Until recently, when I would be engaged in conversation with people I generally (and mistakenly) believed to be my friends, there would be a moment where I realized that the person talking to me just didn’t want to be around me anymore. While the interactions took place in an environment touted to be one of acceptance and safety, there was none of that in most of the relationships built there.
Whether it was a telltale eye movement or general body language, it was clear that my place was not within the imagined upper echelons of the juvenile class system set up by the emotionally stunted, self-absorbed, (and self-proclaimed) “A” team. Overtures were made intermittently, until it was deemed that I was not worthy of further investment. (I actually heard this statement uttered on more than one occasion: “My ‘friend card’ is full.” Meaning that the person had no desire to talk to the undesirables outside of their small circle of friends.)
In the end, checking out of this dysfunctional dynamic was a relief. I hated high school when I was there; I have no desire to revisit that stupidity. The entire experience (and this is a general recap — the in-depth examination would be exhausting to recount and inadvertently hilarious) served as a catalyst however for some serious reflection on the nature of adult friendships and their particular makeup.
What do adult friendships look like? All too often, “adult” friendships look an awful lot like our adolescent friendships — full of catty, passive-aggressive bitterness and unnecessary conflict. But this is to be expected in a culture that is extending adolescence to epic, European proportions. Our president refers to 26 year olds as “children”, a 30 year old feminist activist is presented as the average college student, and 32 year olds complain about the free condoms handed out by their school nurses.
We’re a nation of children attempting to relate to one another as adults when we have no idea what being an adult is. Does owning a home, car, credit card or having 2.5 children make one an adult? No. Many of the people I’ve known who have all of these items checked off on their lists are constantly measuring their possessions against the possessions of others, a decidedly juvenile way of looking at things. But it’s more than that. The insecurities endemic to southern California are another topic altogether. Adult friendships are about more than appearances and friend cards filled, they are about creating something akin to surrogate families, recreating the village community in a society increasingly isolated by its connectivity.
Your Facebook friends are not often your actual friends. Technology provides us with the ability to keep in contact with our distant acquaintances and relatives with less work than ever before, but that is no excuse for actual connection. After being hurt by acquaintances, I was forced to take stock of what really mattered, the conditional acceptance of self-centered, small-minded people or the real, unconditional affection offered by my own small band of gypsies. I’ll take my gypsies over the shallow, self-important fools I’d been concerned with.
One Friday night, I sat in the kitchen of my good friends’ house as our children ran wild and our dogs chased each other. One of my friends was sticking a toothpick in the residual hole in her lip left by a long-abandoned labret piercing while the other was regaling us with tales of his adventures in Idaho working as a fireman. Another of my friends and I sat side by side in the old theatre seats that line the wall of the kitchen, laughing at his dog as it sat on my feet and pretended not to notice me. We made plans to go to the fair, to meet up during the week, to take short vacations together and in that kitchen, watching these people I’ve come to care so much about, I felt that I understood a little more about adult friendships in this unfriendly world.
My job as a friend differs with each relationship. Sometimes my job is to offer the unconditional safety that I find lacking in many of the relationships I have had with others. Sometimes my job is solely to act as cheerleader to someone who may have none. Sometimes I have no job at all, just a place to crash and spend my weekend as their baby tries to take my phone and put it in her mouth.
A lot of fun was made of Hillary Clinton’s theoretical Village, but we miss out when we don’t have that kind community. We crave it anyway. And our village can’t only be populated by those exactly like us. If we overspecialize, we breed in weakness. Everyone has an interesting story to tell, and a different outlook on life. It is important to understand that homogeneous societies do not truly exist, and without expanding our horizons, we risk becoming irrelevant. You don’t do your kids any favors by limiting their exposure to real people either.
But that’s beside the point.
The key to adult friendships is actually very simple: Don’t be an asshole, even if you think you’re being edgy or ironic. Asshole-ism doesn’t look edgy or ironic on a 40 year old. It just looks pathetic. And on top of that, you’re still just an asshole.