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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Loyalty

When I wrote this post I was in a very dark place. I debated even publishing it at all. But sometimes I get the impression that I voice things that others cannot or will not, and hearing it brings them comfort. So here it is. But please rest assured that I’m feeling much better about things now.

I’m a fiercely loyal person. Disparage someone I care about and I will verbally eviscerate you. Treat others unfairly and you will unleash the kraken.

I don’t know why I bother.

I can count the number of times someone else has flown to my defense on one hand. Granted, it’s a rare occasion when I need such assistance. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. But sometimes it would be nice to be thrown an emotional life ring, you know?

As a matter of fact, what I usually get thrown is under the bus. Heck, I practically live under that bus. It’s a source of profound disappointment to me. And road rash.

You’d think I’d have learned by now. There are very few people in this world who are going to stick their necks out for you. Most pull their selfish little heads into their feeble little shells to avoid what they assume will be total annihilation. It’s sad, really.

I don’t want to become one of those people. But if no one else is going to protect me, I need to protect myself. Circle the wagons. Keep my mouth shut. Let the chips fall where they may, and hope that they rain down on someone else’s head for a change.

And my steadfast resolve to be more self-protective will last, oh, a day or two. Because I can’t let go of the belief that if I ever want to see justice in this world, I have to play fair, in the hopes that one day someone might reciprocate, and I’ll finally feel vindicated.

Next time you see me, do me a favor and, as they say in the South, slap me upside the head.

Loyalty

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That Moment When You Realize You Have Horrible Taste

Hi, my name is Barb, and my curtains don’t match. My pillowcases don’t match my sheets, either. And some of the pants I wear to work are patched because I refuse to spend money on something that’s just going to get greasy. I’ve had pretty much the same hairdo since high school, and no one else seems to dress the way I do. I can’t be bothered to be trendy. I’d rather spend my money on travel.

I don’t wear makeup, I’ve never had a manicure, and I watch a lot of reality TV and true crime crap off of Youtube. I collect rocks. I also collect misfits.

I really ought to vacuum my car, but since I don’t even bother to wash it, what are the odds of that? And I’m sure my neighbors would say that my yard is in desperate need of attention.

The reason I appreciate my friends and loved ones so much is that they are willing to look beyond that surface stuff and see who I am. Underneath all that tacky sloppy stuff is a warm heart, a loyal friend, an intelligent woman with a killer sense of humor. I’m kind and compassionate and creative. And my dog loves me.

I admit I probably don’t make the best first impression. But I’ve always appreciated those people who are willing to delve deeper. Thank you all for that.

bad taste

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Collecting Strays

When I was in high school, I felt like a misfit, so I gathered misfits around me. We weren’t cool. We weren’t popular. Actually, most of us were rather troubled. But we were loyal friends. There really is strength in numbers.

Being drawn to the oddballs of the world has also made me intolerant of the intolerant. (Yeah, yeah. I know. So sue me.) If you are rigid, closed-minded, or judgmental, I tend to lose patience with you. I’m more at home reveling in the differences. That’s just how I roll.

This habit of collecting strays (which one friend calls my tendency to attract three-legged dogs), has served me well. I’ve met some amazing people that way. I’ve never related to the overly pretty (and, for that matter, overly petty) people of this world, the ones who are extremely concerned about what others think. Social standing doesn’t interest me. Image bores me.

Sometimes this bites me in the butt, though. I’ve never had a boyfriend who could be considered a huge success at life. The struggles of my lovers have too often become my own. But hey, we were in it together, and that counts for a lot.

Sometimes I long for normal, but I’d be hard-pressed to figure out what to do with it. So, if you’re feeling like a wallflower, come stand by me. I’ll make room.

wallflower

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Women of Character

Looking back at my mother’s life from an adult perspective often renders me speechless. When she was 17 her father died, which plunged her family into poverty. I honestly think she got married just to get out of that overcrowded, depressing little house.

By the time I came along she was in the process of divorcing her abusive, alcoholic husband, as well she should have. But that just “wasn’t done” in the 60’s. She became a neighborhood pariah, and was left to raise three girls alone in the projects with no support whatsoever, neither financial nor emotional, from her ex-husband or anyone else.

Man, that must have been hard. That must have been scary. I’m not sure I would have been able to handle it. I’m sure she needed a friend.

Fortunately, she found one. And what a friend she was. Ann was quite a character. She was strong. She did not suffer fools gladly. She was fiercely loyal. And she didn’t take herself too seriously.

One time Ann was having a particularly bad day. One of the lenses had fallen out of her glasses and broken. And then on her way home, her car horn got stuck. So she was driving down the street, horn blaring. Naturally this drew a lot of attention in the neighborhood. She just laughed and stuck her middle finger through the lens-less glasses at people as she drove by. That was Ann in a nutshell.

Eventually Ann became the mayor of our little town, and she also nursed her son through a tragically fatal case of AIDS back before anyone knew what AIDS was. The woman was tough as nails.

Growing up, I remember hearing my mother laughing with her almost daily over coffee at our kitchen table. That just seemed normal to me. But now I see that it was also probably sanity-preserving for both of them.

Friends. What would we do without them?

lucy and Ethel

Come the Apocalypse, I Want to be with my Dog.

I have a new theory. The best possible thing that can happen when you are searching for a mate is a horrible first date, because then you can see how that person reacts under pressure. Stress separates the men from the boys. It cuts through all the surface bs and shows you what someone is truly made of. There are all sorts of ways of dealing with negativity, as evidenced by nature. All of these ways are legitimate, but only a few of them are viable in terms of a life partner in this modern world. Here are a few examples.

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The Shark. In times of great tension, the shark will not only attack the source of the problem, but will also turn on anyone and anything that happens to be in his vicinity, even members of its own family. When in the midst of this feeding frenzy, the shark has absolutely no regard for loyalty, and does not care about who is on his side. When in the presence of this type of fury, there is nothing you can do except prepare to be eaten. Frankly, I find the shark to be tragic and self-destructive. And the most depressing thing about the shark is he cannot see why this type of behavior is a problem. Somehow being eaten will become your fault. You’ll never feel completely safe with a shark.

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The Fainting Goat. Also known as the Myotonic Goat, this poor creature freezes in times of panic and keels over, thus rendering him utterly useless to himself or anyone else. I used to date one of these. Don’t ask me why.

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The Turtle. When the sh*t comes down and you’re with a turtle, you are on your own. He will pull himself into his shell and wait for the boogeyman to go away. Oh, he’ll protect himself all right, but he won’t confront anyone or anything and prefers to live in a state of denial. He’s completely resistant to change, which makes improvement impossible. Also, if you come by his house and he doesn’t feel like talking, he simply won’t come to the door. Who needs that?

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The Badger. No need to wait for a crisis situation when on a date with a badger. He’s going to be in a foul mood regardless, even if you could potentially be the best thing that ever happened to him. He’s never going to see it.

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The Porcupine. Now, here’s a guy who is prepared. He doesn’t want to be messed with, and has made sure that he won’t be. The problem is, since all he wants is to be left alone, he’ll never let you in.

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The Octopus. I have to admire this guy’s ability to avoid conflict. I like his stealth and intelligence. But if none of that works, he shoots ink. Do you want someone who’s going to throw stuff at you? No. That, and he tends to be clingy.

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Frilled Lizard. You’ve probably seen one of these guys on the National Geographic channel. When you piss one of them off, the frill on their neck expands and they’ll chase you on two feet. Yes, they look intimidating and they get the job done for the most part, but honestly, what would happen if you stood your ground with them? Not too much, I suspect. I think you’d win that confrontation. These guys are all sizzle and no steak.

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The Rattlesnake. The rattler is sort of a first strike kind of guy. He prefers to be the aggressor in anticipation of any possible antagonism you may or may not have in mind. Don’t hang out with the rattlesnake if you’re hoping for cozy get togethers with groups of friends.

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The Praying Mantis. Honestly? Do you really want to hang out with a guy who is so desperate for sex that he’s willing to go there with you even though he knows he’s going to get his head bitten off for his troubles? This guy is so focused on what he wants that he has no concept of the consequences.

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The Meerkat. I have to admit that I have a certain fondness for meerkats. They’re loyal. They’re family oriented, they’re protective, they’re cautious. But they’re also an emotional drain. They’re constantly anticipating trouble. They’re always on the lookout. Their watchword is paranoia. They never seem to relax.

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The Benobo. Scientists have dedicated their lives to studying benobos, because these cousins of ours seem to be totally devoid of aggression. They’re the hippies of the primate world. They’re all about free love and live and let live. I could see myself getting caught up in this lifestyle, but I suspect I’d get fat and complacent, and years would go by without my realizing it.

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The Dog. Dogs don’t seek fights, and in fact try to avoid them, but if you eff with them, they’ll take you out. I can respect that. They tend to restrict their aggression to those that deserve it. They’re loyal and protective, and usually generous and kind unless they’ve been abused. They’d much rather cuddle with you than argue, but they’ll do what they have to in order to protect themselves and the ones they love. A dog will always have your back. They also know how to heave a heavy sigh and release all tension. This, to me, is a very healthy and well-balanced approach to life. Yup, I’ll take a dog every time.

So next time you’re thrust into the dating world, pray for a flash flood or an earthquake or an armed robbery, because then you’ll know exactly what you’ve got on your hands. Disaster can save you a lot of time and heartache.