Originally posted February 24, 2011...
Remember when small phone was the new big phone? Or when iPad was the new iPod? I think small number of Facebook friends will become the new massive number of Facebook friends. While I’m sure it was once cool to amass as many Facebook friends as is allowed (apparently the limit is 5000), I now see people with a lot of friends and think they must be trying to prove something (“2,845 Friends? Someone’s got a small penis!”) Today, I linked through a friend’s profile to an old acquaintance who was an extremely popular girl. Enormously well-liked and pretty (if a touch trampy), I expected her Facebook page to be the narcissistic shrine of self-love we’ve come to expect, with thousands of friends. Instead she has like two photos (where she’s not even in the foreground!) and 19 friends. 19! I saw that and thought, “Oh my god, that’s so subversive! Who does she think she is? Wow!” and then, “I wonder if she would friend me.” I didn’t try, I wouldn’t be able to handle the rejection.
Truth be told, I’ve always felt as far as friends go, that I really won the lottery. With some exceptions, I’ve always had a pretty easy time making friends and keeping them around. I don’t count that as my own virtue, mind you, I don’t think it’s my extreme wonderfulness that has earned me great friends, but rather that I have the good sense to pick the best ones of the bunch and cling like a barnacle. But it’s the friends I can’t make that stick with me when it’s late and I’m on Facebook and thinking, “Whatever happened to…” It’s those people who, try as I might, just don’t like a dose of Vitamin J that fill me with self-doubt, self-loathing and Ruffles. I saw this documentary this past weekend called Small Town Gay Bar which was about (as you no doubt guessed) gay bars in small towns and there were so many misfits in this movie; so many square pegs who were once in desperate search of their own identity within their podunk little towns who flowered into these out-and-proud types with their loud voices and gaudy outfits and constant, lispy refrain, “If you don’t like me, then fuck you!”
I want to agree with that. On principle I do, and under those circumstances I certainly support it. If I lived in a small, homophobic town with no means of support and oppression at every turn, I might stamp my little foot and cry, “If you don’t like me, then fuck you!” But I don’t, so I won’t. I know in some cases, an attitude like that is the rallying cry of the misunderstood, but it too often hits my ear like the screeching whine of the socially inept. But is that true, or is it just my problem? Only one way to know for sure.
Dream: Be well-liked by everyone on the Earth.
Goal: Achievable, but extremely rare. Betty White and God are the only examples I can think of when I think about who’s universally well-liked, and people start wars over God, so it’s probably not a great gig. But still, it would solve so many problems.
Address problems at the outset so as to avoid future resentments. There’s this girl I used to work with who just didn’t like me one bit, and I really don’t know why. We only worked together for a few months and rarely did we actually work side by side but it seemed, like contestants on reality shows are all too happy to claim, that she had a problem with me since day one. Vicky (a far nicer pseudonym than this girl deserves) would actually leave a room when I entered it. If I had to actually speak to her, she would only consent to one-sided conversations where she was constantly in motion. So I would address her and she would give the most perfunctory of responses while crossing a room or stacking boxes or fording a river. Vicky would only address me through notes, which started out passive-aggressive, “James, did you mean to screw up x, y, and z, or were you just improperly trained?” and by the end were just aggressive, “James, you’re not doing this, this or this right. You keep messing this up! Stop! Vicky.” And what made matters worse was that no one else had any problem at all with Vicky. She got along great with everyone else, everyone else with her, and everyone else with me, too, so I just couldn’t figure it out. If I were a braver man with a time machine, I’d go back to our early days of working together and ask her just what I said or did to make her so angry with me. Hell, if I were a braver man with a time machine, I’d go back and stop Hitler, but that’s neither here nor there. But no conversation like that ever took place. But really, in hindsight, I wish I had the sack to just confront her about her obvious resentment. “If I’ve done something to offend you…” I would offer, or, “We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot here, and…” or, “What’s your fucking problem?” But instead, I decided to be really mature and just hate her back double. By the end of our time together, Vicky would demand shifts opposite mine and would leave early or arrive late on days when we overlapped so as to avoid seeing me altogether. I haven’t seen Vicky or heard anything about her in a long time. I don’t know if she’s at the same job or even in the same city anymore. And it shouldn’t matter one way or the other, but it does. I had never had the experience of being so acutely aware of someone’s contempt for me. I’m sure people have disliked me in the past, but had the good sense not to see me every day, so I wasn’t as aware of it. With Vicky, though, I’m still genuinely confused. I often wonder what I said or did (or didn’t say or do) that made her dislike me so much. I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but it’s about me personally so how can I not?
Always have something to offer, friendwise. There’s this girl I sort of know (we’ll call her Nicky) that I desperately want to be besties with. She’s really sweet, and funny, and knockout gorgeous and I feel like just having her in my friend circle would up my own coolness a hundredfold. Nicky and I went for one drink long ago where I was so nervous about making a good impression that I’m sure I came off like an improv performer fresh out of ideas, all unfunny and flop-sweaty (“Too much ice in this drink, eh? Hahaha, am I paying for water, here? Hahaha”). Since then, Nicky has denied all further get-together requests. Not flat-out, mind you, but with excuses that I’m sure exist only to spare my fragile feelings. “I’d love to!” she’d say, “But I’m so busy! I can’t get any days off! Argh!!” And maybe she can’t get days off, but what I think I can’t get is the hint. I have nothing to offer poor Nicky, in terms of friendship. We don’t have similar interests, professions, backgrounds or goals. She’s younger than me, and infinitely hipper. This doesn’t explain my attraction to her, but there it is. And of course I don’t mean attraction in the physical or sexual sense, but in that friend way. The way where you meet someone at a party and you instantly want to spend the weekend with them, braiding each other’s hair and playing Dreamphone. The mutual friend who introduced Nicky to me in the first place has done nothing to cultivate a growing friendship either; has never said, “We should invite Nicky along next time we go berry-picking (activity changed to protect the innocent)” even though I desperately want them to. This all leads me to believe that James and Nicky will never go on vacation together, or be in each other’s wedding parties, or have one person try on a montage of outfits while the other person sits outside the fitting room and gives thumbs up or down in a playful way. I should just accept this and move on, be grateful for the hip, good-looking friends I already have, but instead I find myself picking out my own boring outfits, or trying to braid my own hair and thinking, “It’s just not the same without Nicky.”
Have a point of connection with everybody. This would be, I suppose, both the major upside and downside of universal likeability. It would be great to befriend whoever you wanted, but annoying to have to reject so many weiner-kids. There’s this hot mess I know we’ll call Ricky, who I wish I could connect with if only to tell her to stay away from me forever and ever. Ricky is this woman who shuffles up and down the streets of my neighbourhood and screams. She’s not old and she’s not homeless (apparently a bunch of derelicts in the neighbourhood rent an apartment together, which has potential to be a really good reality show), but there’s obviously something really wrong with her. She’s either on drugs or severely mentally ill or some combination thereof. I’ll see her in restaurants or coffee places sometimes (and if I go inside I can smell her instantly—she’s a stinky lady), and she’s nursing a coffee or sandwich or something, so she must have some money from somewhere, and I’ve never seen her panhandle, but I hear her screams. At first, it used to really disturb me. I’d be walking down the street, jamming out to a lame hit on the ol’ iPod (recently I tried to add Above and Beyond’s chilled out hit “Good For Me” but mistakenly downloaded Amy Grant’s “Good For Me” and I have to tell you, I don’t regret it at all) and suddenly hear a piercing wail and turn to see Ricky running/stumbling down the street behind me, screeching and sobbing. A more compassionate person might approach her and say, “What’s haps, Ricky? Why are you screaming, what has upset you so?” But all she does when someone approaches her is scream louder. I know this is making me really unsympathetic right now. Your heart is probably breaking for Ricky, the troubled girl who can only walk the streets and scream, but let me assure you that after 18 months of living with this, it’s really fucking annoying. To be waiting in line for your coffee in the morning, trying not to pass out from the smell and hearing “BAAAAAAAAAAUGH!” every fifteen seconds is a real pain. Or to be falling asleep around midnight only to be awakened by a hearty “BAAAAAUGH!!” from outside your window. The night screaming, that really bothers me. Naturally, I run to the window and look out, or even run down to the lobby in my jams to make sure there’s not some poor woman being attacked on our darkened big city streets, but it’s always just Ricky (I’m always going to investigate the night screams, though, because the one time I don’t, I know someone will die on my doorstep and they’ll right articles about this big city is an insensitive Metropolis full of assholes). Anyway, if I could somehow befriend Ricky I could say, “You know, Ricks, the screaming is a bit of a turn-off. I know you’ve got troubles, but everyone has their own sack of rocks and we don’t go screaming in the streets every day.” And maybe then she would cut it out. Or at least carry a prop cell phone with her to scream into so we could all go, “Ah, I see, the person on the phone must be a real jerk.”
But I guess the point is, life is full of Vicky’s, Nicky’s and Ricky’s, no matter how likeable you are (or aren’t). And the idea is to focus on the people who are friends with you, who do come out for drinks, who can put up with you for five goddamn minutes. In easy in the pursuit of new friends to short-change the old ones. To forget how hard you worked once to score an invite to their party, or how lucky you are to be the one who sits outside the fitting room and gives the thumbs up or thumbs down. So let me go on record and say how grateful I am for those friends, past, present and future. And distance keeps many of us too far to braid each other’s hair, but there’s always visits, and for better or worse, there’s always Facebook.