Tonight, a new acquaintance said, “You remind me of my best friend.”
“Hm?” I answered.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” she went, “But you’ve this perpetual awkwardness about you – just like her – and I love that.” I merely smiled. She’s not incorrect, but tonight is a reminder of everything I hate about having to start over in forming new bonds and widening circles – that awkward dance and perception game (what they think they know of me) and my ultimate slow death: fleeting, empty talk. I wish friends-making is easier business.
Lately I wonder if I am a fool or a snob – or am I wise? – for consistently deliberately keeping my circle, however temporary they are (and they are always temporary), small. So far wherever I’ve been I’ve had wonderful, amazing friends – but these friendships always end with the end of that era. I remind myself that I can’t hold on to people because even if I’m stagnant – they move on. Keep your circle loose, I tell myself further. But casual dinners like tonight happen and I’m just exhausted at spending time conversing about things we’ll forget tomorrow, brushing off whatever topics we don’t care about and pretending to care about those we do talk about.
I always want to talk about “How is your heart today?” But very few ever want to talk about this – and that’s fine, though it also means that my circle will always be so small such that when someone leaves, or the era ends, I’m that silly one who feels too deeply, thus is alone in her pain. ‘Too heavy,’ as they would say. I think I will always, like a crutch that I’ve to permanently live with, wish I am an easier person who thinks little and loves even lesser.
“Love gets all the big headlines, but friendship is where the action is, especially if you consider that it is really a lack of friendship that makes an unhappy marriage. Fundamentally, it’s the art of friendship that warms you in the various winters of your discontent, and when you’re in trouble you don’t want 1,000 people, but just one. “Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain,” the late Muhammad Ali is thought to have said. “It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” And that is why I miss my old friend Mark. There was something there that stood outside of achievement or romance, money or technology, religion or reputation. As I say, I was never photographed with Mark MacDonald and I never hugged him or bought him lunch either. But sometimes in a dark hour I’ll look up and imagine I see him, not far distant, a living guarantee that there will always be someone in life who really knows who you are. When all the machines are off and when all the chips are down, I see his light. Three flashes.”
— Andrew O’Hagan on Reflections on True Friendship