can we still be friends?
Is there someone in your life who would have rap battles with you, draw Mother Buddha in class, meditate during class break, write lots of poems in traditional Chinese, and use magazines as notebooks?
Most likely not. Because she is the most unique person I’ve ever encountered in my life.
Back in high school, we were really close friends. I always admired her for her distinct personality and her whimsical mind. We shared a mutual understanding so strong that whenever we read each other’s essays, we knew what the other person was implying with her metaphors and opaque symbols. Reading her essays was my favorite activity of all time.
But like all good high school friends, we were separated over time. She went to Hong Kong, I went to the states, and I haven’t talked to her for months.
Now, I’m finally going to see her in person.
I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long. I can’t wait to see her! I want to know what she looks like now and hear everything that happened during her first semester in college and in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, however, under the excitement and euphoria, I can sense the disturbing presence of fear and reluctance. What should I say? How should I behave? What if we can’t laugh together anymore? What if we both fall into awkward silence? What if… What if we’re no longer friends?
I can’t lose her as a friend, and I really want to relive our closeness, so I must be funny and impressive today, at least in front of her.
When I spotted her hiding behind a bookshelf, I could feel the anxiety gradually building up in my body. Taking a deep breath, I called out her name.
“Hey! I know you’re there.”
She revealed herself, smiling mischievously at me. To my relief, she looked surprisingly like how I remembered her, even with her changed hairstyle and new glasses. It was good to know that she hadn’t changed much, or I would have no idea how to deal with the “new” her.
We started talking about food and school and everyday stuff, and I tried everything I could to be friendly: I laughed at her simplest jokes; I made quirky comments on her stories. I wanted to show her that I was really glad to see her again, that I still felt the same friendship. But as we talked, I started to notice that something was a bit off, as if we were two people who were different from before but still pretending to be the same.
We strolled between bookshelves, stopping to talk from time to time.
“I haven’t read much recently. I just buy books and never pick them up again,” she told me.
Oh, no. She used to read books in class all the time.
Then, the chain of doubt began: I started to notice more differences in her. She seemed less mature and more bubbly, which made me even more nervous. The distance between us grew more and more obvious, to the point where we were both standing silently in a crowded subway, not knowing what to say and fully aware of the awkwardness between us.
“Let’s tell each other a story.” She suggested.
“Ok.” I smiled at her.
“You go first.”
“I … I don’t have any stories in mind.” In fact, my mind went completely blank at that moment. The disappointment on her face was too obvious to ignore. The worst thing was finally happening: I was boring her. Our happy times together only existed in my memory now.
“Goodbye! See you soon!” When I turned away from her, I could no longer hold the smile on my face. I was disappointed, but unable to tell why. I remembered someone once telling me, “You can’t force friendship.” When something wasn’t right, there was nothing I could do to fix it. So I might as well accept the sad fact that we were probably drifting apart.
A few days later, I found myself unable to acknowledge the fact that we were no longer friends. What makes two people friends anyways? I suppose it’s the mutual appreciation. I liked her personality and wanted to have her as a companion. That hadn’t changed for us, so in this sense we were still friends. But why did I feel so awkward and unnatural when talking and spending time with her?
Then, I remembered an idea from philosophy class: the paradox of pursuing pleasure. It sounded absurd when I first heard it, because it basically claimed that if you want to get pleasure out of an activity, you will never get the pleasure. What makes you happy is your full attention to that particular activity. Thinking about it later, I began to see how it related to my life.
“There are three things that will only get worse when we try harder: falling in love, falling asleep, and trying to look natural.” Some things in our lives are not meant to be overthought. I guess the same can be applied to friendship. I spent too much time worrying about our reunion and focused so much on making her happy that I was making myself uncomfortable around her. My goals for myself made me stressed out and anxious. It was good enough, I decided, to simply be in her company.
Without a second thought, I reached for my phone, unlocked it, typed “Do you have any plans this week?”. Then I hit send. Without rephrasing.