There is a particular word in our lexicon that I have grown to hate...no...grown to loathe! This word is used well over a trillion times a day and means so many things at once, yet means nothing at all at the same time. Contrary to popular belief, I am not talking about the vulgar expletive used to describe the act of fornication (Ooh! I just sounded like a priest just now!). The word I am referring to is: "Friend."
My disdain for this word started when I was very young and started going to school. From the first day of school, where we are all separated from our parental units and forced to interact with perfect strangers of our own age group, we become social animals. From that moment on, we categorize these peers into three main groups: 1) Those you like, 2) those you don't like, and 3) the best friend (*cringe* there is that word again!). Throughout the years that follow, alliances with other individuals will inevitably shift, grow, break apart, or simply wane due to life's situations and decisions. As a child, I had quite a few friends, and even certain best friends (both at school and in my apartment building), however, I was also keen to observe how others quickly used the concept of friendship a something purely negative...almost as a weapon of some sorts. Friendship between two individuals or more rapidly became a 'clique' or a 'clan' based on a common interest or dislike. Those unfortunate enough to find themselves outside of this circle of friends were often judged harshly by the cruel tribal minds of children within the clan. Even worse, the one child who had very little or no friends whatsoever was doomed to the fate of being ridiculed as an outcast and was treated as they were the carrier of every disease known to modern science! Sadly, many of these children end up committing suicide in their teens after so many years of lack of social acceptance and interaction.
Every day at school is the ever on-going drama of trying to gain and maintain one's friends while desperately trying not to make a complete fool of one's self in front of others. This can be quite stressful indeed! Soon enough, as hormones start racing, those "yucky" boys and girls start becoming cute and pretty. Now the pressure really increases as everyone wants to take the prefix of "boy" or "girl" to the filthy word of "friend."
My bitterness for this word basically stems from this period and stage of my life. Throughout my entire educational experience, while others were busy swapping love interests faster than they were changing underwear, I never had a girlfriend, let alone go out on a date, up until I was halfway through college. Sure, I had plenty of friends and some superficial conquests who were "girls," but as soon as my affections for a particular one grew and I tried to take the relationship one tiny step forward, I was painfully and repeatedly greeted by the all too familiar statement: "I like you...but only as a friend."
This statement that very easily flowed through those girls' lips which I so yearned to have pressed against mine, has haunted me for so many years...and even to this day! It had gotten so bad and mentally taxing that I often times gave myself the "just friends" speech as a preemptive strike to save everyone involved the awkward and embarrassing moment. As a result, I have not spent the vast majority of my life being very lonely when it came to my romantic life...but, oh...I was gifted with plenty of friends! My motto became: "A friend to many, a lover to none." Even some of my closer friends would often, seeing me at a constant state of being single, joke that my theme song should be En Vogue's "Never Gonna Get It" and would play it at the nearest jukebox when we would go out to bars. It still stings.
However, on the positive side, growing up romantically starved (and French) did lead me to become a hyper-romantic....only because I've come to crave it so (and that is why I so enjoy writing this blog for those who are fortunate to be in worthwhile relationships -- never take it for granted!). But I digress... where was I?...Ah, yes...the "F" word.
In today's world, thanks largely in part to MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, and other social networks, adding a "friend" is only a click away. But are most of them truly friends? The social networking technology is wonderful for a lot of things, however, in the process it has made the word "friend" into a trivial word that now carries no weight! Every and anybody can technically be a friend if accepted. This is much like certain individuals I have met throughout my life whom I called "The Serial Friender." I am quite confident that you too have run across this type of person within you life's journey. The Serial Friender (more often women than men for some strange reason) is someone who will declare anyone they instantly meet or have ever known as a friend and continuously label them as such! From the guy at the coffee-shop that pours the java to the woman at an art gallery show they shared thoughts about an art piece and everyone in between it's: "This is my friend [so-and-so]!" Business acquaintances, clients, classmates, the cashier worker at the grocery store, co-workers, the bank-teller, the smarmy guy at the nightclub, and even certain family members are all sucked into this cyclonic vortex and automatically dubbed as friends, thus thinning the word's meaning. The true Master Serial Friender will even go so far as labeling over 25 close individuals as their "best" friend. Now, how can someone have as much as 25 best friends??? It is physically impossible! Once again, the word "friend" becomes as thin as a mosquito's wing...defining nothing!
But speaking of social networks, I have taken a long look at Google+ and have come to respect their friendship philosophy in which you are able to place the people you connect with into "circles," and you can custom name these circles as anything you'd like: family, close friends, love interests, acquaintances, fans, followers, friends of friends, co-workers, classmates, etc.. The beauty of this is that, as in real life, you are able to filter through which "circle" you want to share your personal information or ramblings with. So much more sophisticated!
I think that the main problem here is that within the modern and connected world we now live in, devoid of the notion of courtship and proper manners, we are often forced to quickly hoard all of the human connections we make into a safe "friend" barrel to then sort out at a later, more convenient date. This makes "friend" even weaker and passive... however, allow me to tell you a tale of how, for me, the word "friend" ultimately turned into the sharpest dagger ever created for the sole purpose driving it in my already vulnerable heart...
Picture it...St. Patrick's Day, 2006...I was still with my fiancée of over 5 years (together 8 years -- it's a long and painful history that I am not going to bore you any further with), and as tradition would warrant in her family, since her father was of Irish decent, I was excused from working for my fiancée for the day at her Entertainment company to go along with her father on his annual Irish pub tour that started typically downtown and would wind itself uptown to meet the end of the St. Patrick's Day parade. Starting at 11am, this was an exercise of pacing and bladder control, but it was great fun spending the time with my future father-in-law regardless...unlike his daughter, he was a very kind man to whom I aspired to.
Later, as we progressed through our beer-trek into the afternoon, we would be joined by the women-folk, namely my fiancée and her mother (my future mother-in-law), and continue into the early evening of St. Paddy fun. By the time 8pm rolled around, "dad," being in his mid-sixties, was ready to call it a night and wobbled safely home just a couple of blocks away. Having paced myself throughout the day and constantly snacking to absorb the alcohol, I was doing rather well. My fiancée and "mom" were just getting started, but soon found their buzz. So, collectively, we decided to change location to another Irish bar just across the street (there are so many of them in the Upper West Side!!!) to catch a last round since the place we were currently in was getting too boisterous. We walked over to reach our new location that was indeed much calmer to ease off the night. A few moments after ordering yet another round of steins filled with stale beer, we suddenly heard a "squee" of recognition from a couple who had just entered the bar and spotted my fiancée along side of her mother. It is quickly revealed to me that these two individuals were high-school sweethearts and quite close to my fiancée in school...back in the day. They were married now, going on several years, and everyone gushed. Then came the unavoidable moment which my hovering presence begged to ask the question: "And who is this?" poised by the husband, aimed at me. Without missing a single beat, my fiancée's mother nonchalantly responded: "Oh, him? This is William...he's [fiancée's name]'s friend."
The nanosecond that the sound-waves emitted from my supposed future mother-in-law's vocal chords reached past my aural canal and vibrated against my ear-drum, time suddenly stood still. I physically felt my knees start to buckle from underneath me while my heart decided to take a trip southward to use my stomach as a punching-bag. My brain started to whirl so badly that I thought I was going to convulse from the blatant indignity I've just experienced. Then time started to slowly trudge forward again...yet, ever so slowly. My eyes, trying to gain some focus and widened from disbelief, centered on my fiancée's mother, who was proudly grinning at her spiteful introduction. My gaze shifted heavily toward my fiancée, maybe hoping for some defense or a correction -- we have had so much history together by this point. I only found her doing the one thing that was just as hurtful as classifying me as a "friend" after all of these years together...absolutely nothing! No reaction what-so-ever. She simply took a sip of her beer and then offered her mother a slight smirk. Time started to lurch a bit faster. Now I was faced with the the two outstretched shaking-hands to politely meet "the friend." I had no choice but to comply and greet them on a friendly level. By the time the actual momentum of time had resumed its habitual pace in my mind, everything else that happened for the remainder of the night was a pure haze. The one thing I did realize that this incident marked the beginning of the end of my relationship. Several months later, after finishing a rough cut of a documentary I was editing for her father, I packed up my belongings and simply left, severing all ties with that treacherous and heinous family. For the most part I have gotten over this horrible event and have put it far behind me...but suffice it to say, St. Patrick's Day isn't exactly one of my favorite holidays (if you can call it as such) to participate in, year after year!
But, I'm not bitter...no, no...I've quite honestly put this all behind me, I promise! However, only the lingering sour taste of the word "friend" sticks in my craw to this day. In now my 40th year of existence, as I still seek to find something more than "just friends," this word has come to mean so many adverse things...and to make matters worse, now, among Day-Crawlers, there has evolved a new inane term that completely juxtaposes the "F" word: "The Frenemy." This is a portmanteau where a supposed "friend" more or less acts outwardly like an "enemy." To this notion I have to execute a dramatic eye-roll and follow it by a sighful facepalm. Not another hybrid word to contend with that means absolutely nothing tangible while describing a relationship!
As for the dreaded "friend" word, there are many other synonyms that are far more accurate and comprehensive! Let us take the time to explore some, shall we?
- bosom buddy
- soul mate
So, you see? There are quite a few options out there to choice from and properly classify those you know, nice and neatly! And in doing so, maybe...just maybe, the actual word "friend" will start to mean something substantial again! As for me, in the meantime, I guess the word "friend" has, in some respect, continues to be my frenemy!