Weird comments, evolving friendships, and remnants of the past

So up to last weekend, I hadn’t seen Jason Wong in almost a year.

He’s living in New York now, near Albany (I think) with his girlfriend, who he’s been with for (I think) three years, and whom I met for the first time Sunday night. Our contact for some time has been limited.

Jason and I have been friends for a long time. I became friends with his brother, Ivan, right around the time of the sixth or seventh grades. Jason came into the fold of our group a little later (he was, early on, an obstruction to Ivan being able to hang out with us, but tagged along a lot), but I consider him a good friend.

I’ll admit I’m not great at keeping in touch with people. I have sometimes let friendships slip away. I’ll maintain relationships via various Internet media and occasional phone calls, but I let other priorities (my girlfriend, my job, my parents) absorb my time more than I probably should.

Because of that, I haven’t spoken much with Jason (or Ivan) as of late. It also doesn’t help that I previously was living in Chicago and Jason is now in New York.

I was excited that Jason was in town this week and made an effort to hang out with him when I could. He and his brother came out to my parents’ Fourth of July party, and the fact that they were coming led me to invite more people.

Later in the evening, we were talking about another of our friends who has sort of fallen out of the group. Richard was never someone who went far out of his way to hang out with us, I felt. He went to Michigan Tech, which is faaar away, and he often will opt out of events merely because he doesn’t feel like coming out to see us. Or at least, that was the impression I always got.

Because of that, I stopped putting in the work necessary to hang out with Richard. Sitting around the fire with Clinton, Ivan, Jason, Caitlin and a few others, we got to talking about Richard and other friends who are not around anymore. I found myself pretty much fine with the situation and relating this idea: If a friend isn’t making an effort, I’m not going to make all the effort. Not on the long term, anyway.

We all do what we want to do, I said. People have their priorities.

And now to the point of this long diatribe: Jason’s following comment. “Do we hang out because we like each other, or because of tradition?”

I’m struck by that comment even now, a few days later. To be fair, Jason plays devil’s advocate. He makes comments that are hard to hear, and I’m never quite sure whether he believes in them or actually feels that way or not.

So I’m left wondering if jason thinks we all still hang out because of tradition. He certainly implied that that’s why he hangs out with us still — that or he doesn’t have a lot of other friends in the Novi area, I guess. And I can’t say that I’ve made a ton of additional friends in the time that I spent away from my hometown. I still have all the good friends that I’ve had all my life.

Or at least, I thought I had those people. Now I wonder if there are more among my group of eight or nine close friends who are in some kind of post-high school holding pattern.

Of course people drift apart. Friendships change. You come out of college a different person than when you went in.

Are we all just going through the motions of a friendship because it’s easier?

That certainly seems like a pain in the ass.

It’s interesting to me to see my friendships from that perspective. Caitlin said some things to me later about her experiences with my friends that colored my perspective as well. So I’m having a new crisis of self, wondering just what friendship means.

“Millennium Men,” my manifesto/memoir/novel that is helping me to deal with every aspect of my life that I feel weird about as I “come of age” at the end of the first decade of this millennium, deals extensively with the concept of friendships ending and beginning. But despite dealing with the topics, I hadn’t really thought about them in terms of my real life. Jason changed my mind about that.

I’ve felt a sort of tailspin maelstrom surrounding my life for the last two years as everything comes apart and reassembles itself in totally new ways. I’m redefining myself on an almost daily basis (for example, I’m planning another upcoming post to deal with the possible sale of all my accumulated, useless stuff).

But until now, my friends have been a support structure that I’ve taken for granted. I talk with Nick Hurwitch in L.A. on an almost-daily basis. Matt Shafer and Clinton and I work out together sometimes, or there’s basketball in Novi. Dan Thelen and Emily Rainko are regular fixtures at various events with us, like the Motor City Comicon two months ago. I see most or all of those guys at least a few times every couple weeks.

Despite what Jason said, I make the drive to Novi from wherever I am — lately Ann Arbor, a 30-minute trip, or from Plymouth, 15 minutes, or Holly, 45 minutes — to attend events with my friends because I still want those friends. I still feel our connection from years past. There’s tradition there, but that’s not WHY I often bust my ass to hang out with everyone.

People do what they want to do. We all have our priorities. My friends are a priority.

But as life spins apart and comes back together again, and I consider things like long-term employment, fiction writing as a career, and the possibility of moving out of state AGAIN, I wonder who I’ll come out the other side of this story with, if anyone.

I also wonder if having extensive experiences to write about in my novel are worth the casualties of my past. My friendships are disappearing, like my past, not with the bang of fallings out, but with the silence of apathy.

And the worst part is, I’m not sure how many are worth the effort it would take to save them in the next few months. I’ve always considered myself exceptionally loyal to my friends and willing to do more than most for them.

But like my worldly possessions, the work to maintain them and to move them into my fast-developing new life might be too much.

And in some cases (but certainly not all — I’m not that arrogant), I might be the only one doing all the heavy lifting. Which makes me wonder if another’s unwillingness to carry the load means that they’d actually rather leave it behind.

Back to that same old question, fast becoming the theme of this blog — who am I without these guys, whose allegiance has defined me for as long as I can remember — and what am I if they’re willing, or even looking, to leave me behind?

Even more — do I still care about what that identity is? Do I still need it?

As usual, I don’t have any real answers. I’m sure some of these friendships are stronger than that. They’ll become a part of this new thing developing inside the old. But sitting around the fire, none of our group had much of an answer for Jason at the time. I still don’t. But I wonder if any of them were shaken up by the question.

Or, which maybe a little frightening, if that idea didn’t bother any of them at all.

Published by Phil

He's like, you know, the guy.

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  1. Well, I would say that part of the answer you seek lies in the importance of tradition itself. I wouldn't hesitate to claim that, even if (worst case scenario) you did only hang out with your friends because of tradition, that still says something positive about the content of said friendship. Tradition is something deep. Tradition is something agreed upon. Not necessarily in a moment, but over time. Tradition is a battle of attrition. It means that, yes, here you are, hanging out with these same people in some of the same ways. But as you said, look who's not around. Richard lost that battle. His apathy lost out in the face of your desire to have a life, and goals you set out for yourself.

    I know that you were in Chicago for a time, but this idea is something I've encountered a good deal in my last year and a half in Los Angeles. For one, LA is perhaps the most difficult city in the world to make friends. It's vast, sprawling: it's common that someone you find interesting enough to hang out with lives 45 minutes away from you in minimal traffic even though you both "live in LA." I often make mention to acquaintances that the makeup of LA is very much reflective of the way its inhabitants interact. The public transportation is laughable, the city itself is sprawling, and generally everyone moves from their apartment, into their car, then arrives at their destination. That's not to say that in New York, for example, you're constantly making friends on the subway or the bus, but that level of human interaction pervades other aspects of life. Largely my friends here are Josh, who I moved here with, Jon and his friends, and Amanda and her friends (whom I met through Jon). Throw in the occassional MSU acquaintance for good measure. And even of those people, I really only see Josh and Amanda on a regular basis, or as regularly as I ever saw you guys in high school or college buddies in college. That's not to say that I don't meet anyone here or that I don't like anyone that I meet. There are common occupations, common interests, common friends, and sometimes, if I'm lucky, even common living areas. So what's missing? Tradition. A regularity. A comfort that can not be formed by anything other than time and repetition.

    If you break it down to a fundamental level, friendships form for two reasons: common interests/activities, and necessity. How do you distinguish friends you've had since sixth grade from those you've made in the past year? You don't. But I'm about to come home for the third time in a year, even though I can't really afford it, and it's not because I necessarily feel homesick or out of place in Los Angeles. It's because I'm doing what I want to do. And if ever I needed a reason to be reminded of how important each of you are to me (which I didn't) moving 2,000 miles away has provided that reminder.

    Can't wait to be home in 4 day, to partake in some good ol', traditional friendship.

  2. This is exactly what I'm talking about. You and I have been friends long enough that each aspect of our friendship has a long history and is important, but it's a lot deeper than what Jason implied. The question I'm asking myself is, how many of my other friendships are as deep as I used to believe? Jason's comment turned my perception for me, which is what most of Jason's comments do. But it definitely got me thinking about who else might have a similar view (Ivan, maybe?).

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