It would be the last time we would see each other and by the end of that evening I was deeply shaken. But more lasting and more unsettling than this has been the feeling of loss without his friendship. It was a sudden ending but it was also an ending that lasted for me well beyond that evening. I have worried since then at what kind of friend I am to my friends, and why a friendship can suddenly self-destruct while others can so unexpectedly bloom.
My friend and I were used to going to dinner together, though it had become an increasingly tricky matter for us. We had been seeing each other more infrequently, and our conversations had been tending towards repetition. I suppose in a lot of long-lasting friendships it is these repeated stories of the past that can fill the present so richly.
The Friendship Files - The Atlantic
Nevertheless, both his opinions and mine seemed to have become too predictable. Even his desire to come up with the most unpredictable viewpoint on any problem was a routine I expected from him. He knew how politically correct I could be, and shrewdly enough he had no time for my self-righteousness, the predictability of my views on gender, race and climate.
I understood this. He knew too that his fiercely independent thinking was often just the usual rant against greenies or lefties. Something had begun to fail in our friendship, but I could not properly perceive this or speak of it. We were a contrasting pair. He was a big man with an aggressive edge to his gregarious nature, while I was lean, short and physically slight next to him, a much more reserved person altogether.
I liked his size because big men have been protective figures in my life.
At times when I felt threatened I would ask him to come with me to a meeting or a transaction, and just stand next to me in his big way. During one long period of trouble with our neighbours he would visit when the tension was high to show his formidable presence and his solidarity with us. I was always reading and knew how to talk books, while he was too restless to read much. He knew how to sing, bursting into song occasionally when we were together.
He had been unable to work professionally since a breakdown that was both physical and mental. By contrast, I was working steadily, never quite as free with my time as he was.
Nearly two years before our last dinner together his wife had suddenly left him. As it turned out, she had been planning her departure for some time, but when she went he was taken by surprise.
I saw a more confused and fragile side of him during those months when we would meet and talk through how he was dealing with their counselling sessions, and then how the negotiations were proceeding over belongings and finally the family house. He was learning to live alone for the first time since he had been a young man, and was exploring what it might be like to seek out new relationships. Read more: Research Check: is it true only half your friends actually like you?
I was studying for a Bachelor of Arts, staying up through the nights, discovering literature, music, history, cask wine, dope, girls and ideas. I loved that sudden intimate and intellectually rich contact with people my own age. My friend and I started up a coffee lounge in an old disused shopfront as a meeting place for youth who would otherwise be on the street. I was the one who became immersed in the chaotic life of the place as students, musicians, misfits, hopeful poets and petty criminals floated through the shop, while my friend kept his eye on the broader picture that involved real estate agents, local councils, supplies of coffee, income and expenditure.
Perhaps the experience helped delay my own adulthood, allowing me time to try out a bohemian, communal alternative lifestyle that was so important to some of us in the early s. My friend, though, was soon married. It was as if he had been living a parallel life outside our friendship, outside the youth group, coffee shop, jug band, drugs and misadventures of our project.
This did not break us up, and in fact after his marriage he became another kind of friend.
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I was at times struggling to find some steady sense of myself. They indulged me. I felt it was this haven that saved me then, giving me the time to recoup and giving me a sense that there was somewhere I could go where the world was safe and neutral. In time, and more bumpily and uncertainly than my friend, I was with a partner raising a family. It worked for us. I remember him lifting our cast iron wood-burning stove into its place in our first renovated Brunswick cottage. He lived in a more sprawling home near bushland on the edge of Melbourne, so one of my pleasures became the long cycling trips out to see him.
My partner and I were embraced by a local community thanks to the childcare centre, kinders, schools and sport. Lasting friendships for us and for our children grew in the tentative, open-ended, slightly blindly feeling way of friendships. Through this decade and a half though, the particular friendship with my songful friend held, perhaps to the surprise of both of us. Here perhaps is the closest I have seen to a definition of friendship at its best: a stance imbued with sympathy, interest and excitement directed at another despite all that otherwise shows we are flawed and dangerous creatures.
On that evening, the evening of the last time we went out to dinner together, I did push my friend towards one of the topics we usually avoided. I had been wanting him to acknowledge and even apologise for his behaviour towards some young women he had spoken to, I thought, lewdly and insultingly nearly a year before in my home at a party.
The women and those of us who had witnessed his behaviour felt continuing tension over his refusal to discuss the fact that he had wanted to speak so insultingly to them and then had done it in our home in front of us. For me, there was some element of betrayal, not only in the way he had behaved but in his continued refusal to discuss what had happened.
The women were drunk, he said, just as he had said the last time I tried to talk to him about this. My friend and I were sitting in a popular Thai restaurant on Sydney Road: metal chairs, plastic tables, concrete floor. It was noisy, packed with students, young couples and groups out for a cheap and tasty meal.
A waitress had put menus, water and beer on our table while she waited for us to decide on our meals. Wanting to push finally past this impasse, I pointed out to him that the women had not insulted him, he had insulted them. The whole restaurant fell silent.
I could not move for some time. The waitress began mopping up the floor around me. This was the last time I saw or heard from him. For many months, I thought of him every day, then slowly I thought of him less often, until now I can think of him more or less at will, and not find myself ashamed of the way I went for him in a conversation where I should have been perhaps more alive to whatever was troubling him.
For some years after this, I felt I had to learn how to be myself without him. I have read articles and essays since then about how pitiful men can be at friendship. We are apparently too competitive, we base our friendships on common activities, which means we can avoid talking openly about our feelings and thoughts. It dented my confidence in ever having properly known this man or understood our friendship — or in knowing how secure any friendship might be.
Her narrator, Latimer, finds he can perceive perfectly clearly the thoughts of all the people around him.
He becomes disgusted and deeply disturbed by the petty self-interest he apparently discovers within everyone. Read more: Guide to the classics: Michel de Montaigne's Essays. His big idea was loyalty, and I think I understand that, though not in the absolute way Montaigne wrote of it. Loyalty is only real if it is constantly renewed. I worry that I have not worked enough at some friendships that have come into my life, but have let them happen more passively than the women I know who spend such time, and such complicated time, exploring and testing friendships.
The sudden disappearance of my friend left me with an awareness of how patched-together, how improvised, clumsy and tentative even the most secure-seeming friendship can be. I may lose, at any moment, through the play of circumstances over which I have no control, anything whatsoever that I possess, including things that are so intimately mine that I consider them as myself. There is nothing that I might not lose.
It could happen at any moment ….