I got the weirdest message from an old buddy recently. Like, really old - I don't think he's ever seen me without braces. He found me through LinkedIn. If he still worked at McDonald's after all these years I would not have accepted his invitation to connect, however, it seemed as if he had embarked on a suitably high-powered professional career, so I accepted. (People seem less suspect to me if they have at least $40K in student loan debts kicking around.)
Within minutes, I had an email in my inbox. Old Buddy jumped right in with a brief synopsis of his life for the past seventeen years - university, career, marriage, kids, divorce - and followed up with a resounding, "All the while wishing I was with you instead."
Hmm. I really need to stop equating the burden of student loan debt with any qualities more redeeming than the capacity to fill out a lot of forms.
That is messed up in, like, ten different directions. First off, are you dying to meet the Fantasy Me this poor fellow has been manufacturing in his head all this time? Because I sure am. I wonder if she at all resembles the Fantasy Me who lives in my head...
I had been genuinely happy to hear from my Old Buddy, but then he lobbed this awkward L-bomb at me and I was crushed. It would have
been easier to deal with if he had said I ruined his life by more active
means - at least then I could apologize. But how can I be culpable for the unauthorized misrepresentation of my likeness in his fantasy life, or the passive cruelty of a teenaged me? I didn't even know how he felt.
The worst thing for me is that this shakes my belief in the possibility of friendship between men and women. Is there always an ulterior motive on the part of at least one party involved in the (ostensible) friendship? Is the true, platonic, gender-neutral relationship like the Yeti or the small batch of chili - mythical creatures, existence never proven? Have millions of years of human evolution culminated in nothing better than bilaterally symmetrical sacks of hormones that surf professional networking sites hunting for the one that got away?
I've been mulling over this dilemma for a few weeks now - and it is a dilemma, because I have several male friends who are pretty special to me. I know I'm feeling evolved enough not to need to club them over the head and drag them back to my cave for some hot monkey love, and for all I joke about men I'm not actually convinced that they're a different species (if we prick them, do they not bleed?) so I have to assume we're all more or less on the same level. Not to mention that I would have to be a pretty insufferable bighead to go around thinking everyone who wants to occasionally catch up over a beer is secretly in love with me. (If we start catching up over Beef Wellington and red wine and a crackling fire, well, I might start to wonder, but beer - no big.)
So I would like to propose a more nuanced solution to this conundrum: I know I try to avoid spending time with people I dislike, so let's just guess that, generally, we choose to be friends with people we like. And despite the astronomical divorce rate and how much everyone on Earth whines about their spouse, what does approximately every wedding invitation ever made say on it? 'Today I marry my best friend.' So let's also guess that, generally, we try to marry people we get along with. It seems to me that it naturally follows that some (highly variable) amount of future relationship potential exists between any pair of people who get along alright. What doesn't follow naturally is that potential being entertained or realized: the germination rate is as low as we choose to make it. And the occasional beer has not been proven - at least in my 'gardening' experience - to enhance that rate.
I remain a believer. Cheers to that.