About friendship

Until I was ten, my family lived in the country, and I substituted TV characters for playmates. My favorite program was The Huckleberry Hound Show, and I cried each afternoon when it went off.

I made friends readily when we moved into town, and I didn’t feel lonely again until I was in my mid-twenties. During the years when I had a satisfying number of friends, they and I visited one another frequently and without notice. I still miss that, but even at the time, I thought that some people carried it a bit far.

My high school friends and I came from low middle-class families and were under-achieving outsiders. I loathed wealthy, high-achieving insiders because they were snobs, yet I longed for them to like me. I have never gotten over my hatred.

After college, I discovered that people often lose friends to marriage. I can think of various reasons for this: (1) Your friend’s spouse will sometimes hate you—or you her; (2) Even if your friend’s spouse likes you, she will have first dibs on his time; (3) Jobs and children deprive people of leisure and spontaneity; (4) Our interests—and hence our friends—change as we age.

As I progressed through my twenties, I became increasingly lonely. I still had a few male friends, but I wanted more depth than I was getting, so I often felt bored and disappointed. I began having affairs, and these relationships were characterized by excitement, intimate conversations, and boosts to my ego. I therefore lost much of my interest in my male friends. As the years passed, I came to miss them, but not the women. Unfortunately, most of them are dead.

I tried to cure my friendship deficit in various ways. One thing I did was to get a pilot’s license because I didn’t want to move away from my house and land in Mississippi, and I thought that my social options would expand if I could fly. The problem was that my little Cessna was slow and easily grounded by bad weather.

I then decided that I wanted more than just friendship; I wanted people to share my life with, so I decided that I would like to live in a commune. I spent most of two years visiting such places all over the country. I wanted Peggy to go with me, but she wasn’t willing to give up the security of a job, so I went alone, and had her fly out whenever I found a place I thought she would like. Our desires were so different though that the place I liked most (an intensely personal international commune in NYC) was the place she hated most.

Then I found out about a new social movement called “polyfidelity,” which was defined as an egalitarian group marriage. Right away, I knew it was for me. Peggy wasn’t so keen on it, but she wasn’t closed to the idea either. The headquarters of the movement was in Eugene, so that’s the main reason we moved to Oregon. Within a week, I had more friends in Oregon than in Mississippi.

Peggy and I eventually became involved in a polyfidelitous relationship with a woman named Vicki who was a doctoral student in Minneapolis. We lived there for two years until that relationship failed. During my time in Minneapolis, I continued to have a satisfying number of friends. However, I was ecstatic to move back to Eugene where, again, both friendships and affairs flourished.

I soon founded a group called Family of Choice Network (FCN) that quickly grew to fifty members and sponsored two support groups and frequent social events. What I discovered about this group (and others since) was that I had no problem with finding enthusiastic supporters as long as they weren’t expected to do any of the actual work.

In the late ‘90s, things on the friendship front began to fall apart due to the demise of FCN and of the polyfidelity group that had brought us to Oregon. I also had a serious falling-out with my best friend, Walt, and, worst of all, I became involved in a peer counseling organization known as Re-Evaluation Co-Counseling (RC). I threw myself into the intensity of RC whole-heartedly, and became the darling of many people in the female dominated community.

Unfortunately I committed the cardinal RC sin of becoming romantically involved with two of my co-counselors, one of whom was an RC leader. When these relationships fell apart, I experienced severe anger, which I had imagined I could work through with the help of other co-counselors. Instead, I found myself shunned, and I became thoroughly disillusioned with RC and with people in general. During the seventeen years since RC, I’ve only had two affairs and one close friendship—all of but one of which ended badly. Nothing remains of my former idealism regarding the possibilities for human intimacy.

By contrast with my own friendships, Peggy’s friendships are characterized by an absence of drama and intensity, and whereas she never loses old friends, she sometimes gains new ones.

Aside from one male friend and three or four platonic friendships (I sometimes have trouble distinguishing a friend from a friendly acquaintance) with women, I have no face-to-face friends. I’ve substituted blogging friends to a large extent, but friendships with people whom I have never met and who live thousands of miles away have their limitations. Of course, face-to-face friendships have limitations too.

I would offer the following thoughts about friendship—sexual and otherwise—which are based upon my own mistakes and about which I’ll write in the first person:

It is important that I listen to what people say about their past friendships, because they will almost certainly behave the same way toward me—despite their insistence that they’ve changed.

I have always found that it’s a mistake to attempt to fix a friend even if she (so far, it has always been a she) asks me to.

I have had such bad experiences with people who are charming or charismatic that I’ve come to think of these traits as like fresh paint over rotten wood.

My worst mistake has been that I often mistook sex, drama, and intensity for intimacy. I have since come to realize that these things are usually destructive in the absence of commitment.

No matter how big and strong she makes me feel, I must never assume that I have the upper hand in a relationship with a woman because women have disillusioned me of that notion too many times.

I must never expect anyone to save me because they really and truly can’t, no matter how together they seem or how much they want to.

It is best to assume that other people are just as fucked-up as I, no matter how they appear.

Unless I am really intimate with someone, I must never ask him or her to give me more of themselves than they freely offer because they will almost certainly pull away.

The most trust that I can give to another person is to loan him or her money (I don’t mean just a few dollars for the sake of convenience), but doing so creates a lasting awkwardness in the relationship.

I can never know how someone is going to behave in a given situation until I’ve seen him or her in a similar situation—if then.

Most friendships are founded upon shared beliefs, interests, and geographical proximity, so I must be prepared to lose my friend when any of these change.

Even long-term friendships sometimes end, and I can’t always see it coming.

Having lost friends to death, I’ve concluded that it’s better to be more open, loving, and mature than I might sometimes feel than it is to be haunted by regret when it’s too late.

All friendships have limitations.

I know of no better gift than to take what my friend says seriously.

No matter how strong or prudent I am, intimacy is risky.


I called Mark’s office (Mark is my orthopedic surgeon) on Tuesday saying that my pain level was through the roof, and I needed to see him. His assistant called back and said that Mark didn’t think that would be necessary. I was seriously perturbed, but decided to give the pain another day or two before I insisted on coming in.

Peggy went out of town on Wednesday, which was just as well because I was awake nearly all night Wednesday night. I repeatedly lay down, but each time I did so, the pain drove me up again before I could get to sleep. Over a period of five hours, I took twice the prescribed dose of Dilaudid plus the maximum doses of oxycodone and Neurontin. I also drank some vodka, but I still couldn’t quiet the pain. It was a long night indeed, yet I wouldn’t say that it was an altogether bad night because, over the years, I have discovered within myself a fortress of serenity and optimism that the pain cannot penetrate. I don’t mean to brag, or to say that no amount of pain could reach it, yet I often stand amazed by my ability to remain upbeat against such a raw, unremitting, stabbing force.

I called Mark’s office Thursday morning, and was told that he could see me at 1:00. I worried about driving after taking so many drugs, so I asked Bella (at 87, she’s the oldest member of my atheist group) to chauffeur me. Mark checked me over pretty good, and then said that my excessive pain was probably caused by two things. One was overdoing my new exercises last week, and the other was the fact that narcotics simply don’t work for me anymore.

“You’re saying what I hoped you would say,” I offered (I had been afraid he would have to redo the surgery), and then I told him about all the drugs I had taken the previous night. Before I could finish, Bella chimed in, “Tell the doctor about the vodka. He’s not supposed to wash his narcotics down with vodka, is he doctor?” “Oh, my god,” I thought, “I’ve found myself a Jewish mother, and I’m not even Jewish.” (I think Bella was disappointed that Mark didn’t give me a hard time about the vodka or about piling on the narcotics.)

As we were leaving the office, Bella twice observed, “He’s really good looking, isn’t he?” Well, the truth is that I almost didn’t go to Mark because in his picture, he looked like what he is, a jock. Yet, I get along with him about as well as any doctor I’ve ever had. Two hours after I got home, Bella emailed me a list containing everything Mark had suggested. My new Jewish mother is just too cute.

"The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe...to be bad." Thoreau

This post was precipitated by an atheist’s blog in which the owner said she had donated blood for the people of the U.S. Bible Belt after last week’s tornadoes. I immediately wondered why she would give blood to people who wouldn't want their sons to marry her; who wouldn’t vote for her for any office whatsoever; who would do their damnedest to shove their religion down her throat while silencing her own beliefs; and whose enthusiastic acceptance of this country’s torture of political prisoners would imply that it wouldn’t take much encouragement for them to subject people like her to a similar fate. George H. Bush surely spoke for most Americans when he said: “I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots.”

Other things that make me feel that I’m not a true citizen of the U.S. of A:

I know almost nothing about modern American music, movies, celebrities, or commercial television—and I would be embarrassed if I did.

The death of bin Laden. Aside from the fact that it’s in questionable taste to take to the streets to celebrate the death of anyone, bin Laden’s attack inspired us to: curtail our own civil liberties, waste a trillion and a half dollars, cause the deaths of 1.75 million people, and become a nation of torturers; so rather than gloat because we have at long last killed him, we should hang our heads in shame over the far greater evil that we have done.

The fact that America cares not a whit for the opinions of the cultured or the learned, but let Oprah Winfrey or Donald Trump express any opinion on anything, and you will hear of it. Only the opinions of the rich and famous matter in America.

Going to the library for a book on Thomas Paine (one of America’s most important founding fathers) and only finding two books on him versus a dozen on his shelf-mate, Sarah Palin.

The news media because it is a tool for marginalizing dissidents, and it succeeds very well indeed. I’ll give two examples from last week.

1) England’s royal wedding, strangely enough. It occupied a full third or more of the national news all week despite that fact that 328 Americans were killed and major portions of many towns were destroyed by tornadoes. If the news is to be believed, the whole country was absolutely gaga over that wedding.

2) A local cop’s funeral last week during which a 1,000-vehicle procession proceeded up and down the streets of the city for two solid hours creating major traffic jams. Surely I’m not the only one who thought the hype, the in-your-face machismo, and the unwarranted favoritism (others who die while serving the public good are not so honored), was absurd, yet you would never have suspected it from watching the local news.

Almost everything my government does. It’s as if the people who are running this country are hell-bent on its speedy destruction, and the voters are behind them all the way. I stand aghast at the way this country is run, not just sometimes, but all the time.

The myths that Americans hold about this country. For example: that we’re uniquely favored by god to be the pre-eminent nation on earth; that the free world loves us for protecting it; that we are a moral example to other nations; that everything about America is the best in the world; and that other nations are either completely for us or completely against us, with the latter being on the side of evil.

America is so in love with size and convenience that we ignore the most basic means of protecting the environment even when they would save us money. For example, recycling, composting, reusable shopping bags, fuel-efficient vehicles, public transit, minimal product packaging, and smaller homes on smaller lots. We’re betting this country’s future on the hope that advancing technology will make it possible for us to be wasteful forever, yet we give very little funding to developing that technology.

Our entire economy is built on permanent growth (i.e. more goods for more people forever), yet permanent growth is unsustainable. This is not a fact that Americans can acknowledge simply because Americans are obsessed with owning things. (We call it “retail therapy,” and our national motto is “Shop ‘til you drop.”) I would even suggest that we have basically two religions in this country. The most popular by far is consumerism, and its distant second is Christianity, yet this is not the order we acknowledge. Because I embrace neither, it’s as if I’m in a constant state of pissing on the flag, which, come to think of it, I am—I speak of what the nation has become rather than the ideals upon which it was founded.

In fact, the two things that I hate most in this world are the United States of America and Christianity, because while there are worse things, these are the two that are in my face everyday. Yet, the world’s best hope isn’t that my greedy, arrogant, wasteful, bankrupt, and warmongering nation collapses but that it evolves. I fear that the first is all but certain, and the second all but fanciful. I say this because America shows no signs of changing its ways despite the fact that it is very nearly eyeball to eyeball with destruction. To hell with future generations and even the earth itself, Americans want what they want, and they want it now.

I’m glad I’m practiced in misery

The day after I last wrote, my pain level went through the roof and has stayed there, prompting me to take a phenomenal number of sleeping pills and narcotics. The worse case scenario would be that I tore the tendon that had to be temporarily detached during surgery in order to reach the joint. This fear of re-tearing tendons is a major stressor that goes on for months following shoulder surgery. I’ll give the pain two more days before I call the doctor.

Fortunately, pain doesn’t get me down as bad as it once did. I well remember the days when I would sit in my recliner (I had to sleep in a recliner in order to sleep at all) in the wee hours and worry that if the pain got any worse, I would become hysterical. As you might imagine, that fear was harder to survive than the pain itself. Now, that I have a long record of survival, I can reassure myself that it’s unlikely that anything like that will happen.

Another interesting aspect (interesting to me, anyway) of all that I’ve been through is that it has probably left me less depressed than I’ve been in years. I certainly experience anger, fear, and sadness, but not ongoing depression. During the London Blitz, psychologists found that the depression rate of Londoners actually went down as their city collapsed around them. Obviously, that was a very different situation than my own, yet one commonality might be that pain and fear trump depression. After all, depression requires reflection, and reflection requires that one’s basic needs be realized.

Even among WWII concentration camp survivors, there appeared to be little clinical depression, presumably because the people were too busy surviving fear, sickness, overwork, exposure, and starvation, to ponder their deeper feelings. So it was that the suicide rate appeared to go up after liberation when the former inmates had sufficient comfort and leisure to consider the meaning of what they had suffered, and to mourn for what they had lost in terms of family, friends, wealth, and opportunity.