The following has had the names redacted for privacy reasons, and replaced with only the initial. Should you recognise yourself in this, please realise that I do not have ill intent. I love all of these people, dearly. I miss some of them more than I can really explain. I wish they were all still a part of my life. This post is a sort of reconciliation, a attempt to understand that people sometimes float in opposite directions, and travel different seas. We have to be okay with that. We have to accept that. As hard as it can sometimes be.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I am choosing to call “stopgap friends.” These include people such as K or M or T, J or F, to a degree E or N or M. These are all people who indubitably have influenced my life, for better or for worse, and who at one time I considered very good friends, perhaps even best friends, but who have since fallen out of the rungs of friendship. It’s the ebbing of life: people come and go and we cannot expend our energy attempting to stop that movement. It’s natural, in its own way. Stopgap friends are the purest example of that quote from John Irving that I have so long loved:
“We don’t always have a choice how we get to know one another. Sometimes, people fall into our lives cleanly–as if out of the sky, or as if there were a direct flight from Heaven to Earth–the same sudden way we lose people, who once seemed they would always be part of our lives.” (Last Night in Twisted River)
I guess there are two main people that I’ve been thinking about in regards to this whole “stopgap friends” conundrum. Primarily, it has been K and T, with E, of course, sprinkled in throughout.
I was acquainted with K and T two years ago. K, dropped cleanly into my life when D invited her and C over after some party for orientation week. I remember not liking K as much when I first met her. She was shy, didn’t really seem interested in being friends. This is why I was so surprised the first time she asked me to do something. E and M were gone, I don’t remember where, as were the others in our friend group, and since we were the only two left, K asked me to go with her to some event at the park. The event was dumb. Our adventure was short lived and little enjoyed. But I’ll remember it because it was the first time we had ever actually hung out with one another, and it was the start of our stopgap friendship.
I cared more than she did. At least, I tell myself that now.
I miss K. I drive by her flat often and I routinely think about how we hardly talk anymore. The thing is, I knew the destination of our friendship before we had fully docked at the station. I told her that after the summer passed we wouldn’t be friends anymore, because the only thing we had going for ourselves in the second semester was the class we shared together. I knew we were destined for failure because of one tenet, and I think this is probably the quintessential feature of all stopgap friendships: I believed that I cared more than she did. At least, I tell myself that now. As if I had the right to judge how much another person cared.
Friendship is a two-way street; stop-gap friendship is a one-way cul de sac where one individual eventually exits the same way she entered: as though the other party didn’t exist.
Stopgap friendships occur when one party cares more than the other party, or, when one party believes they care more than the other party. When one person feels that she is responsible for the maintenance, initiation, and upkeep of the relationship. Once this feeling of responsibility has gone on for too long, she begins to feel overwhelmed by it. She begins to admit that life would be easier if she let the friendship die out, even if that is not what she would prefer to have happen. Friendship is a two-way street; stop-gap friendship is a one-way cul de sac where one individual eventually exits the same way she entered: as though the other party didn’t exist.
There is an inherent, perceived oxymoron when one considers the word friend in accordance to the word stopgap. They don’t seem to go together. They’re an absurd pairing. Friendship is defined by the Oxford dictionary as: “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection” (my italics). Mutual. That’s the key word. The proposition that friendship can be considered in tandem with “stopgap” is one that can and should be seen as absurd.
And perhaps there’s the beauty in it. Perhaps, the absurdity and the perceived disconnect is what drives one to gather so many stopgap friends throughout her life. Stopgap friends serve a purpose. The purpose can be singular or multifaceted. Maybe his mom provides your housing. Her mom provides you with a job. Maybe her mom is your English teacher and being her friend means you will be seen in a better light her mother. Maybe he serves as a designated driver so you and your friends can get stupidly drunk and remain safe. Maybe he is big and strong and can keep your group out of danger. Maybe her family is disgustingly rich and they allow you to take advantage of some of their commodities, such as flying back home for the weekend on their helicopter with their daughter. I think the point has been made. For at least one member in the stopgap friendship, the using member, the relationship affords the individual with privileges, commodities, or advantages they would not otherwise possess.
But what about the other member? The feeling member? What if she has not consented to being a member of the friendship in order to gain privileges, commodities, or advantages? What if she just wants friends or genuinely cares about the other individual in a non-materialistic fashion? What is she is interested solely in the human bond?
In this regard I have been thinking lately of my relationship with T. She’s to be married soon; expecting a baby girl now. I know this only because of the social media phenomenon; an entity that adds an entirely different layer of complexity and hardship to the stopgap friendship. T entered my life, as if on a direct flight from heaven, two years ago when me and a few friends traveled to Vegas for a weekend during which the schoolwork was light and we were bored. Following the trip, I got her number, texted her, and we sort of hit it off. I don’t know that it was necessarily anything romantic. I would hazard that I never particularly felt that way, and I always knew that even if I had romantic inclinations they would never realistically come to fruition. However, I did come to like T a lot. I loved her really. We talked with each other daily and I was much happier at that time than I had been in a while. I felt like she understood me, like we shared a lot of the same convictions, and I felt like this was someone with whom I could have a real, mutually affecting relationship. I still love T, and I miss her.
I’ll spare the whole story for the sake of talking about stopgap friendships. We had a bit of a fallout; it’s one I have never gained any closure over and it’s one that I’m still confused about. I have been left to conclude, solitary, that I was a stopgap friend. I’ve read our last texts dozens of times. Without meaning to sound conceited, I feel like I was able to offer her some semblance of comfort while she was struggling internally and with some external life events. She did this for me too, but I never felt her comforting was the prize of the relationship. Talking to her, hanging out with her, knowing her and being her friend was prize enough. I feel a bit used. Probably unrightfully so, particularly since I do not know her side of the story. But I feel like the other member; the one who genuinely cares in a non-materialistic fashion; the feeling one. Here I am, two years later, and I still think about T often. Hope her life is going well. Hope she’s as happy with her husband as social media perceives her to be. It hurts that I may never know her truth.
For the feeling member, the one interested in the human bond, stopgap friendships hurt. They can take a long time to recover from. There are daily reminders of the other person. Maybe the feeling member drives by that person’s house each day going to and from school. Maybe she lies on her bed each night, eyes closed, and thinks about those lost friends she once and still does love, but who will likely never love her back.
With absurdity, and thus with the inherent absurd relationship between the word stopgap and the word friend, the act of lying is a necessary function to maintain one’s existence. The using member lies to themselves throughout the duration of the stopgap friendship. She pretends that the relationship is based on a real human bond. The other, the feeling member, must eventually lie to herself if she is to ever move on. She must tell herself she never cared all that much, and that the loss is minimal. It can be mitigated by the procurement of more friends. Life is easier that way, so she exits the cul de sac and attempts to never look back.