I was really glad when we went to Leeds and Lindsay got on well with my friends there because, with rare exceptions, my friends have not been nice to her, and I’ve been pretty shocked by it.
The funniest, or saddest thing, is when my friends have reacted to her as if she is challenging some kind of claim that they have on my time and attention, or as she is somehow usurping me and persuading me to spend all this time with her that I would otherwise really have wanted to spend with them. There is a bullshit social doctrine doing the rounds of the media-saturated nations right now which arose out of the whole “new lad” culture and which states that relationships come and go, but your friends are forever, and people who neglect their friendships when they get into a serious relationship will eventually realize their error and get back to the pub with their mates where they belong, whether their partner likes it or not.
This is dangerous horseshit. I’ve been alive for 28 years and had lots of friends and relationships in that time. The Truth According To Alan is as follows. Friends come and go, and as you grow and change through your life (which we all want to do guys, right? Right? Hello? Is this mike on…?) your friends change too. It’s a natural process and it’s nothing to do with being a bastard – in fact, every time it’s happened, I have felt very sad. But it’s inevitable. We make friends with people who become entwined with our lives at various times, and we drift away and make new friends when the time comes. People move house. People move jobs. People get married. People have nervous breakdowns. All kinds of shit happens, and friends come and go with the ebb and flow of life. The only people who keep the same friends all their lives are people who reach a certain point of development in their late teens or early twenties and decide to stay there forever. If you want that, you’re welcome to it.
Compare this to getting married. Marriage has taken a bit of a beating in modern culture, and rightly so, because people were, for a long long time, getting married for all the wrong reasons. They’re still doing it, but there are right reasons for getting married, and if you don’t recognize a marriage or a permanent relationship that’s happened for the right reasons, when it happens, then you’ve got problems of your own. People grow and change and friends and relationships come and go, but at some point you may meet a person who you are certain (and you might not know how or why you are certain) you want to grow and change with, together, for the rest of your life. Suddenly all the bullshit anyone ever told you is gone, and you know what you want and who you are. You know what you need. You choose to commit to this person in a way you’ve never committed to anyone before, not in a sexual relationship and certainly not in a friendship. You are going to change with this person. They change, you change, you both agree to adjust and connect with each other over time, a lot of time. You know that this is possible. You don’t really know how you know, but you know. It might be difficult and demanding and scary, but you want it because everything else is unsatisfying and second-hand.
Once you meet someone like this, everything changes. You might never meet them. You might never need to meet them. Or maybe everyone meets this person, and only some people get together with them. I really don’t know. I’m not trying to say that there is only one form of drama or growth in this life. But if you meet someone like this, there is no longer a question of balancing friends and relationship. There is no longer a question of what your priorities are. If your friends are unable to get along with your partner, you will drop them, not because you don’t like them, but because it just becomes impossible to go on meeting up with someone who has that much antipathy towards the person you are going to spend your life with. If your family don’t like your partner and tensions build up, you fight with your family. You make demands on them. You are no longer afraid when they threaten you with disapproval. You don’t need ANYONE’S approval any more, because you know who you are. You will go wherever your partner goes, or they will go wherever you are. There is no longer truly a separate you, and that might freak you out for a long time or you might adjust to it straight away. It might freak your friends and family out. They might think it’s a bad thing that you suddenly seem to be this unseparate person, but if they were really honest, they would admit that that’s what they want. It’s what everyone wants. It’s just that we all started to believe it wasn’t there.
Everyone thinks they know people. My friends have all thought that they know me, and at times they have been right, but I am a growing and changing person, and everything is always out of date, everything is different every day, nothing is static, just like Fight Club says. Everyone is always changing, and the scary thing about this is that people don’t realize it, so they’re sitting in front of each other having coffee and talking, thinking they’re talking to the same person, and they’re not. We keep mental projections of our friends in our minds and day by day they grow more distant from the ever-changing reality, until one day they say something or do something so “out of character” that we realize we don’t know them any more. The best thing you can do to stay friends with someone is to believe, every day, that you only know them a little bit, and that they can surprise you at any moment, and that you certainly don’t know the reasons behind their actions and words. The worst thing you can do with a friend is to believe that you know them. Don’t assume you know why they did something. Don’t assume you know better than them what they should do with their lives. And don’t think you’re more important to them than you actually are. There is no room for sentimentality here. We all form very few truly important and meaningful relationships in our lives. This is important material and you will be tested on it so listen up: VERY FEW. There will be many friends and many relationships but when you look back on your life while you are dying, if you die in a way that gives you time to look back, if you are clear in your mind, you will look back and count very few truly important relationships. The others: beautiful, transitory, more or less significant, more or less affecting, valuable, but passing. This is not heartlessness, this is reality, and what’s worse is that for some people, the number might not even be one. There might have been no one, and they would never realize it until the end.
I am a softy. I write notes to my friends telling them how important they are to me. I hug them, male or female. I cry over the fact that I don’t see them any more. I write poems about them. I talk about them and think about them and try to keep them alive for me. I try to stay in contact even when I am in a different country. I do all of this more than most people, and I know this because I know how often people do the same to me. A lot of the stuff I say would usually get left unspoken. So I know that I am not heartless. But I know that there comes a time when it is finished. Sometimes I fight it, and sometimes I accept it, and it’s always sad. Sometimes I don’t even understand what has happened. Because I know that all these things pass, and because my friends are so important to me, I hold back a lot of the time when I’m getting to know someone. It takes months to get to know me, sometimes years, because when you know me, I don’t want to lose you. Even with all that care, I lose people. It just happens. It’s the inevitable turning of life and there’s no fighting it. People move away. They have nervous breakdowns. They get religion. They change. Everyone has their own destiny and we sometimes only touch briefly and intensely.
I am saying all this because since getting together with Lindsay a lot of my friendships have come under strain. Two of my best friends moved away to Cork and Limerick – that’s no one’s fault. Life happens. But a lot of my friends acted territorial around Lindsay, or with open dislike, and then expected me to side with them. I would explain carefully in words that I thought the other person would understand how important she is to me and how miraculous meeting her was, and because they think they know me, they allowed themselves to dismiss what I was saying. These are the same people who have dismissed other things I have done in my life as “phases” or “fads” and so failed utterly to grasp the significance of the change that occurred in me when I left that “phase”. Carl Jung had a novel idea for psychotherapy which most people in modern society have missed – the patient always knows. Not the therapist. The patient. My translation: you have to listen to people, and forget your judgements of whether they are right or wrong. THEY ARE RIGHT. Everyone is right, because everyone can only express what they are. That’s it.
I guess what I’m saying is, this is a marriage. Lindsay and I are married. If you don’t like it, don’t like her, don’t like me, think it’s a bad idea, whatever, you can fuck off, and if you’re happy to fuck off, then we’re all happy and there’s no problem. Really. If you do like it, like her, like me, think it’s a great idea, whatever, that’s great and I’m glad and there’s no problem. Really! If there’s something about me you don’t like, or her, tell me and I’ll listen, really, I am a good listener, and you might even tell me something I needed to hear. However, if you are just angry that you don’t see me so much any more, you have to know that the sad fact is that in my life from now on, whoever you are, if you aren’t her you can only be a B list celebrity. You will still get invited to many of the best parties and you can have your share of the spotlight, but you must recognize that there is an inner circle to which you can never be privy, where the stars of this silver screen quaff smoothies and toss back hummus crackers and share the intimate details of each other’s lives. The terms of every friendship and family tie have changed, and yes it is sudden and out of the blue, and yes I understand that this is a lot to adjust to, but please understand, it’s not a good idea to piss Lindsay off in an attempt to show me her flaws or whatever you think you’re doing, really, because I will be taking her side, really, I can almost guarantee it. This is not because I am blind and do everything she wants. No, please listen and don’t think you already know me. Don’t assume, okay? Listen. This is not because I am blind. It is because we are almost the same person. I am serious. This is why we got married. Didn’t you think there was a reason? Did you think you knew me better than I know myself?
This time was always going to come. It could have been you before me, and I would just have been happy for you. Really.