestly?

Do you really think that Donald Trump, whom analysts have determined speaks on a 4th grade level, and has the attention span of a hummingbird on crack, was good college material? Please. He has an economics degree from Wharton and has absolutely no idea how his policies impact the national and global economy. If he were proud of his SAT scores, he wouldn’t be trying so hard to suppress them. Somebody needs to covfefe his diploma.

Both presidents Bush went to Yale. That makes me think rather less of that institution. But it doesn’t exactly astound me.

Nor does it surprise me that so many football hotshots take no advantage of their academic opportunities, and aren’t really expected to. They are the athletic equivalent of cannon fodder. Their existence is only suffered because they fill the overpriced stadium seats. (There are exceptions, of course.)

Do I think it’s right that these rich kids and athletes have an unfair advantage? Of course not. Do I wish the playing field were level for all of us? Yes. Being able to purchase a degree lowers the value of the degrees the rest of us worked so hard to obtain.

But if you think this “scandal” is in any way new, you’re delusional. And yes, things will tighten up in admissions offices, for a time. But I guarantee you that in about 5 years, when we’re focused on something else, the status quo will reassert itself.

Trust me. Richie Rich is always going to land on his privileged feet.

End of cynical rant for the day.

Graduate

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Ambition

It never occurred to me that going to college wasn’t mandatory. My mother had been drumming it into my head since the age of six. You will go to college. College was the next grade after 12th. That was what one did.

I don’t know why, but it shocked me that everyone didn’t feel that way. Many of my high school friends never went for higher education. They had other goals in life. Now I know that there’s nothing wrong with that.

It wasn’t until I met someone with no ambition at all that I realized how important goals truly are. This guy will probably always live in the same city. He’ll always have the same job, and the same struggles. He is so stuck in the past that he never looks toward the future. He works toward nothing. He looks forward to nothing. He never gets excited about anything. He has absolutely no imagination. He doesn’t want anything because he thinks he doesn’t deserve it. He never takes risks because he is too afraid of failure.

He is the most boring human being I’ve ever met. Being in his presence is depressing. I feel sorry for him. But I also have no respect for him.

Ambition is what makes life worth living. Striving for something is why you get out of bed in the morning. And your goals don’t have to be financial. That’s no yardstick to use to measure your life. Accumulation of stuff is meaningless. You goals should be about achieving something, or going somewhere, or creating something, or checking something off your bucket list. Those goals should be unique to you.

I’m not telling you what goals to have. I’m just saying, for heaven’s sake, have some. Otherwise, what’s the point?

ambition

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Bodybuilder Guy

Back in the ‘80’s I attended a college in Florida that came with an outdoor swimming pool. I probably would have lived in that pool except for one thing: it seemed to come with a bodybuilder guy. I thought he was creepy and intimidating.

He was always (and by that I mean always) there, lying on the edge of the pool as if posing for a centerfold. He never spoke to anyone. He never got in the water. He just lay there, bronzing his grossly over-developed, veiny muscles while he metabolized his steroids. (That body just wasn’t natural. No way.)

All the girls used to stare at him. I’m sure he thought they liked what they saw. In truth, most of us thought he was a disturbing freak of nature. (Why do guys think women are attracted to that body type? I don’t know any who are. Truly. I was repulsed just looking for a photo for this post.)

The weirdest thing about this was that I don’t even know if he was a student. I never saw him anywhere else on campus. No one seemed to know his name.

I used to wonder about him. Was he intelligent or a stereotypical meathead? What was he studying? Was he full of himself or insecure? Where did he come from? Where did he live? Did he have any friends? Did he want any? Was he lonely? Was he happy?

I would have loved to know these things, but I couldn’t break through the creepily muscled wall to ask. I wonder what became of him. He’d be in his 50’s now, and if the steroids didn’t kill him, all those muscles have probably turned to fat.  I wonder how he copes with that. I wonder if he ever learned that there is much more to life than body shape.

Nothing bugs me more than a story without an ending.

ABFF 22nd Annual Pro-Am

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Why College is Still Worth It

I have three degrees, and not one of them has helped me get a job. I’ve never worked in any of my fields of study. Never. If that’s your only yardstick for measuring a college education, then yeah, for me it was a monumental waste of time and money.

But I still maintain that college was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I would be a completely different person were it not for higher education. The impact it has had on me has been priceless.

First of all, dorm life is the perfect transitional period between living with your parents and entering the real world. You can try new things, have new experiences, and make truly epic mistakes while still being in a relatively supervised environment. It’s a very important rite of passage. Freedom with a bit of a safety net.

And I guarantee you that you will never find it that easy to make lifelong friends again. Something about pulling an all-nighter or sharing a room with someone bonds you. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it yourself.

And I truly believe that it’s nearly impossible to go to a university and come out without your horizons having been broadened. You are exposed to other cultures, different schools of thought, and controversial points of view. You learn to question authority and make informed decisions. You discover the importance of thinking outside the box.

Continuing a formal education past high school also helps you discover who you are. You spend time with different types of people. You have different successes and failures. Saying to yourself, “I’ll never do that again” is every bit as valuable as finding your niche or your calling.

Having that amazing 4 year span before the chains of life start weighing you down in the form of mortgage and debt and relationships and obligations and soul-crushing responsibilities is also invaluable. I miss that feeling of only being lightly tethered. I’d love to have it back.

And, yes, of course I learned things that are quantifiable. I speak Spanish. I know the difference between there, their, and they’re. I suspect that if necessary, I could still remember how to rappel down the side of a cliff. And the critical thinking skills that I perfected there have served me well every single day of my life.

So yes, move heaven and earth to go to college. Just be more realistic in your fields of study than I was. You will have to pay the bills eventually.

If you skip this precious milestone in life, you’ll be selling yourself short. And you’ll never know just how much more amazing you could have been. Go for it.

college

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Okay, Now I Can Die Happy.

I just had the most gratifying conversation with an old friend from college. He told me I had a huge impact on him, and that I made him socially conscious. Wow. Just… wow.

I had no idea. And I’m all the more honored because I know him to be a very socially conscious person. I can’t take credit, really, because I’m sure it was within him all along, but if I was the catalyst for bringing that to the surface, well, that’s gigantic.

And it surprises me because I’ve always sort of felt like a quiet background kind of person. I don’t think of myself as a mover or a shaker or an influencer (to coin a term). I stand on the periphery a lot. Somebody has to prop up the walls.

So hearing this from my dear old friend does my heart good. A long-standing item on my bucket list has been to have a positive impact on someone. That’s no small thing. I have no children of my own, so the opportunities for substantive impact on my fellow man are few and far between.

It had me thinking about the people that have had an impact on me. There have been quite a few. Have I told them? Some of them. I shouldn’t assume that the rest know. And they deserve to!

Take a moment to think about the people who have made you a better person. Reach out to them. That’s what I plan to do.

And you never know. You might just be giving them this news at a time when they really need to hear it. It’s the most delightful feeling in the world, knowing you’ve made a difference. It’s life affirming.

self-esteem

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Disrespect of Teachers

Back in 2010 I went back to school to get my third degree. College at 45 is a different experience indeed. My professors were usually my contemporaries, and most of my fellow students seemed like they were from a different planet. I struggled to find common ground with them.

I hadn’t had this much contact with 18-year-olds since I was 18 myself. They are astonishingly sure of themselves. They’re not the least bit worried about their future. They take everything for granted.

They have yet to learn that their possessions mean nothing. They are very concerned with what people think about them, and how they look. One girl admitted she had over 400 outfits in her closet! I bet that 25 years from now, none of those outfits will fit anymore, and she’ll wish she had all that money back.

Returning to school later in life was rather surreal for me. I often felt like a detached sociological observer. But I think one of the things that stood out the most for me in this experience was my Chemistry class.

Chemistry was a required class for many courses of study in this college, so the majority of the students who signed up were only there because they had to be, not because they had any interest in the subject. And boy, did they ever take it out on the professor.

This was a man who clearly loved everything about Chemistry. It was his calling. He was fascinated with it, and tried to impart that fascination to his indifferent students. I kind of felt sorry for him.

There were two girls in that class who I called the Bobbsey Twins. They looked nothing alike, but they were joined at the hip. Both were clearly upper middle class children, just like the ones in that old series of books.

But these two girls were obnoxious beyond belief. They had the best of everything. Laptops, phones, cars, clothing… but what they lacked was respect. They’d sit in the back of the class and text and Skype while the professor was lecturing. They’d giggle on the rare occasion when they were paying attention, but mostly they wouldn’t even bother to hide the fact that they weren’t listening at all. Their foolish antics were distracting, which took away from the experience for the rest of us.

I know a lot of people who are or have been teachers, so the behavior of these girls infuriated me. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be mocked by people while you’re trying to do your job. And that job is the most important thing anyone could do. I mean, here you are, trying to increase people’s knowledge so that they have a better chance to succeed at life, and these little brats not only did not care, but they resented it.

And the ultimate irony is that they were punishing themselves more than they were punishing the teacher. They were feasting on ignorance, and they’ll carry that with them their whole life long. Any time you skip an opportunity to expand your knowledge, you may as well be shooting yourself in the foot.

As far as I’m concerned, education is a sacred thing. Learning is the most critical endeavor you will ever pursue. It shapes you. It allows you to grow and understand and empathize and question. It helps you to make decisions, and it charts your course in life.

People who are willing to dedicate their lives to giving people that education are the most amazing people on earth. They base their entire careers on the desire to improve the lives of others. And for their troubles, they are often underpaid, disrespected, and put in danger. I couldn’t do it.

Next time you cross paths with a teacher, thank that person, sincerely. Not just for teaching, but also for having a positive impact on society at large. And if you used to be like the girls in my Chemistry class, apologize. It’s never too late.

bobbsey_twins_-_gutenberg

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