I’m a cynic, certifiably. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s seeing the worst possible outcomes. Forget the light. I could stare into the abyss for hours. It’s my nature, my education. I don’t think I would have chosen to be this way, but I am. To be able to do this holds the distinct advantage of being able to survive when things are grim, yet the disadvantage of being mildly blinded by the intensity of light, a light I must learn daily both to see and to live within.
One thing I’m good at seeing, as a result, is the inequality that sometimes happens in friendships. I’m talking about the kind when you realize that one of your friends does not hold you with the same regard as you hold them. You value the relationship more. You are more active in it, more vitalized by it, and more sensitive to its dynamics. You’re the one initiating, instigating, asking about their day, providing comfort when they’re lost.
This sort of thing tends to happen to me a lot and to plenty of others. To have a friendship that is just that strong is rare, strong enough for both sides of it to be constantly pursuing one another. Unless one half of the friendship just doesn’t care—and let’s face it: who doesn’t care?—perceiving the inequality will always catch up, and when it does, it stings.
I reacted poorly to this perception almost four years ago. I was furious at the person in question, furious enough to blatantly sever our friendship. For me, that takes some work, so that says a lot about the events that led up to it. Especially given my lack of friendships during most of the first part of my life, every friend I found, I valued much. What do you think that looked like when I found someone I really clicked with? But apparently, this time, I was wrong. After working that hard and suffering that long, I was tired.
It is tiring. Living with the understanding that you esteem someone better than they could ever reciprocate is very tiring. But that fact in and of itself isn’t really what’s so tiring. See, a friendship is the interweaving of two distinct lives into one. Now, I know basically nothing about weaving, sewing, knitting, knotting, crocheting; I have seen it done plenty of times, and it looks complicated. Like anything, though, I’m sure you start simply. Musicians, for example, learn the simplest scales, chords, and songs before moving on to the complex; but eventually, you want to get to the good stuff because that’s the strong stuff. That’s the stuff that makes the music vivid and gives it vitality and strength. That’s what holds you together and gives you substance.
It isn’t that a person should be hypersensitive to this, but the fact remains that if your reality is such that your lives don’t interweave in the way you desire or with the tightness and intricacy you crave, you can’t just flip a switch to change that. You can’t just pour your emotional energy into it and expect to invoke a change by that act alone. That goes outside the parameters of what a friendship truly is: an interweaving, a process, an art form. You’re constantly growing and changing, and the picture keeps getting bigger. The threads are always becoming tighter. The gaps close.
When our lives become woven so close together, they become the garments with which we clothe ourselves, the sheets under which we sleep. They can keep our souls warm on cold winter nights that can be so deep (and yes, this is a blatant reference to “The First Noel”); but they don’t become this way on a whim. It doesn’t just happen because you will it. It isn’t just the throwing of two masses of thread onto a tabletop and expecting the force of it to come together. Threads are often tangled, mismatched, bendable, and fragile, some more than others. Even when things aren’t a mess—and when aren’t they?—the yarn is probably in a ball, and you’re not going to literally throw balls of yarn together and expect a garment to just happen.
Time must be spent to deal with those things before anything more can happen. Care must be shown. Careful consideration of what patterns you want to make, or how loose or tight you need it to be, must be given. Respect for the fragility of the material must be given. And when the garment is finally made, you have to keep taking care of it by washing it properly, repairing frayed threads, sewing buttons back on, and patching holes, even if patches are not fashionable. That is all we have control over, though.
We’re not always going to weave the perfect blanket, and everything wears out eventually. Beyond this, is it really worth it to invest time and energy worrying and wondering and comparing and aggravating yourself or each other? Are these acts really acts of friendship or do they encourage the same relational inequality we wish to avoid? Are we not tearing holes in what was made to clothe us, and staining that which was made to be beautiful?
I’ve learned that it is better to not deny reality when a friendship or a relationship isn’t what you thought it was. That doesn’t, however, imply that we should not try to change reality. But when you do so, try to remember that on some level, everyone’s world is just as fragile as your own. It’s just that some people are better at hiding it than others. It is always worth it to try the weaving again. Sometimes, you just have to ditch the old clothes and weave new ones: start over. Friendships can be rebuilt from the ground, but you have to throw away what cannot be recovered in order to make room for the new. Forgive, forget, rest, recover.
You see, it isn’t really the perception of the inequality that is so tiring: it’s what you’re doing about it. Or maybe it’s them. Maybe they’re doing the things that wear you out or don’t recharge the relationship. Maybe they’re just really good at aggravating that part of you, intentionally or not. In the end, I don’t suppose it’s that part that matters but rather your ability to discern which case is actually the case. In either, don’t become so tired from your expectations being upset that you lose sight of making the most of what you have in every relationship.
There is value in everyone, and it’s just waiting to be found and woven into something majestic, something to share with the whole world.