With Friends Like These, Who Needs Casual Acquaintances?
Jun 3 2013
A few weeks ago, I celebrated the first balmy night of summer by taking a pill and going to see Frances Ha. My memory of the film is admittedly hazy, but I remember thinking at various points, This has all the personality of a dishwater rag and This film is for Greta Gerwig by Greta Gerwig starring Greta Gerwig in collaboration with Greta Gerwig. That being said, there were certain moments of the movie that were so uncomfortably honest I just wanted to put my fingers in my ears and go, “LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU SORRY BYE!”
I’m talking here about friendship. Instead of taking the usual indie film narrative of “boy meets girl, girl smiles at boy with her bangs, girl’s bangs get pregnant and start a Cat Power cover band,” Frances Ha centers its story around friendship, or rather how two people can quickly go from best friends forever to best friends never. Just like that. In your 20s, it doesn’t take much. You move neighborhoods. You fall in love. You become a vegan. It’s really that simple. And if you think it won’t happen to you, if you think you and your friend transcend life’s fickle nature, then you are wrong and probably sort of stupid.
Growing up, I thought that the definition of “friend” was pretty simple. It meant someone you shared common interests with, could sit with for prolonged moments of silence and not feel weird, and really cared about in an authentic way that wasn’t driven by any ulterior motives. When I entered my 20s and the postcollegiate workplace, however, I was introduced to a variety of different definitions of what it meant to be someone’s friend. Apparently, being a friend now means meeting someone for drinks from 5:00 PM to 6:15 PM, or only seeing someone at night when you go to a party and get drunk and hold hands all night, acting like the best friends you will never be, or maybe being nice to someone who you don’t like but have to keep around for professional reasons, whatever the fuck THAT means. You don’t have to do much to be called someone’s friend these days. Follow them on Twitter. Favorite their tweets. See them for the occasional coffee to keep up appearances. When someone mentions their name to you, you can chime in and say, “Oh, yeah, they’re a good friend of mine,” and the disturbing thing about that is you’ll actually mean it. Maybe it’s because I live in a city like New York where shameless social climbing is both common and acceptable, but I constantly find myself surrounded by people who only care about themselves. Like, if they saw you dying on the side of the road, they would only call an ambulance if you agreed to Follow Friday them on Twitter.
The dissolution of a best friendship, while exquisitely painful and raw and personal, is a reminder of the closeness that can still exist between two people. In Frances Ha, two women are driven apart by romance and geographical distance. The rejection is so intense that it’s hard for Gerwig’s character, Frances, to even vocalize it. I’ve been there. I feel like it’s actually easier to talk and talk and talk to friends who don’t mean that much to you. You go to brunch, you chitchat for four hours, and it feels like you’re performing in the social Olympics. With best friends, though, silence can be the most powerful thing. It can make you realize how much you’ve changed (or haven’t) over the years, and it can drive a wedge between old friends in a way words never could. In the last few years, I’ve watched so many of my friendships dissolve and felt powerless to stop it. I used to try and talk it out with them, but now I don’t say anything because I’ve realized that it doesn’t work that way. If I thought for one second that words could bring someone back to me I’d be filibustering friendship breakups left and right, but instead I just let the silence take over. That’s all you can do. You move on and hope to find someone else who will get it, and you probably will, but in the meantime don’t bother getting lost in a k-hole of meaningless friendships. These days, you’ll end up feeling lonelier at a “catch up” lunch than you will eating by yourself in a crowded restaurant.
In retrospect, losing friends is something I wasn’t really prepared for and that’s probably why it’s so painful. We expect dating to be hard, we expect getting your dream job to be far-fetched, but what we don’t count on is having our friends no longer make sense to us. They were supposed to be the easy part. No one told us that that we would have to worry about this too.
When all is said and done, though, the friendships that survive are the ones that were meant to. And the ones that became casualties of time, well, that’s just the way it’s always been. As long as you’re growing as a person, you’re outgrowing as well. If you expect anything different, you’re going to be in for one hell of a rude awakening.
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