Someone once told me that it’s better to do acid when you’re younger. “When you’re a kid,” they said, “you don’t have any real things to worry about so even if you have a bad trip, it can only be as bad as what’s already lurking in your mind. But when you’re older, you have serious shit that keeps you up at night anyway. The monsters your brain can concoct on drugs then can be truly terrifying.”
Now I’ve never done acid and I don’t encourage anyone to do it (especially kids, even in light of the above), but that idea has always stuck with me, because I think it applies to so many parts of life. When we are kids, teenagers, young adults, our experiences are simple. There are good guys, bad guys, love, hate and Winter Formal and even if our hearts get broken and our parents get divorced or worse stuff happens, we still view things through this simple lens of youth. We see the surface layer of everything and think that is the extent of it without even realizing we are thinking that. As we get older though, everything begins to complicate and stuff that was previously a thin layer of ice turns into a deep, dark lake. There are good bad guys and bad good guys and sometimes, you are one of them. You love people you hate and you hate people you love and there is absolutely no Winter Formal.
Friendship is one of the top places this cognitive dissonance lives. I was walking in the rain the other day (I live in Oregon now so I wasn’t trying to be emo or anything, I was just trying to get somewhere) thinking about a friend and feeling angry about a thing they did and it occurred to me that I feel that feeling about friends way too often. I stopped and looked at a puddle. “What’s wrong with me?” I thought. “Why am I feeling these horrible feelings of disappointment in people I really love? It would be one thing if it were just a couple people but at one point or another it’s like every single one of my friends so clearly I am the common denominator. What am I doing wrong?”
It takes a long time to make friends–like true, real friends. A lot of the people that I consider my friends I have known since I was 8. Newer friends are people I met at 14. There are cousins and my brother who I’ve basically known since birth (who I consider friends because I like them a lot) and a very small handful of people I met after the age of 18, so most of the people who I really care about I met when we were crayon outlines of the people we are now; there was no detail filled in yet and even the edges were malleable.
Friendship, I think always, is based on shared experience. In third grade, it was the shared experience of hating the Spandex Club girls. In high school, of sneaking into the outdoor pool naked late at night. In college, cigarettes and cheap vodka. But the other thing about friendship is that it is, even at its best and closest, one step removed from total commitment. It’s not romantic love, that requires you to move states or text when you’re coming home late or make plans together. It’s loose and purposely fluid. In romantic relationships there is a definite narrative about disagreements and struggle. It’s written into marriage vows, for Christ’s sake, that you won’t always agree with each other. You can yell and fight with each other because you know at the end of the day you’re probably going to have sex or at least kiss or if things get really bad you can get a divorce and never see each other again. But with friendship, there aren’t rules like that. You might not see each other every day or even once a week, so it’s easier to push problems aside and not discuss them. Also, friendship is supposed to be fun, so it’s easier to get a drink and talk about boys than it is to process hurt feelings. Also: friendship feels easy to lose, though it might not be (see: the extreme length of above mentioned friendships).
I think that the issue is that somehow we all expect people who have known each other for a million years will always be happy with each other’s choices. We live in a Facebook world of thumbs ups and Instagram filters so it is hard sometimes to reconcile that with the real world, where people disagree, make mistakes and do stupid shit. Where I do stupid shit. Where we hurt each other over and over again. I am sure, I know for a fact, that there are things I do that make people I love furious. That’s what love is, half the time: caring enough about another person to be furious with them.
Spoiler: this essay doesn’t end with an answer or with me never being angry at a friend ever again. I think that’s the point.
I guess what I’m saying though is that I AM the common denominator. We all are the common denominator in all our relationships. And being angry is okay. That’s not the problem. The problem is the expectation that we should be happy all the time, that simple friendships are better friendships, that all discomfort is bad. The truth is we have to accept this actual world, where we get on the phone and complain about each other to each other because we are all different human beings with different experiences, even if we have known each other since birth. And sometimes the discomfort we cause each other makes us grow, makes us more interested in the world and more interesting, if we don’t shy away from it or let it shut us down completely.
We don’t need to do acid because we are adults now and the stakes are high and our decisions are serious. The monsters that haunt us are scarier because they are real. But even with all that, I think, I hope, we can still be friends.