I Don't Know Why You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I think one of the aftershocks of being a shunned nerd throughout middle school is that I am obsequiously, ridiculously happy whenever someone offers friendship.  It’s like a drug for me; hey, they want me around!  It’s that pleasant shock of being chosen first for the dodgeball team, that sensation that someone has weighed my merits and found them, astonishingly, to be worthy.
Then they leave.
I’m simplifying, of course, since obviously I have many deep and wonderful friendships that have lasted for years.  But I do notice that my life is scattered with people who’ve I’ve had an intense online relationship for three weeks, and then they go.
I’ve learned to deal with that.
Because what’ll happen is that someone emails me out of the blue, having seen my writings, and they’ll be all like, “Hi!  I liked your stuff, and X really resonated with me.” And because I like correspondence, I’ll write back and say, “Thanks!  What about X resonated?  Why?”  And then we’ll get into this very deep series of emails, sometimes two or three a day, about who we are and what’s going on in our lives and how we feel about things.  Sometimes it even escalates to texts.
And that’s a connection that I like.  I like newness.  I like people.  So new people in my life makes me squealingly happy.
Then I’ll send one email, and the responses will stop.  Maybe not altogether; sometimes, it just dribbles to a close.  But it doesn’t stop because of me; we had this exchange, and I was eager as always, and for one reason or another they’ve wandered off.  I’ll watch for any communication from them, but it doesn’t really come.
That always makes me a little sad.
That’s not a unique event, but a habit in my life.  There are at least six people like this in the last four months I can think of who this cycle has happened with.  And I used to get depressed about that, because I thought in my shabby teenaged way that what was happening was that we were becoming close friends.  Their leaving was some judgment upon me, and I wasn’t good or interesting enough to keep in their lives.  Why else would they wander off?
These days?  I’ve come to accept that it’s not me.  I’m not sure why they go, but I’ve come to accept that my goals in talking to people aren’t the same as the people I talk to.  For them, I assume, these exchanges of psychological intimacy are a pleasant diversion, not really headed anywhere, and some day they find something else in their lives and go.  And there’s nothing wrong with that except for my expectations; for me, it’s a path to ZOMG PONIES AND HAPPINESS AND FRIENDSHIP 4EVA, and for them it’s a nice way to pass a half-hour.
(And it’s not like my communications don’t wax and wane, but they usually don’t wane permanently.)
Dealing with that has made me cynical, or perhaps realistic.  What I once perceived as friendship was actually something ridiculously shallow – an exchange of psychological intimacies and anecdotes that I mistakenly assembled into something with real meaning.  I used to think that opening up and sharing those things made us friends, on some level… but it doesn’t.  It makes us compatible to be friends, possibly, potentially.  But there are a thousand other hurdles to pass because we pass the “cool dude” section and move officially to friendship.
Friendship, I’ve come to realize, can only be tested through time.  Are they still here six months from now?  Are we still talking?  Have we supported each other through travails?  Then maybe we’re friends.  And before that, what we have lies in the hazy zone between “acquaintance” and “buddy,” a sort of place where we’ve had a good solid conversation and established a mutual like, but not necessarily pursued it.
It makes me a little sad to have that approach, because there’s something more satisfying about living in a floppy happy dog world where oh boy, everybody’s your best buddy and the universe is full of friends wherever you look.  But this attitude, where I recognize that my life has many intense (for me) connections that come and go mysteriously, is much better for my psyche.
It doesn’t mean I don’t miss them when I leave; my heart is studded with a thousand tiny leaks of connections that once were, so much that it looks like a colander.  But it means that when they talk to me now, I just enjoy what’s there, and when they go, I don’t ascribe it to any particular failing on my part.  (Except, maybe, the part that was so slavishly ready to strike up a conversation with a stranger in the first place… and that’s a flaw I’m okay with having.)
So into the room they come and go, talking of Michaelangelo.  They still take a piece of me with them when they leave.  I’ve just learned to give it away.


  1. JFargo
    Feb 28, 2013

    You know Ferrett, the interesting thing is that I think of you as a close friend, and out of all the people I know I think you are one of the least-emailed/IMed friends I have. I don’t know why, it’s not purposely done.
    I read your posts, I talk to you now and again, and I feel close to you, like the kind of friend who you know is going to be there and who you are there for if they need you.
    Just something that crossed my mind while reading this.

  2. Skennedy
    Feb 28, 2013

    I don’t exactly agree.
    I think that keeping a conversation going requires both people to leave kernels of things to talk about with each other in their messages, and sometimes what I think will spur them on to more talking isn’t interesting to them, or they overlooked it, or became busy as the got my email/IM/text/blogcomment.
    It reminds me of when, as a teenager, I decided that no one really initiated conversation with me, and so I wasn’t going to talk to people for awhile unless they did.
    I had a really depressing couple of weeks.
    And what that taught -me- was that people have priorities that I have no place to judge, and that includes my role in their life… but if I want more of a connection, *I* need to pursue it. Perhaps more than they do, that’s just how things work.
    There’s someone I met online who is pretty neat – we’ve exchanged a few IMs, and they’ve been great, full of stories and perspective … but they’re always initiated by me. Always. I can either presume that she doesn’t really want to talk to me because of that, or I can say to myself, “when she stops getting back to me entirely, when I’ve started up a conversation that never goes -anywhere-, I can presume she’s avoiding me. Until then, why put pressure on a friendship that could take a week or a year to grow? What am *I* expecting from this?
    As an example, it’s very rare that I get messages back from you when I send them (in whatever medium). I could make presumptions, but they’re certain to be wrong, and ultimately I would miss out on what we do have, when we have it. And y’know what, I’m good with that. It feels more “present in the moment”, more like I am appreciating what *IS* rather than ignoring it for what *COULD BE*, if only.
    MHO, naturally.

    • Skennedy
      Feb 28, 2013

      Uhh… that’s not intended to be passive-aggressive. *laugh* All is goot.

  3. Yet Another Laura H.
    Mar 2, 2013

    (You don’t know me. Skennedy knows me, or has met me [Scott, I’m L. Elizabeth H on Facebook], and I think you know Netmouse? What a wonderful thing this Internet is! And what wonderful people fans are!)
    Guilty as charged. I’m a leaver-of-great-conversations. And I want to reassure you with those least reassuring of words: it’s really NOT you. It really IS us.
    So here are some notes that I owe many, many people, and probably some people owe you.
    Note one: Darling, I’m sorry. I have ADHD. Bad. And that means I have a limited capacity for sustained intercourse unless the stars are absolutely perfectly aligned. That you got me for these six letters means YOUR BRILLIANT MIND FUCKING REARRANGED THE FIRMAMENT FOR ME. But I live in the farmer’s world, where enough people have taken offence at me dribbling off from coronas of sonnets on Monday to “Not bad, you?” two Thursdays later that I assume you’ll be less hurt if I just don’t talk to you at all. But I think of you all the goddamn time and I wish I could feel comfortable calling you up and saying, “Hey, have you heard ‘Wide, Lovely Eyes’? Go listen to it. Do you think it’s about love, suicide, or physics? Call me back.”
    I’m sorry. I suck lamprey juices.
    P.S. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/unanswered_email
    Note two: Darling, I love you with all my heart, but not all of my body. I like you, but I was raised on Heinlein. You know, that author that heavily implies it is worse to murder, have poor hygiene, or be BAD AT MATH than to be a cock-tease? And I’m not in a good place to take a new lover right now, especially one I am, for no good reason, not physically attracted to. I worry that you’re going to get a crush on me, and I’m going to have to choose between hurting someone I care about and having icky, half-hearted, physically painful sex until I get a screaming rage-on (again, for no good reason) and then hurt you worse. You do seem like a grown-up who can take care of himself, emotionally, but I’ve been fooled before.
    I’m sorry. I suck like a naugahyde couch after two-person-tantric-meditation.
    Note 3: Yeah, sorry. I am developing the hornies for you. I’m not in a position to be dealing with the emotional complexities of swapping fluids right now, and even if I were, either I grok you don’t feel quite that way about me, or something about the situation would make it extraordinarily messy were we to impulsively rip each other’s clothes off. If you are in (non) receipt of this note, be assured that you’re kind of irresistible to me, and I can’t trust ME to be a grown-up about it.
    I’m sorry. I suck. Or I would, if I could, and the sprinkles are cursed.
    I’m sorry. I’m going to suck until I go through the entire archives of Boggle the Owl; or read the works of Jennifer Lawson, Allie Brosh, or Maurice Sendak and realize that they all feel/ felt this way on a daily basis and THEY didn’t suck. And then it’s not going to occur to me to get back in touch with you until it would be really, really awkward.
    Note five: Don’t bother to write me. If you want to see me, even though I suck for reasons enumerated above, and you really DON’T want to have sex (or sexy cuddle time, or whatever— believe it or not, it happens, even to the enormous pile who is not writing these notes) with me, pour coffee into me and tell me that even though I’m a big flake with the emotional maturity of washable crayons and I’m making YOU responsible for this end of the relationship, you still want to talk to me. Or drop by and ask me to come with and keep you company at the laundromat. That works, too.

    • Yet Another Laura H.
      Mar 2, 2013

      Er, sorry. Such emotional nudity belongs on Livejournal, not some stranger’s blog, but I thought you might be one of the people who deserve explanations, even if they are filled with brainweasels.

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