For the past fifteen years I’ve been saddled with a disturbingly incessant childhood friendship. Despite my best (or, rather, worst) efforts, I cannot seem to shake it. We’re now in our thirties, live drastically different lives, and have not a single unifying hobby. Yet, this person persists. She will not let things go. Whether I like it or not, I am bound to her forever.
Oh, I should mention I cannot stand this person.
For reasons that escape me, she is blissfully unaware of my utter indifference towards her. I am checked out of every conversation. I make no effort to see her. Her husband is one of the most annoying people I have ever met and have said this to her face. Still, she remains.
As when faced with an undying lich, my only means of survival is avoidance. The game, then, is to stay away as long as possible. In the end, I always lose.
I’m not alone in this. Undying, unnecessary childhood friendships can be found everywhere you look. You probably have one. I found one, just today, in the pages of Meg Wolitzer’s terrific novel The Interestings.
In it, Jules Jacobson meets an unlikely band of friends at a teenage summer camp for artsy types called Spirit-in-the-Woods. The outsiders become quite close, and their friendships last into their fifties. Not without some hiccups, though.
Jules’ two friends, Ash and Ethan, end up (slight spoiler) pairing off. Later, they get married. Ethan becomes a success, makes a ton of money, and unintentionally alienates the rest of the group as a result. More than fifteen years into their friendship, it suddenly dawns on Jules that, were they to all meet today, their connection simply wouldn’t–or, couldn’t–form.
“If we all met now we would never become friends. You think they would feel a connection if someone said, ‘Here is a very nice social worker and a very nice ultrasound technician?’ That’s why meeting in childhood can seem like it’s the best thing–everyone’s equal, and you form bonds based only on how much you like each other. But later on, having met in childhood can turn out to have been the worst thing, because you and your friends might have nothing to say to each other anymore, except, ‘Wasn’t it funny that time in tenth grade when your parents came home and we were so wasted.’ If you didn’t feel sentimental about the past, you wouldn’t keep it up.” — Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings
On the one hand, there’s something undeniably sweet about my friend’s persistent attachment to me. She cares, a lot. More than I deserve.
But on the other hand, we’re so different it makes me want to scream.
Do I have a certain obligation to this person? Am I honor bound to our friendship just because we met when we were toddlers? What is it about childhood that creates these seemingly unbreakable bonds (albeit from one side)?
My theory is that she doesn’t have a lot of friends. Despite her protestations, her marriage is a bit of a gong show. She hates her career. She lives away from home. All in all, she is unhappy. And so that happiness falls to me. It’s a burden I don’t want, nor have I really earned it. Yet, here we are.
At least I got a blog post out of it.