The other day I started what I figured could be a series about how to lose friends, or rather delve into how I’ve lost friends over the years with the aim of trying to find universal experience. That first post was about losing friends by being a weirdo or, as I dubbed it, having “puberty goggles.” Continuing chronologically, the next major loss of friends I had could be dubbed How to lose friends by expanding your worldview. Sound pretentious? Maybe it is, let’s get into it.
When I graduated from eighth grade, having spent eight years with essentially the same 60 or so kids, I had maybe three close friends. One of those was my best friend who, unfortunately, would be going to a different high school. From what I remember it was a great summer even though the prospect of high school was terrifying. Suddenly I would be thrown into a world of 2,000 students, most of which I didn’t know, and the majority of which I did know didn’t like me. Throughout those four years a lot of friends came and went but, as the adult, when you look back you start to ask what a friend actually is and how many of those people actually were my friends. I don’t know, who knows?
Anyway, my best friend from grade school and I remained best friends, talking all the time, forming bad punk bands, and chasing girls. When it was my time to graduate (“The Smoke-Free Class of 2000”) I actually felt like, for the first time in my life, I had a pretty good amount of decent friends. It took so much work to get there that I can remember sitting on a bench on one of the last days of school crying because I never thought I’d have this many friends again. (I’m not sure I was wrong) One of those friends stumbled upon me and comforted me. I still see her posts online but I haven’t spoken to her for years. So it is with nearly all of those people who help me survive those rough and formidable years.
In high school I often threw parties in my basement where our silly bands would play and all sorts of people would show up and have a good time. I left the Chicagoland area to go to school in Washington DC to study politics, convinced I would be the next Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Of those high school friends I would say about a third of them went to school out of state while the rest remained within a small radius. Desperate to hang onto them I got everyone’s address and wrote letters, lots of letters. Some wrote back. When I was back in town for holidays I would throw parties, and each time fewer and fewer people would show up. Of those that did it started to become clearer that those who left began to see the world differently, a sort of forest for the trees kind of thing, while most who stayed in town or went to school nearby could only see those same trees.
Let me just stop here to say I see nothing wrong with any choice, just that those who had gone away, on the whole, had a much more expanded worldview, and that shaped how they spoke, how they spent their time, and the people they could connect with. Living in DC, during 9/11, I had my worldview completely shattered and reconfigured. I also met many different kinds of people that I had never had personal interaction with before, having lived in a fairly homogenous suburb like the one I grew up in. Those were extremely difficult years for me, but I am grateful for all those experiences and how they shaped the person I am now. I can’t imagine the person I’d be if I had never left. I have lived in a number of places around the country and about a year ago I moved back into my hometown, the first time I’d really spent time here in decades. Those people who didn’t go away to school? Most of them are living exactly the same life that their parents did. Which, if that makes him happy, is great, but it’s something I never wanted to do. The world is too vast, too varied, too exciting, to spend my whole life in a very small sphere.
So all of this is to say, that when it comes down to it, I simply didn’t have as much to say to the people who never left and neither did they for me. They were and are so invested in this sphere that in some ways the rest of the world isn’t real. I suppose that’s like anything else – when you haven’t experienced something personally there is a sense of unreality to it, or if not that, it is often something that you think you understand but never can until you experience it yourself. Sometimes I look at those people and am jealous, though, as they often have closer ties and a stronger social network. The trade-off, I suppose, is that network is often much smaller, more restricted, and more homogenous. Like anything else there are pros and cons and we all need to find where we fit best. For me, I hope I will be moving around, experiencing new places and new people until the day I die. Lord knows I’m too restless to do anything else.