It happened, that day I thought would never arrive, that event I had convinced myself would never occur. Disaster struck. I woke up at way-too-early AM this morning and suddenly discovered that for once, the perpetual mental hum of my personal brain-radio static had hit the broadcasting blind spot. Finally, something CNN would never send as “breaking news”.
I woke up this morning without one thought in my head. And usually, I wake up with at least a hundred, all yelling simultaneously to be heard over the constant background of Internal Radio FM, which normally plays all the songs I don’t want to hear. Don’t get me started on the theme from “Thomas the Tank Engine”. Or Kate Perry. You don”t want to go there, and neither do I.
So, because it’s fashionable these days to recycle, I’ve recycled something I’ve been ruminating over for quite a while.
What a concept!
SInce we all have differing perceptions of precisely what that loaded term “friendship” means, I’ll start with mine. A friend, so goes my neo-Calvinist absolutist mindset, is someone who will, literally or metaphorically, help you bury dead bodies at 3 AM. Not only that, a true friend will know where to locate
a) a handy bog (since I’m located in one of the world capitals of bog bodies)
b) a digger, should you be temporarily out of bogs
c) a concrete mixer and a building site (fat chance in the current recession!)
d) a woodchipper, if none of the above are available.
Now, before some of you recoil in horror, I’d like to point out I’m emphatically not in the habit of terminating anything besides flies, headlice or the occasional spider. I leave the serial killing to my crime-writing sister. But the metaphor – who would YOU call in a 4 AM attack of existential angst? – remains the same.
In this day and age of instant, perpetual communication, “friendship” can apply to either someone you’ve known continuously since the 6th grade, or someone who added you three seconds ago on Facebook. “This user”, as one MySpace page states, “has 143,567 friends.”
Wow. Are you impressed yet?
That absolutist mindset may have something to do with my being European. Just how much, I discovered when I lived in the US for four years.
The Italian philosopher Francesco Alberoni once wrote that no culture in the world was more inimical to friendship than the American. The appalling thing, I came to find out, was that he was dead-on right. In the dog-eat-dog world of everyday life in the US, friendships exist only on the right side of any given person’s self-interest line. Don’t cross that line – or else.
Nowhere, I’m thoroughly depressed to say, is that more apparent than in friendships between women.
Even today, even in this post-feminist age, women’s friendships are the most emotionally fraught and fragile, “Sex and the City” notwithstanding. Women, I’ll have you know, never, ever acknowledge competition, at least not in any overt, honest fashion. Nevertheless, it’s there, and far more ruthless than any NFL playoff.
Instead, they do it in insidious ways. They lie through their teeth to each other. They drop “best” friends for the exact same reasons they ostracised other nine-year-olds in the playground years and years ago. Some invisible, unspeakable transgression occurs, some taboo is crossed, and when that happens there you find one thoroughly confused and miserable little girl – or grown woman – and on the other side of the playground/office/neighborhood caffeine spot, a gaggle of giggling girlies, most of whom are relieved it’s not happening to them. At least, not today.
You probably think I’m nuts, cynical or dead wrong. There must have been some fatal flaw in my internal code, since that kind of ostracism obviously happened to me.
Well, maybe there is. Call it my European DIN standard bs detector. Or maybe it’s just that I no longer have time for anything but honesty, even if it’s sometimes brutal, and none at all for circumspection. Where I come from, there is such a thing as the Girlfriend Code of Honor. It boils down to – do anything you like together, just so long as you never, ever, ever
a) compete for the same guy (not worth the trouble, trust me!)
or b) steal the other’s favorite item of clothing.
What I discovered was that American women in particular operate on a whole other level of deviousness. It was, on many levels, the “What can I take from you?” school of thought. Can I take some of that class and sass of yours? That Danish designer frock coat so cool I’ve GOT to have it? Can I take your husband? Can I take you away from your husband?
Somewhere in this diatribe, I hasten to say, I did manage to make true and lasting friends. Friends who still care, friends I still talk to. Most of them live at least 4500 miles away by now, and that could be one good reason we’re still – friends. So imagine my horror, some time later, when I came home, and found out that along the way from there to here, along the path of refusing to conform, I’ve completely lost my ability to relate to women my own age.
It might be because I’m located in BFE. It might be that I refuse to conform to some stereotype of “middle age”. It might be because I don’t look my age, or because I once flipped overloudly during lunch hour to discover I would miss out on the Cure live in concert. But I rather suspect it’s something else.
Sorry. ladies. I relate much better to guys. Because I accept them for what they are, because I laugh at asinine body humor jokes, or because they accept me in all my rock’n’roller, post-punk, anarchist glory and let me be as outrageous as I want or need to be. And because men, for all their faults, are just a bit more honest and straightforward with a girl who knows how to talk to them.
Which is, according to women who conform, the absolute and ultimate proof that sluts like me can’t be trusted. “Pssst”, I can almost hear them whisper behind my back, “she’s one of THOSE…”
One of those, in other words, who might never have girlfriends again, except on DVD.
And with that, I’m off to the Roman Empire for the day. Pondering things like friendships. And shipwreck.
And the shipwreck of friendships!