Illustration by Penelope Gazin
I pushed him into a snow bank on the way home from the bar. He was drunk and had to pee and went down, soft like a wool mitten, and then got up, and then I pushed him down again. I hadn’t—this should be “haven’t”—seen this dude in, like, three years, but that—the “pfooo” of a grown-up man falling slow and landing facedown in the fresh snow, the 2 AM winter-empty side-street echo of us scream-laughing, hard—repeats, for me, as something like an advertisement, not for friendship exactly, but more specifically for the corny, syrupy-sweet juvenilia that is what I liked so much about how and who we were when we were together.
Friendship is a constantly self-renewing frontier of human relationships, a Wild West of emotional and temporal adventure times. Without the common and commonly necessary strictures that the lamer side of biology and collective culture and whoever else is set up to dictate sexual, romantic relationships, and without the near-eternal nature of literal families, friendship is expansive and truly wild. It’s the only type of relationship that can run steadily for months or years or ever-afters, without sliding down an emotional valley or being punctured by another person’s need or someone else’s betrayal. Of all the ways for two people to be together, and be in some kind of love, it’s the way that is most defined by genuine, wanted, cohesive closeness—the kind that can only be created by making a choice that isn’t required by law or money or blood or boners, and least of all by obligation. The stuff of great friendships applies to shy kindergarteners sharing a snack as much as it does to Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks watching movies together after dinner.
In most other, more organized types of relationships, the bond is expected to be somewhat static, and the assumed parameters and consistency of character are as determining as the relationship itself. Being without heavy mutual obligations and contingencies—being one of many, not being the only one—affords more opportunity to be an inconsistent, fluctuating, positive presence, and as such, an enormous, creative, productive promise. Each friendship, in an ideal form—and similarly ideal groups of friends who take on the togetherness qualities of a pack of wolves—can be without those certain rule-things that both complete and complicate everything else.
It’s weird that we look to love love and sex stuff for completion. Companionship, yes, but “completion” in the sense of being seen and being known is usually rushing in from the direction of someone who doesn’t need you to be anything in particular. In that way, friendship is more revealing of our truest natures because it’s not about the “best self” that a boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife is supposed to invoke; it’s about the best, worst, weirdest, least guarded, careless, and most released. Inside of the culture of a particular friendship, the usually demarcated roles and restrictions, and who we are within those roles, can be spun into whatever we’re not getting anywhere else. Like, when else can a dude be his most feral or most aggressive? Or cry? Where else can a girl—with another cool girl, a guy, anyone who gets it—turn away from the various bright, blinding gazes focused on her the rest of the time? A good, working friendship should slice open whatever air pockets of tension and desire that can’t, in any other pairing, get sliced.
It also happens that the friendship requirements and necessities of any given person—who is “allowed” to be their friend—tend to be obscured to the same degree that family and boyfriend (or whatever your deal is) stuff is always very apparent. And, because I have a lot more friends serving different functions than I have anyone else, that fundamental thing of who your friends actually are, who it is that you can get loose and come undone with, can be complicated and troubling. Friendship is as much a chemical reaction as any sexual thing, but asking someone if they want to hang out, without wanting to put your tongue on them, is beautiful, inelegant, and embarrassing all at once. It’s so naked, more so than sex, to ask someone who owes you nothing, who can become nothing more, “Will you be one of mine? Can I be one of yours?” over and over again. For all of that, any definitive, destructive shape-shift of a friendship can be even more devastating than another kind of end because there is no socially sanctioned space for that loss. Until then, it’s just the two of you falling into new snow, screaming.
Kate Carraway writes the weekly Obseshes column for VICE.com.
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