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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Friends forever?

I have a small number of good friends who are men. I know many successful people who have hundreds of friends. I don't. I have very few. That's because I'm choosy. Or unpopular. Take your pick.

At any given time, during school and early work days, I would have more friends. But I divide them into enduring friendship, situational friendship and distant friendship.

I'm not saying situational friendships are bad. They can be great, and you can be very close. You can easily pick up the friendship later. But in my world, where my situation changes quickly and quite significantly -- with wholesale changes in country, industry, and activities -- many friendships are left behind.

The enduring friendships are pretty special. These are the four (so far) friends I've had since I was an adolescent (I'd like to think "since I could think like an adult", but many would claim I have yet to attain that status.) As I'm getting older, I can start thinking of a broader definition of enduring friendship, which might be a friendship that covers over half my life, or one that maintains through three sea changes in my life. With those definitions, I may be able to a couple of more people into this category in the next five to ten years.

Distant friendship is a very platonic friendship. It could be orthogonal to the enduring-situational categorization making a two by two matrix, but when the friendship is distant, it's hard to tell if it's situational or enduring anyhow.

Interestingly, I have yet to have a female in the enduring friendship or "nearly enduring friendship" categories, and yet I have more women than men in the distant friendship category.

I think part of this is most of the women who might have fallen into the enduring friendship category (and fallen is the right word -- it certainly isn't elevated!) focused their energy into marriage or career or both in a way that wasn't consistent with a continued close friendship. Other were romantic interests, which created its own distortions for enduring relationships; after close emotional bonding, its easier to go platonic (some distance apart) than to keep that closeness, but without the romantic love.

But in that former subcategory of woman friends, it is puzzling. For whatever reason, I've observed that it's easier for a man to carry on a "long distance (non-romantic) relationship" with a man, than for a woman to do that with a man. The emails, calls, notes and visits, although episodic, are more likely to be misconstrued in the woman-man case. And so distant friendships are possible, but close enduring ones are not.

I wrote before about the charming Jenny, and how we ended up at the end of summer deciding to be friends. And that was all good. On the pragmatic side, it gave me some a teacher to learn the language. On the less pragmatic side, I liked her company.

The first real date (as friends) we went on was late last year. By real date, I mean that we both knowingly and willingly arranged the event. Unlike most dates, in this case I did not make any arrangements; Jenny did all the work. We met at a upscale jazz supper club, Blue Moon, for dinner. It was a lovely evening, with two surprisingly good imported jazz groups. One was from the US and had commented that their tour of Asia was so much more rewarding than the United States. "People here really appreciate jazz, and they really are nice to musicians," said one older fellow.

Jenny and I had a good talk. She had quit her work at the drinking club after she received her education certification, and had started seriously planning her child education project with her sister. (Obligatory disclosure: I was not an investor in this project.)

There were remarkable similarities and stark contrasts between our backgrounds. She graduated top of her class in junior high school (despite missing nearly a year due to sickness). This allowed her to go to the top regional high school where she spent too much time distracted and too little time studying. The worse she did at school, the more rebellious she became. Although she didn't do that badly, being accepted in the second best school in the country, when she moved from her bucolic town to the big city to go to school, she admitted that she went a little crazy.

Mostly this entailed smoking and a whole lot of drinking, along with hanging out with unsavory music and acting types (recall that she was in a band.) On the way she won several dancing awards, nothing major mind you, but some recognition and prizes. Meanwhile she kept her head with a career. She went without much sleep, and bullshitted her way through most of work, which she described as "never challenging, always political." She claimed she had cut back on drinking (tried to have her last drink by 3 am) and quit smoking entirely several years back, but admitted that before that she drank and smoked a lot.

The next time we met we went to a light informal dinner. She took me to a cultural show, which was nice. I had asked her what a high end bar was like, so she took me to one. It wasn't that great (loud, too trendy), so we instead went to a waterfront club that had not-too-loud live music and drank Hennessy XO congnac.

During this time I was having a lot of health issues with my parents, and Jenny was as well. On top of this, work stresses were quite high, also for both of us. Part of the enjoyment we had together was the ability to sympathize and support each other without seeming a bit patronizing, and yet being different enough that any such support never seemed encroaching.

It's also possible that the language barrier was helping (more on this effect later.)

Probably due to the stresses, the discussion became a little emotional, and then almost brutal in its honesty. For whatever reason, we just tore open our hearts and bled in front of each other. I'm not shy about sharing facts about my past (this blog, for instance,) but here we shared feelings. And the feeling of support and acceptance was amazing. Having this kind of deep fulfilling discussion was the first problem.

The second problem is that we danced. Understand that I am a terrible dancer. At least the kind of pop dancing that is popular in clubs. Think about my background, my awkward adolescent years, my even more awkward adult years. All those years wherein you, dear reader, might have learned to dance, well, I did not! Ok, I will admit I did take ballroom dance. It was a requirement in a private school I had the misfortune to attend. Fortunately the music at that point was a bit slow, so we ballroom danced. Jenny took my lead extremely well. She had taken only one ballroom dancing class, but dropped it due to time pressure.

Back to the point: the second problem is that we danced. We danced together, in synchrony. And I had never danced so well, or so it seemed. We danced fast, spinning across the floor, and we danced slow, feeling our bodies pressing together.

It was a remarkable feeling... which was the second problem.

The third problem is that we sang. We moved upstairs to a karaoke place. And we sang together. I wrote about that before. But the music we could make together was, well, it was something good.

By that time we had consumed sufficient alcohol that we danced and sang and talked at the same time. A lethal operatic combination indeed.

Then there was one kiss on the couch of that karaoke place. And it was amazing. The incredible physical sensations I had noted at the last kiss were there, but they were magnified by something else. But, we had agreed. We had promised not to let this interfere with friendship. So when the kiss ended, we both simultaneously broke into a flurry of apologies.

But it was too late. Something had changed. Had I fucked up another potential enduring friendship?

Clearly it was the drink...


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