He used to call me at 3:30 a.m. in some particularly ecstatic mood. Whether it be joyous in post-performance of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” at yet another hole-in-the-wall bar or completely and utterly violent due to the loss of his wallet, it was always meaningful. Despite the gallons of alcohol in his body, his mind always managed to find something to talk about. Somewhere inside he just wanted the pleasure of waking me up while he was out having fun. He’d recite his weekly belligerence in the only way he knew how: in my ear at high decibels and with sparse affection. I could have silenced my phone. But I never did. Maybe it was because I loved being the person he called and I am addicted to feeling necessary. Maybe it was because I never pass up free entertainment. Looking back now, I know it’s a bit of both. Regardless, I always enjoyed getting drunk dials from him. Especially when he’d say things like “Wake up bitch! Why aren’t you out!?”
I guess I felt special.
I’d sleep well afterwards as if our weekly routine had been consummated. There was someone to say good night to me. And make me feel like I had a purpose. Even if that purpose did not exceed re-explaining to him that money doesn’t disappear but rather, that ATMs are on every corner and in every bar. Sometimes he’d invite me to after bar parties. I’d always say no but do it with the perfect outfit in mind. Something told me it wouldn’t be right to invade. Or to be so sober in the presence of such obliteration. I knew better. So I always told Dan good night without any doubt that his drunk ass would make it back to his bed. Those stammering legs always managed to get him home. If for no other reason than to be able to wake up and do it again the next day.
I call Dan (the drunkasaurus also known as Danimal) my best friend. Publicly, I announce him as my best guy friend to avoid feeling like I’m being inaccurate by promoting him to such high status in my life. But when I think about it, he is definitely one of my best friends. There are a handful of people who know some very crucial factoids about my life, and he is in that handful. I didn’t officially decide to call him my best friend until April of 2005, though. A very important event took place that made this possible:
Dan ditched me for a new chick.
And that’s when he joined the elite group of people who’ve over the years officially penned me into second place. All of my best friends are involved and have consistently been involved in serious relationships during their tenure with me. I still tell some of my good friends that their status will never raise to best friendship unless they commit to a relationship and slap the third wheel sticker on my toosh. It just happens this way. And I’ve become good at not only working with it, but building up a strong bitterness toward it. I’ve been single since 1999. (Admitting that always has the same painful ring to it.) And being as single as they come, I have committed to appreciating my freedom. It would be a lie to say I haven’t considered my taken friends sellouts all these years. I look at them with some kind of pity. Wondering when they’re going to snap out of this phase and see the light already. And see that relationships aren’t so necessary. And that I’m what’s important. Friendship. The single life. Emotional and physical independence, even.
But I’ve always been supportive to the progress of their relationships and reactive to the demise of their broken hearts. And when they come crawling back for an intermission, we play, are free, and do what we want entirely. Until a new person comes into the picture and the cycle repeats. Thieving of heart, ditching of best friend. At which point, I only become more jaded in my ways of relationship hating.
As the seasons have passed and my best friend’s relationships have come and gone and come again for four more years, I’ve grown more apathetic toward feeling like I should be the most important person in another person’s world. I still try to tell myself that at some point they’ll come running back to me, poor abandoned little me. As if it was me they left. Or that it is me that is worth coming home to. Or that I should even be an option as a lifelong companion.
Then I realize that my bitterness is nothing but a bunch of empty calories weighing me down. There is no resolution in being so upset. There is no hope in convincing another’s heart that it should scoot everything else over and make more room for me.
When Dan ditched me and the 3:30am calls stopped, I had an epiphany.
Maybe my friends aren’t selling out.
Maybe, just maybe – they’re cashing in. Emotionally and physically. And I’m just a mental case latching on to some ideal of what life is supposed to be like pre-25. My inner Carrie Bradshaw always seems to think that single and fabulous is the only way to go, no matter how destructive and selfish it truly is. I wanted to parade around and declare that doing whatever we want whenever we want is a purely independent action that cannot be found in relationships. Until I observed a true testament to the goodness that exists in a relationship. Even for those who once seemed so comfortable in the skin that kept them unattached and unchanged.
The new girl friend was good for Dan. I saw a definite difference in his look. He was getting in better shape than ever. And he wasn’t so pissed. He drank happily and with her. She never asked him to change, but by nature of having something to be accountable for he slowly became a more decent, level human being. Bought her paint and moved furniture. Assimilated to her sorority culture and made appearances at social events hosted by the University for once. He smiled more often and was finally cashing in on a warm body to sleep next to. In the beginning he must have known how I’d react and would be unavailable because he and his “buddy” were hanging out. Eventually he unveiled that the girl he thought was a hot freshman on St. Patrick’s Day was his “buddy”, that her name was Jackie, and well yes – they’ve been hanging out quite a bit.
So I gave him a hard time. It’s called “loving abuse”. A term coined by interpersonal and cross-cultural mogul of communication Dr. Robert Shuter, it is a classical technique used by men in a close-knit group to exhibit affection without showing femininity. A good punch or insulting comment suffices in these small groups as the equivalent of “I miss you, man.” To avoid appearing girly and affected by the loss of my best friend, I maintained the status-quo of our usual sarcasm and sharp offensiveness throughout the early phases of Dan’s relationship. I’d make fun of him every opportunity I got. To top it off, I’d ask him about her. Then the punch line about him being whipped or her little sorority slave would come out. And I’d giggle on the outside. Cringe on the inside knowing I was just too afraid to tell him how I really felt.
I really miss you, man. I just wish we could hang out like we used to. I miss your calls. I don’t feel like I’m as important to you anymore. What about us?
The emotional crap never really worked with us. We talked less often and with less joy. It took a big fight to bring us back together. He couldn’t take the abuse anymore. My particular brand of bitterness combined with unsupportive banter made him snap, and we had it out. I told him that I just wanted to feel like he still gave a shit, and he told me he’d never be so mean to me if I started dating someone. I felt him wanting to tell me I was jealous and needed to get someone for myself. But he never did. He must have known how jealous I was. And how deeply hurt I would have been if he’d said it. To save him the trouble, I went on a tangent about the jealousy without hesitance. And unraveled the truth. To him, to myself.
I admitted that he wasn’t a sellout. None of them were. They had all committed to getting something they wanted. Affection. Love. Sex. Company. Fun. Companionship. Then I realized that I was filthy with envy. Not because they were the ones selling out. But because I was the one who refused to cash in. I wasn’t mad that they stopped being single. I was mad because they got everything I wanted. Then I thought about the value of having something intimate and special. There were more than a few moments spent shedding tears – reflecting about the kind of benefits in romantic relationships that can never be found in friendships. Realizing that I’m not enough. Even the best of friends need more. Slowly I turned my childish behavior into a comedy. Imagining what it would be like if I really was all that my friends needed. I’d have to buy corsages and birthday presents that I couldn’t afford. And remember milestones like four month anniversaries and apologize for saying the inappropriate thing at the inappropriate time. On top of all that cake, imagine icing it with the sexual aspects of a romantic relationship. Good thing I don’t have to be all of these things to my friends. At this point I settled for what I could be, in its minimal entirety.
To Dan, I was the girl he called. The one that answered every time so he’d have a sober voice to help him walk back to his apartment in a half daze. But I couldn’t ever give him what he really needed. He needed an unconditional shoulder to prop himself up on while stumbling down the street in song then to take him to his bed. He got that. A partner in crime. Someone to revel in his antics and play with him in the hours that his friends slept. I look back at this now and feel so silly. For throwing the fits I did and declaring him a sellout for not calling anymore. Why call someone to yell at them when they’re someone to yell with? My anger towards him disappeared within instants of embracing the new him. The one that didn’t ditch me. Because not calling at 3:30am drunkenly was by no means a loss for either of us. It was a gain. I got more sleep. And he got a girl friend to keep tabs of the wallet that loves to bungee from his pockets. I’d never do that for him.
The costs of small bits of friendship have their benefits. Like jurisdiction.
I guess it can be said that sometimes we sell parts of what we can afford to give up in order to cash in on a bigger, more meaningful profit. In the case of my friends, I’ve learned to accept that at no point does a person sell out who they are. They simply want more. And wherever they get that more from requires no judgment or persecution – and certainly none of my loving abuse. I mistakenly assumed my position as the “it” person in all of my best friend’s lives for years and refused to believe that I could be replaced - traded in and sold for something better at the pawn shop. I don’t mean enough to be traded in. I am not a girl friend or a boy friend. Simply a friend. It would be like trading gold for silver. I’m not sure which would be silver or gold, but at this point that doesn’t matter.
People want more. And they can get it whenever they want it. To mock their pursuits is more of a crime than ditching me at 3:30 a.m. could ever be.