Breaking up is hard to do
But I am breaking up with a friend. Seriously. I meant to write this last week, upon making this decision. But I forgot, and a good friend - not the one in question - wrote something about it on her blog, reminding me to do the same.
So for the better part of nine years I have had two close guy friends, who have been about as close to best friends as possible for me. I say "as close," 'cause I'm just not 100% sold on that whole best friends thing, not since elementary school anyway. I'm like comedian Rick Reynolds, the guy who used to do the "Only the Truth is Funny" monologue: My friends have to earn their "rank" on a sliding scale. And I'm only half kidding. I don't need friends to do things for me. I need them to be there for me. More on that another time.
Anyway, the three of us have been like the Musketeers, or the Stooges, since the day we met at a journalism conference. The three of us, along w/four others, I think, had been invited as "emerging" writers, whatever that means. We have always been typical in the sense that we laughed over drinks and cigars. We debated women. We occasionally pursued women together. We could talk politics and sociology. We could talk the basest, crudest talk about romance, and snicker like school boys. We could talk religion. If one was physically threatened, we all rolled up our sleeves and prepared to give or take a thrashing, one for all, all for one. And if one of us was down and out, we could count on one another - right along with our girlfriends (at the time), or relatives - for emotional support. Our friendship reflected that biblical principle that says a true, close friend, is "closer than a brother."
I even had one old girlfriend joke that she had never seen guys comfortable enough in their own skin to open up to each other like family, the way we three had. Some guys would get squeamish at her comment. I took it as a compliment. I know who I am.
But our friendship has always had one problem: one of the guys has no filter. He doesn't know when to speak, when to bite his tongue, or how to think analytically the split second before speaking. And his internal issues - those he hasn't really shared - are such that to rein himself in would be "selling out" in his mind.
When he's on, he's a cool guy, a stereotypical good buddy. When he's off, he can be downright mean.
On the one hand he has joked with gradually increasing seriousness that me and the third guy are corporate shills, driven each day by "the man." On the other hand he regales us from time to time with his efforts to climb the ladder at his own company. It's different, he argues, for him, because he's climbing grudgingly and we appear to enjoy "the game."
For years we've made excuses for his untimely comments in mixed company, his insults to us, flung under the guise of him keepin' it real by always, always, speaking his mind. We've always said to each other "Oh, that's just (him) being (him)!" That line even became a mantra of sorts. And when he'd cross a line, one of us would check him. And, inevitably, after a short argument, he'd sheepishly apologize, say something like "I get it now," and then say how good it was that three guys with such different backgrounds could be friends 'cause it kept us grounded. We'd forgive. We'd all have a drink. We'd laugh it off. We'd move on...till the next incident.
But recently, he crossed the line one time too many with me. At a celebratory event, he blurted out some nonsense about questioning the need for us to be friends. It would have been harmless in any other setting. It took the wind out of the sails at this event. It soured the mood in the room.
We had our usual conversation afterwards, in which he insisted he meant no harm but he had to be "real."
Then the following day, at another event, he did it again. And something snapped in me. I've had enough. I'm done. Friendships shouldn't take this much work. I'm married now. And my wife and I don't have this much grief between us.
I spent the next couple of weeks out of touch with this buddy. And I finally reached the conclusion a few days ago. We can't be friends. I share some of the blame for this happening. If I had checked him harder back in the day and told him to grow up already, he either would have, or we would have decided long ago that we couldn't be friends. But I gave him pass after pass, because he always said sorry later. In a strange way I was a little bit of an enabler.
It's weird. I've never broken up with a friend before. I've had friendships that sort of faded into oblivion. But I've never made it a point to end a friendship.
I have to though. I'm too grown and too tired to keep sparring with this guy over his inability to filter himself sometimes and his lack of confidence that compels him to put down other people for trying. If he truly is just being himself, then he's gotta be him around some other friend.
Weird situation. Really, the old breakups with girlfriends? Those were tough. But I always got over them quickly and easily, because, frankly, I knew there was another young woman around the corner.
It's different with a plain old friend though. I don't like many people enough to consider them friends. And not many people other than my wife or my relatives can tolerate me enough to be my friend, my true friend.
I think, for the time being, my friend level will remain the same. I'm not taking applications for new ones. I'll continue to develop friendly acquaintanceships as they come my way. But for now no new friends. Too much work.