OFF THE BEAT: Sobering reflections of a grad

I got defriended this week on Facebook, by someone whose cyber-allegiance I would never have questioned. If you asked me to list potential friendship renegers, it would be a long index, including people from high school and people who misunderstand my sometimes taciturn nature for disdain. (“You may seem unfriendly, at least to me, but that’s not the REAL you,” a friend wrote me in a letter.)

I myself have done my fair share of defriending – I don’t care for your status updates on the benefits of Diet Pepsi and feel uneasy at the thought of 500 intimate friends accessing information I’d rather keep less-than-public. But this particular friend, I would’ve never thought the defriending kind.

I came back a year and a half ago to find that everyone had gone. Or it felt that way – the majority of my friends had been upperclassmen when I’d left for Thailand, and in the two years I’d been abroad, they’d taken it upon themselves to graduate and move away.

It was nervously that I met one in particular with whom I’d had a falling out: In my daydreams concerning my long-awaited return, our issues had disappeared into the ether. I figured that he’d play a prominent role in my carefully concocted future. I’d reserved a privileged spot for him in my life.

This friend isn’t the same as the defriender. He’d die before losing face, before indulging in something so seemingly insignificant as to use a button to make a pointed statement. But I understand the impulse, to no longer want to know about the latest details of a person’s life, to stop the impulse to look at their images, if only for some peace of mind.

We met at a diner, where we sat through potfuls of coffee and egg yolks gone runny. And while I had hoped for some great reconciliation, some gestures to a warmly-recollected past, instead he talked at me for hours, listing his achievements in the intervening months since we had spoken.

He told me his life plan – go to Harvard (“If you look at the statistics I should get in”) and work on Capitol Hill for a few years – never once bothering to offer even a perfunctory “how was it” about my time away. What he did extend, however, were some unsolicited reflections: “I can feel the maturity gap between us even more now, especially since you’re still at school and I’m living in the city.”

He told me he’d like to be friends again, though he wasn’t the friend I’d remembered at all. It took a long time for me to realize that he had changed, and what had happened at the diner wasn’t significant enough to eradicate the memories I’d cherished of a time together years before. At the time, it was a huge loss and disappointment, one that’s subsided only upon reflection. But fuck it, I’m graduating.

Commencement is tomorrow and after four (or five) years, leaving for good is an easy pill to swallow. It’s a much more agreeable farewell than the idea of leaving Berkeley even after freshman year, and only for summer vacation. In fact, it’s a relief. The idea of losing touch with friends isn’t as traumatic as it once was, as if I’ve gained calluses with practice.

With study and internships abroad and semesters of academic hiatus, I’ve been slowly acclimatized to the cyclical ebb and tide of itinerant friendships. Now, it’s less of a painful prick when inevitably yet another person departs.

I’ve always remembered a story my friend Kate told me, about reuniting with friends who’d left to study abroad. Who’s hanging out with new people, they’d asked. Who has new friends? And they came to the realization that no one had, save for Kate. You don’t really make new friends, they concluded. You just lose them.

That idea has come to shape my perspective on meeting new people since college. My life now is marked more by nostalgia and remembrance than it was in high school, when every moment was staunchly rooted in the present. Spontaneity and daring were a hallmark of those years, and what is now mundane seemed novel and unprecedented, especially when in the company of friends.

But that bright-eyed enthusiasm, that insistence to forge the conditions of the world in which I lived, has given way to a set of lowered expectations and progressive acquiescence to the sometimes lonely way things are. Maybe the present isn’t as exciting as before, if only for the fact that the threat of the future, once mythical, now looms uncomfortably near.

My friends, like me, have embraced those promises of success. In the process, something had to give.

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