The Friend Factor

I’ve been out with Broderick twice now.  Once to the coffee shop, once to dinner.  He’s a nice guy, and when we have a lot to talk about, there’s a lot to talk about.  The silences, though, are awkward and although I can chalk that up to just not knowing each other very well, there is something else that nags at me as I considered the prospect of seeing him again.  When I asked him, last Thursday, what he was doing last weekend, his answer was, “I don’t know.  Probably nothing.  I really need to make new friends, mine have all moved away.”  Sirens, red flags, bells, whatever you want to call them, went off.  For a couple of reasons.  As I’ve said before, I’m an independent woman.  I like to do my own thing sometimes, I like my alone time.  No, I NEED my alone time.  To write, to watch TV, to play World of Warcraft, to do… well… whatever I feel like doing.  I don’t need a lot of it, but I do need some of it.  And, particularly lately, especially when I’m writing, I need that alone time to be uninterrupted with text messages.  And it hasn’t been.

My worry was that if this went further, that things would begin to get out of hand rather quickly.  I’ve seen it before.  I was married to it before.  I married a man (Mr. Ex) who had difficulties connecting with other people he wasn’t one hundred percent comfortable with.  He had a couple of friends – people he’d known since high school – that lived far from him then and who he never saw.  He was reluctant to reach out and meet anyone else, and spent his evenings at home, watching television, playing solitary online poker, or otherwise doing things with me.  In my younger days, I didn’t have the experience to realize that this was a problem.  I let myself become immersed in his world, and drowned myself in the relationship.

Now, I’m not the most sociable person in the world.  I don’t have a million people in my phone book and my Facebook friends list is not ginormous.  But I have people in my life that I’d call close friends now.  And back in those days, I was a much more sociable individual than he seemed to ever have been.  I’d spent my first year in college making all kinds of friends, doing all kinds of things with them.  But when I met Mr. Ex, all of that ended – some of that was due to the fact that I had moved off campus and wasn’t nearby anymore – more of it was because I felt bad (whether he made me feel bad or not) for leaving him alone when I was out having a good time, because when I came back, more often than not, I’d find that he’d gotten lonely or hadn’t found anything good on television or had played too much online poker and had no money left (and was now frantically trying to make it all back – which never succeeded).  And so, one by one, the friends I’d made in college fell off the grid.  They moved away, had their own lives, did their own things.  Of course I was doing my thing too, but as the relationship and later the marriage grew sour, I felt more and more isolated.  When it finally ended, nine years later, I found myself utterly alone in Louisville.

I promised myself, as I sat in my apartment in that solitary city, that I would not let this happen again.  If I dated, one of the requirements for finding someone else would be that he had his own network of friends that he did things with, that he hung out with, or that he could at least talk to when he needed them.  After all, this shouldn’t be that difficult to find.  Most people have at least a handful of friends and I wasn’t looking for a large social network complete with three-hundred plus Facebook friends.  And I dated.  I found people who met those requirements, and while things didn’t work with those people for other reasons, I figured that at least on that front I was doing something right.

When I met 3.0, I was aware that he was more sociable than myself.  I knew that his network of friends was going to be larger than mine, and I was okay with it.  After all, it meant meeting new people, and I’d done all that before.  The seemingly constant house full of people made it difficult after we’d just gotten exclusive, to feel as if I really had gotten to know him at all, but I argued that it couldn’t be something that lasted forever – after all, his brother was in town and was staying there.  People were there to see his brother, and once the holidays were over and his brother had gone back to Tennessee, things would settle down.  And at first, once the new year had rolled around and he’d gotten back from his vacation, that’s the way it seemed.  We spent our weekends together, watching movies, going out, doing things.  We did some things with his friends, even still, but there was never anything so pressing that we felt like we HAD to go to and there was still plenty of alone time, plenty of time for me to get to know him the way I felt I needed to, to really gauge whether the premature decision to become exclusive was really the wisest one.  At the end of the first month, I felt like it had been.

After a month or two, though, the social conflicts began to pop up.  3.0 wanted to hang out with his friends.  And in and of itself, that was not a problem.  As I’ve said, I like my alone time.  I NEED my alone time.  But the amount of time that I have during the week to be with someone is limited and so weekends are important to the overall health of the relationship.  The overall growth of it.  Even if it had been for a couple of hours, this would not have been a problem.  What became a problem was that it was for the entire day on Sundays, and every Sunday, non-cancelable, uncompromisable.  When told that we could “talk” about it, talking about it involved me asking him to do every other weekend and him telling me that was not a fair compromise and that it would be every week or not at all.  And it made him angry that I’d even asked.  I wasn’t happy, but I liked him, and I didn’t want him to be angry at me, and so I dealt with it.  I backed down.

I learned to fill my Sundays with chores – laundry, cooking.  And what time wasn’t spent doing that was spent playing World of Warcraft or otherwise mindlessly watching television.  And that was fine.  I got used to it.  I stopped caring, and even started enjoying the extra time off to do errands or visit people, or just be lazy.  It still bothered me that 3.0 would wake up, have breakfast with me, but any time we may have been able to spend lazing around together would always be cut short by this commitment to a Youtube show that never got off the ground – a second job, essentially.  But I tried to be supportive.  And, at least at first, I still got my Saturdays – those were still days that were spent doing something that we both, at least, enjoyed.

Even now, looking back, though, I can see the downward spiral.  Saturdays began to get compromised – lunches with his mother, friends staying at his house, making plans to hang out with people seemed never-ending sometimes.  We were together, and that was fine, but as the year wore on and he expressed first that he was not sold and later that he could not love me, I grew more and more frustrated with this.  I felt intimidated.  I felt like he was hiding behind these social situations so that he didn’t have to even try or, because I didn’t have much in common with most of his friends, so that he could have things to bring up to me later to tell me that I needed to improve on, to reiterate how inadequate I really was.

And the weddings were the worst.  Not being a fan of those to begin with, it seemed that invitations came in one right after the other.  It was my duty to go, and it was hard to watch couple after couple declare their love for each other when 3.0 hadn’t even so much as indicated that he felt that way – and was indeed expressing that he wasn’t sure he’d ever get there.  But for the people he was closest to and had the most interaction with, I didn’t have a problem accompanying him anyway.  And yet, 3.0 seemed, to be unable to draw the line.  When it came to things like weddings, he went to all of them, indiscriminately, whether he’d talked to the person just last week or if it had been a year ago, whether he knew the person well or not.  My explanation that wedding invitations are sent out as announcements – not necessarily as “real” invitations fell on deaf ears – he’d consult with his friends, his social thermometer, to see what would be acceptable.  And whatever they said, that’s what went.  If I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to go.  Except that if I didn’t go, it was an issue.  And if I did go, my silence (because I didn’t know those people, because I was uncomfortable, or because he had failed to make the proper arrangements ahead of time to ensure that I didn’t have to compromise, at least, my desire for a clean place to sleep) became an issue too.  I could not win.

I began to realize, then, that perhaps there is such a thing as having too many friends.  A social network so large that it becomes unnavigable.   Intimidating, even, to someone who is on the outskirts of it and who, at many times, had been disapproved of by the same group of friends.  There’s getting to know people, but then there’s also having a circle intimate enough so that you at least begin to get to know them on a more personal level.  And yet maybe it wasn’t the circle to begin with.  Maybe the “incompatibility” didn’t rest in the fact that his social circle was larger than mine, but maybe it lay in the way we handled it.  Rather than supporting me, encouraging me, and standing behind me when I didn’t feel the most comfortable or the most confident, perhaps there should have been more reassuring pats on the back, more time spent holding my hand and less time spent circling the room, leaving me to my own devices at the awkward wedding tables.  After all, aren’t couples a team?  Aren’t they supposed to be there for each other?  Isn’t that what they do?

Even after all of this, I still think friends are important, vitally important, to the success of a relationship.  So important that Broderick’s lack thereof sent up some serious red flags – enough to make me back away and rethink seeing him again.  I never want to be put in a situation where I have to feel as if I’m the “only one” someone else has.  That’s a lot of pressure to put on a person who is so independent.  On the flip side, though, the last thing I need is to be made to feel inadequate because I can’t fit in with a certain crowd or because I’m quieter or because maybe I simply would rather be doing something else.  Because, as I’ve said on numerous occasions since this split, I am not inadequate, I am not doing anything wrong, I am who I am and that’s all I can ever hope to be.

And I believe that I’ll find what I’m looking for – eventually: a middle ground.  A situation where there is a social network to compliment the relationship I’m in, but a social network that doesn’t strain the relationship to the point of breaking.  Isn’t that what the friend factor is all about, anyway?  Having people who build you up, rather than tear you down?  Who don’t ask from you more than you should ever need to give?  And isn’t, in essence, a relationship simply a deeper level of friendship in the first place?  Who says you should give up the friends you have for it, but on the other hand, who says you should allow your social network to stampede over the relationship in the first place?  It’s about priorities and compromise.  But even more, it’s about one supplementing the other, making it better, making the whole person more complete.

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