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Editor’s Note: I should make it clear at the outset that I know how fortunate I am. But friendship isn’t a luxury, not the real thing—it’s what makes love and babies and business flourish and healthy safe societies, it’s the ground of opportunity and civilization itself.
And that I don’t feel sorry for myself, at least not for long—I just
1) need to focus on further making friends with my life and loneliness and self, and
2) I need new friends.
And one other point—even my best friend in the world, when he started a new job and fell in love, dropped off the map just about all the way. Friendships aren’t to be counted on. I myself have reaped what I have sown by focusing on work and elephant and trying to be of benefit to the detriment of my friendships and opportunities to have a family. But I’ve enjoyed the loneliness mostly and I feel good about my choices, mostly.
So this isn’t about others failing me, and me being unappreciated—it’s about how all of us feel this way, sometimes, or all the time—our loneliness is a well, a deep pool of water beneath the hills and valleys and mountains of our lives.
And that’s not always fun. But it’s not only okay, but the wellspring of true friendships, business with integrity, a good life.
You’re alone. There’s space between us.
That’s loneliness. Love, like fire, requires oxygen.
I love you.
I’m “popular,” in Boulder.
Folks call me the Mayor. I walk around, I’m a big man on campus, getting nods and “heya’s” and “stop n’chats” (Curb). I get lunch downtown and half the town knows me. I have a booming “eco” business, a beautiful girlfriend, a cute dog and a house that’s no longer in foreclosure. I have a good reputation: I don’t f**k around, treat people badly, or get drunk or do drugs in public (or elsewhere, I’m a lightweight). I don’t come onto other folks’ girlfriends, and I go out of my way to support my friends and local businesses.
But I am alone.
That’s not just how I feel: it’s reality. Those folks who nod at me? I’ve never really talked with our hung out with them. They don’t invite me over. My own “friends” hang out with one another, and reach out to me only very occasionally. I, on the other hand, answer texts. I treat people to dinner or lunch if they’re broke. I’ll go all the way to Denver (my god) if it means being there for your birthday. After 10 years of working myself half to old age, I make a real effort to connect with those I care about.
But, generally, folks make their plans without me. Such is the entrepreneur’s lot, I suppose—work all the time, say “no” enough to going out, and one moves from “popular” to “nobody.” It’s a Wonderful Life makes me cry every time, as does About a Boy, for literal reasons.
When I do see a friend, it’s me reaching out. When I do see a friend, they invite someone else along without asking, so it’s not one on one. Last time I saw two of my childhood Buddhist buddies, they invited me to lunch…only to, it turns out, want advice on Facebook. I spent Christmas alone, though some of my “best friends” had dinner and a movie only one day after I treated them to climbing and later popcorn at The Hobbit.
This might sound like a sob story, and it is. But it’s not my sob story. The fact is loneliness is not my possession. It’s something we all share.
Loneliness is our only friend. And it’s got a message. And there’s wisdom in that message. If we push loneliness away, its ache will never leave us.
We can make friends with ourselves. Otherwise, we truly have nothing—all our life, our so-called popularity, our friendships are fickle, hollow, all sound and fury…with a winter’s silence, after. Even my dog, given a warm home elsewhere, and daily walks and hikes and playtime, wouldn’t miss me for longer than a week. My mother is, I’m quite sure, my only unconditional friend. I could be arrested for pedophilia and she’d find a way to hug me and say “I’m so proud of you.” She’s not proud of me for anything, but rather, for me.
The rest of my family, other than my grandma…not so much, at least not yet. People change. But up ’til now, they’ve never offered interest in open communication, and when I’ve offered any, they’ve either shrugged or told me off. They mistake my lack of interest in BSing for a lack of love. Rather, it’s the opposite: love comes from cracking open our hearts, not facile Hallmark words.
So it seems our friends and family have a message for us:
You’re alone. No one will take care of you or even care for you, but you. Some of us will drop in and help, from time to time, but our love and time is conditional—we want something from you.
There is one friend you can count on, and she/he is right here (point at your heart). I have to like myself, and communicate openly to those who disappoint me, and reach out and support those I respect whether they offer respect, friendship and openness or think to text me “yo wanna go for a hike or get lunch or we’re out, wanna join?” in return. Friendship must be unconditional, or it is not friendship. And I need to stop expecting friendship back, and just offer it up.
That said, I’m no doormat. And while friendship must be offered unconditionally, if it is not returned, it’s not friendship. I’m writing folks off left and right. And that’s healthy. In the New Year, let go. Letting go isn’t pretty—sometimes it takes the form of pruning shears, not an open birdcage.
There’s a happy ending, of course: when we prune our fake friends, we prune our own neediness. Soon, loving ourselves is the only path remaining over the proverbial mountain pass. Independent, standing on our own two feet, we begin to attract those who do the same, and respect and communication are part of the deal. I’m proud to say I work with a team, at elephant, of caring, passionate, driving blame into self = low drama = fun colleagues. And I’m proud to say I’ve attracted (or rather, fooled) a true, caring, independent friend in my current partner. And that, if nothing else, is a sign that—at the ripe old age of 38—I’m beginning to grow up.
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