Monday, March 10, 2014

A meditation on my closest friendship

On Saturday, I spent about seven and a half hours with my best friend.  This is hardly unusual; we've been in the habit of spending long periods of time together for most of the time we've been friends.  In some ways, this surprises me a bit; while I am no longer as socially awkward as I used to be, and I'm certainly not as shy, I'm still very much an introvert, and long periods of social interaction often have the effect of draining my energy rather than replenishing it.  But I find that there are some people who don't have that effect on me—when I'm with them, I get the same feeling of being energized as many extraverts say they do when indulging in social interaction.  Obviously, "B." is one of these people.

Our friendship had a somewhat unusual beginning.  (Well, unusual for me, anyway.)  While I have memories of him that date from late 1998 and early-to-mid-1999, I really consider myself to actually have met him in late September, 2011; he sang with my community choir for a couple of concerts when I was sixteen years old, but I don't recall us ever saying even so much as "hello" or "excuse me" to each other at the time.  

(Small digression: technically, I shouldn't have been able to join that choir until I was eighteen.  However, in 1997, about a month and a half before I turned fifteen, they sent out a message to the high school choirs in the area asking whether any of the students who sang in those choirs would be interested in joining this community choir for their 25th-anniversary concert.  I did, and because I loved the style of music that this choir sang, I decided to stick around afterward.  I found out years later that the choir's usual minimum-age cutoff was eighteen years, and that I was largely permitted to stay because I wasn't doing any damage to the sound and nobody really thought I'd stick around for very long.  Suffice it to say that I proved them wrong.)

Twelve and a half years (give or take a month or two) after he left to go teach in Toronto—B. is a bit over thirteen years older than I am, and because I rarely have any reason to think of the age difference between us, acknowledging the fact of it always comes as a bit of a shock—he came back up to Northern Ontario; he'd recently earned a doctorate in History and had been hired to teach part-time at the local university.  About a month after he came back, he attended a service at my church; he arrived shortly before the pre-service practice was about to begin.  Our choirmaster knew that B. could sing (S. also conducts my community choir, and has for over twenty years), and because S. has a talent for this sort of thing, in short order, he had convinced B. to put on a cassock and rehearse with the choir for the morning's service.  I remember seeing B. walk into the choir's rehearsal room, and though I hadn't seen him in over twelve years—oddly enough, I've since learned that our paths crossed on at least one occasion, at a theatrical performance that we both attended when he was visiting his parents in mid-2007—I remembered him.  That I did still kind of surprises me, because frankly, I had no reason to do so.

He joined my church choir for a brief time (in early December, he started playing the organ for another church, also Anglican, whose previous organist had left the year before), and he also started singing with the community choir again.  We didn't speak much to each other at first, though we did get along fairly well.  Then, one day in late October or early November that year, as I still sometimes do, I was browsing through the page in LiveJournal's schools directory that links to journals written by people who have listed themselves as having attended the university where I earned my B.A., and I saw a now-familiar face smiling at the world from one person's default journal icon.  I thought about adding him to my friends list there, but we didn't really know each other that well at that point.  I knew that I liked him, and we'd had some pleasant surface-level conversations by then, but because I don't friend people idly, I decided to take a bit of time to make sure that I was really comfortable with him seeing the sorts of things that I post on LJ.  After a few weeks had passed and we'd interacted with each other a bit more, I decided that I was comfortable with that, so I added him as a friend on LJ and sent him a quick message to let him know who his new LJ acquaintance was.  He added me as a friend as well, and as we started corresponding through LJ, we gradually started speaking more frequently in person as well.

It occurs to me that if ever there were an introvert's way of forming close friendships, LJ might be it.

Our friendship didn't form overnight, of course, but relatively frequent correspondence, added to our now more regular in-person conversations, certainly helped.  By March of 2012, I was starting to consider him a friend, maybe even a good friend.  (I certainly liked him well enough to know that I'd miss him if he left town to teach at another university, as he had the opportunity to do at the end of May that year.  He ultimately decided to stay here, and later told me that our friendship was one of his more important reasons for doing so.)  We started spending relatively long periods of time together when we managed to get together for visits (our very first visit was something like six hours long, though I'd really only expected that we'd spend an hour or two together at most).  And when he left to spend the summer in Toronto, working on research with which he hoped to start turning part of his Ph.D. dissertation into a book, we kept in touch through regular—usually lengthy—Skype conversations.

Since he came back from that summer away, we've usually spent time with each other at least once a week outside of choir activities.  Even when one or both of us is short on time, we always manage to at least spend an hour together.  (The only exceptions to this have come with illness or travel, and in the latter case, we still talk through Skype, usually at length.)  We've developed something of a routine with each other in the past year and a half or so, though we've certainly varied from that routine at times.  Whatever we end up doing, though, we always enjoy each other's company.  

This is probably where some people would probably expect some big declaration of love and the wish that the two of us would someday become a couple.  I have to admit that under some different circumstances, that would have been nice—our relationship is a strong and mutually supportive one as it is, and neither of us hesitates to describe it in terms of love—but for a number of excellent reasons, most of which are his, that's pretty much impossible.  As it is, a number of people have asked both of us whether we're dating, and although I don't know for certain what the reaction has been when he's told them that we're not, most of the people who have asked me have been very surprised by my answer (which is usually a slight misquoting of Sheldon's repeated line about Amy Farrah Fowler in The Big Bang Theory, before it ceased to be true—I tell people that yes, B. is a guy, and yes, we're close friends, but he's not my boyfriend).  As much as I have to admit to being a bit annoyed by the way that people expect that just because we're opposite-sex best friends, we'll end up in a romantic relationship together, I also have to admit to being a bit amused by that as well.  I mean, anyone who spends five minutes or fewer with the two of us can tell that we've become very close—we have even been known to complete each other's sentences at times—and, if nothing else, the surprised, and occasionally shocked, looks on their faces when they find out that our relationship is absolutely devoid of romance tend to be pretty funny. :)

(Mind you, the one actual matchmaking attempt that's happened so far really did annoy me.  It's one thing to make assumptions about our relationship; these assumptions can be corrected.  But it's quite another thing to actually attempt to force our relationship into a form that conforms to the dominant social narrative about close relationships between women and men who are, as far as they know, not directly related to each other.  Suffice it to say that I don't like the interference or the implication that somebody else thinks that they have a better idea of what our relationship should be like than either of us does.)

Anyway, Saturday was largely one of our "routine" days.  I arrived shortly after two o'clock in the afternoon.  He was in the middle of preparing dinner—I love that he's as comfortable puttering around in the kitchen as I am, and we've cooked together on occasion—and we chatted for a while.  When he was finished putting together the meatloaf and vegetables for the meal, we took a walk; the day was gloriously sunny, and although there was still a rather biting chill in the air, it wasn't difficult to stay warm as long as we were moving.  Afterward, we played some music together—B. plays the piano, and I had brought my violin over that day—and watched part of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," had dinner together, finished the movie, and talked until fairly late in the evening.  At some point that afternoon—when he'd put the movie on pause and gone to the kitchen to check on the meatloaf and potatoes—I closed my eyes and relaxed into the chair I'd been sitting in, and as I listened to him moving around in the kitchen, it occurred to me that I was feeling happier and more at peace then than I had felt in a long time.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to end up in a friendship like this one.  In spite of the many possible circumstances under which we might never have become close in the first place—he might never have come back up here after he had earned his doctorate, we might never have started speaking to each other at choir practice, I nearly didn't add him as a friend on LiveJournal, and he almost chose to take that sessional instructor position in Southern Ontario—we have actually done so.  I couldn't be happier with our friendship.  B. is one of the reasons—though hardly the only one—that my depression is now solidly in remission; I still get a bit gloomy from time to time, as most people do, but those times are nothing like the horrible feelings that I used to get, the ones that I always knew would frighten me once I was in a more stable mood.  And even when I did have a temporary relapse early last July, he helped to pull me out of it.

I am happy that we've developed such a close friendship, and I certainly hope that in the years to come, we'll manage to keep some of this closeness, regardless of whether we always live in the same general area.  Even if we don't, though, I will always treasure what we have now, and be thankful that we've each made choices that have made it possible. :)