Aaron R. Davis
I was talking to a young friend of mine this weekend. She’s in the middle of her first year of college, and she’s going through a lot of things we all went through: discovering who you are and what you want out of life; trying to figure out how the kid version of you carries over into a version of you with adult expectations; and just what is going to make you happy while you overwork yourself for a degree.
For my friend, a lot of it comes down to the fact that none of her high school friends go to the college she’s attending, and her new friends have so far only gotten her in trouble with late, drunken nights of varying degrees of physical danger and personal drama. Like a lot of people her age, with a short lifetime of pop culture bombardment behind them, she thought going to college was a different experience: making lifelong friends and spending time with a group of them, having fun together. You know, your basic sitcom experience with more sex, drugs and booze added in. “Why,” she wondered aloud, “does everyone else get to go out and have fun with their friends except me?”
What she’s not old enough to know is that no one else is going out and having fun with their friends, either. Not really. They may get staggeringly drunk to stave off their mutual boredom, but fun? Friends? No.
She doesn’t believe me when I say that, of course. She’s young and suspicious; I’m older and cynical. But when you get old enough, you realize that those friends you had in college were never really your friends. They were just people who you had a struggle in common with, and who you sometimes banded together with to make things easier or to get yourself high so that you could blow off some damn steam from the workload. They weren’t your friends. Maybe — maybe — one or two of them, but no one is a part of that group of six friends (one token black and one token gay or lesbian) that has wacky adventures and bonds for their entire lives. Sitcoms aren’t real. Neither are movies. They make a nice fantasy, of course, but how many people do you meet in reality who are worth knowing for your entire life?
The answer is: surprisingly few.
Think back on your college experiences. You know who your friends were? People you barely tolerated, but who at least connected you with good dope or had good beer. Members of the opposite sex that you were awkwardly trying to bang. Someone who liked a couple of the same books or records you dug, and whom you bonded with briefly and probably awkwardly tried to kiss. Potential business connections in your future career. Your roommate that you had to try and get along with. If any of them called you out of the blue, how many of them are making calls you’d actually answer? If one of them wanted you to help them move this weekend, would you agree to help, or would you pretend not to check your Facebook messages for several days? How many of these friends of yours really, truly have a place in your life?
One. Maybe two. If it’s an entire host, I’d urge you to think about whether or not you’ve matured and moved on. We’re not supposed to have the same friends throughout our entire lives. Everyone you meet is not a new supporting player on the TV series of your life; they’re starring in their own show and their story is probably moving in a different direction than yours is. You and a friend may have differing goals. And if they want to go to Zambia and dig wells, but you want to open a boutique and sell clothes, you’re not obligated to put your dreams on hold just to maintain a friendship and neither are they. And you know … that’s why no one actually does it.
So I’d ask my young friend to think about her situation and ask herself: what do your potential friendships really have to offer you?
This puts me in mind of what you could very generously call my first girlfriend. I’ll call her Penny (but only because it rhymes with Jenny and I want to protect Jenny’s feelings, as if she’s actually following anything I do or in fact still remembers me). We dated briefly in high school. Back then, I was a diehard movie buff. Here’s the conversation from our first date:
Penny: What’s your favorite movie?
Penny: Really? I’ve never seen it.
Me: Oh, it’s really something.
Penny: When did it come out?
Penny: Oh, I won’t see it, then. I don’t want to see movies that came out before I was born. I just have no interest in that.
Me: Even just the year before you were born?
Penny: Why bother?
Me: Oh … but you like movies?
Penny: Yes. Any kind of movies.
Penny: No, not if they have subtitles. I mean, reading a movie? What the hell is that?
Me: Well, people want to catch the nuance of the actor’s voice –
Penny: If you like to read, you might as well see silent movies.
Me: I love silent movies.
Penny: Really? Why?
Me: No interest in those, huh?
Penny: No, they’re ridiculous.
Me: … So what kind of movies DO you like?
Penny: Oh, any kind.
Me: Um… what are your favorite kind?
Penny: Romantic comedies.
Me: Oh, okay.
Penny: What are your favorite kind?
Me: Black comedies, I think.
Penny: Oh. Then I’m truly sorry.
Penny: Because black people don’t make good movies.
Me: … I meant, like, satires.
Me: Yeah, so … I’m gonna go now.
That relationship had absolutely nothing to offer me, and frankly, if I wasn’t a horny teenager trying desperately to get laid (which I didn’t), I wouldn’t have dragged that relationship on for two weeks of frustrating make out sessions. Because we clearly had nothing in common except for raging hormones — and even then, mine were raging much harder than hers, and nothing ultimately happened.
Didn’t happen like in those coming of age movies. We didn’t have the candlelit night where we made love in the breeze and both reflected on the meaningful passage into a new phase of life. We just made out for a while, had stupid disagreements over pop culture shit that doesn’t matter, and I went home with aching balls.
You know: the actual high school experience.
Our expectations of life always get the better of us, and we’re always crushed when they do. I wish I could make my friend understand that she has a pretty damn normal life, just as unfulfilling and frustrating as everyone else’s. It’s hard to come to terms with, but there it is. Life’s not a movie. It’s not a TV show. It’s not a music video. That’s not me being mean or cruel; it’s just life being what it is. Is it all bad? Of course not. All manner of things can and will make you happy. You can do whatever you want with it. But you can’t make it give you something pretty and prefabricated to appeal to young adults age 18 to 34.
The surest way to make yourself unhappy is to compare your reality to some hack writer’s fantasy. But if you look around, there are so many reasons to be happy. And surprisingly few of them involve holding your friend’s hair while she throws up six bottles of Amstel Light.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org