Just Friends

Commentary: In Exile

I don’t know how anyone has the constitution for a breakup. The average person weathers even life’s most routine daily predicaments with great difficulty, and so asking a non-superhuman person to dissolve a serious relationship seems horribly unfair. Breakups should be limited to the few who’ve demonstrated their ability to endure unimaginable misery with aplomb: Mandela, Gandhi, chemotherapy survivors.

Ever since my own breakup, I find myself wallowing in self-pity (in case you couldn’t tell), and then lashing out at those who would trivialize even the notion of breakups. I chastise people who casually gossip and make jokes about other people’s breakups. ”Leave them alone!” I nearly scream at those who snicker about Ryan and Reese. ”Can’t you see what they’re going through?”

My friends try to help. Some attempt to give me the ”you’re better off” spiel, but I’m in no mood to hear anything derogatory about Carl. In my mind, he’s still my boyfriend to instinctually defend. Others try to set me up on dates — when you suddenly become ”available” after nearly three years, all those people who your friends have always thought were just perfect for you are suddenly thrust in your direction with misguided good intentions. I’m not anywhere near ready to date, as I learned after I acquiesced to one of these ”just perfect” setups, spent the entire dinner talking about Carl, then got smashed on Chianti and told the guy he was boring.

Last night I went to dinner with another friend who plans to dump his boyfriend of four months in the near future. Yet he doesn’t seem particularly burdened by this impending horror scene at all. ”I realized over the holidays that I didn’t miss him,” he told me. ”That’s how I knew it was time to end it. I’ve been meaning to, but things have just been so crazy lately.” By crazy he meant busy, not crazy like insane, which is how putting ”break up with boyfriend” halfway down your to-do list strikes me. He could be putting it off because he’s secretly dreading it or not sure he really wants to. Or he could literally just be too busy. That’s New York, which is why the thought of jumping back into the dating pool and placing my fragile emotions in the hands of people like this is less than appealing.

Okay, so that particular friend is kind of horrible. I have others, a fact I wasn’t even aware of until I became single and was forced to leave the cocoon of smug, insulated coupledom and actually make plans. Because as everyone knows, the best thing about having a boyfriend is being able to drop out of society. Watching three Netflix in a row on any given night, including Saturday, is a legitimate activity. Stay in and watch three Netflix by yourself on a Saturday, and you’re a weird loser with no prospects for happiness. Watch them with a first date and you’re not only boring, you’re also a slut who’s only interested in getting laid.

So becoming single forced me to discover that I actually have friends, and to make plans with those friends. I mean, I was vaguely aware that I had friends, but I rarely saw most of them while I was with Carl, which was just fine with me. Now I call at least two or three of them each day, sometimes to chat, sometimes to make plans for the weekend, and sometimes just to shore up those closest connections so I’ll have people to call when I wake up at 3 a.m. in crisis mode because I had a dream about being 80 and alone.

So much of friendship, I’ve learned in the past couple months, is simply about reciprocally fulfilling a niche. I don’t have a lot of BFFs. Maybe I don’t have any. When I lived in D.C., I had a very close-knit group of people whom I loved and hung out with almost every day. In New York, because of the more hectic pace and the vast geography, life is more diffuse. My friends are dotted across the boroughs, and most of them don’t know each other. I see them sporadically, which makes each meeting like a small reunion. I call upon them for whatever I need at the moment, and like specialists on call, they arrive and give it to me.

My friend Zack takes me to bars and talks me up. My musician friend, Wil, commiserates with me over burgers about the insecurities and low salaries of working in a creative field. My friend Kelly, reliably melancholy, will stay on the phone for an hour to discuss how much boys suck. My friend Kate takes me out to sports bars so we can publicly cheer for the Red Sox and get booed by Yankees fans. My friend Noah takes me dancing at fashionable places I would never have dared go myself. My friend Brian invites me for coffee and tells funny, embarrassing stories about his latest absurd one-night stand.

I suppose if anything good can come of this recent emotional catastrophe, it’s that I wasn’t even aware of this collection of pretty great people I’d accumulated. It’s like I lost one, and then gained a dozen more.

Will Doig writes from his exile in New York City. He can be reached at wdoig@metroweekly.com.

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