That’s what friends are(n’t) for

Though I’m always jealous of close friendships, I can’t get my stuff together to build and maintain them, myself. Here’s the story of five men who have it figured out, and one girl who doesn’t.

“You expect friends to meet the same impossibly high standards to which you hold yourself. All you’ll ever gain from that is disappointment.”

You know how, sometimes, someone will say something sort of off-the-cuff and never give it a second thought, yet it really sticks with you? My sister dropped the above bomb over seven years ago, and it still echoes in my head to this day.

I suck at friendship. I am bossy, short-tempered, selfish, and (perhaps worst of all) neglectful. I will forget that your father committed suicide and constantly, dramatically, exclaim “I wanted to kill myself!” over something as trivial as seeing my ex with his new girlfriend. I will forget you exist, until I need you. I will forget your birthday.

I will wonder why you don’t see that your boyfriend is totally wrong for you. I will be disappointed in you when you don’t stand up to your boss. I will expect you to be emotionally evolved, and frustrated with you when you are not. It’s not that I don’t mean well. I do. It’s not that I don’t care. I really do. It’s not that I don’t love my friends. I really really do.

So, what’s the problem? Why can’t I get it together to be a good friend?

First, I am horrible with time management, therefore always behind on things. Those things stress me out and dominate my brain. When you ask me to hang out, I’m going to say: “No, I have to work on X, Y, and Z” (clearly I work for Children’s Television Workshop) and mean it, even though I probably won’t touch X, Y, or Z, opting, instead, for a Little House on the Prairie marathon and a nap.

Also, I’m a terrible listener. I want to listen. I mean to listen. But, no matter how interesting your story is, my mind wanders. I tell myself it’s okay because I am just one of those people with a short attention span. But three seconds? What am I, a goldfish?

But a lot of my friend trouble comes from the fact that I am emotionally stunted. Frequently, friendship is about leaning on others and being leaned on. Unfortunately, I am super independent and dislike needing anything from anyone (even emotional support) and being needed, so am always encouraging friends to work out their own issues, rather than supporting them through them.

So, friends and potential friends give up or lose interest. Of course they do! Who would want to be friends with someone like that?

In California, five friends have been documenting their relationship for 30 years. The men first posed for a group picture while on vacation at Copco Lake in 1982 when they were just 19 years-old. They sit on a fence, three of them shirtless, looking rather serious, and one of them holds a jar that contains a cockroach (a pet they adopted for the trip). The photo screams “SUMMER!” The photo screams “YOUTH!” The photo is largely unremarkable, just a snapshot of a moment in time, that would likely be of interest only to the men themselves.

But that photo has now become a tradition, being recreated by the men every five years. Same pose; same spot; same friends, a little older and a little worse for the wear.

As the photos progress, shirtlessness ceases, baby fat fades, hairlines recede, wedding rings appear and disappear. Having just taken the seventh photo in the series, the men discussed the tradition.

“Watch us lose hair and gain forehead, gain and lose and gain and lose weight,” John Dickson (the man on the right) posted on a website. He maintains devoted to the tradition. “There are reasons we all decided it was better to take the photo with our shirts on.”

John Molony (second from right) said: “It’s kind of an organic relationship that’s evolved not just from being high school buddies but from having common passions for life.”

Molony, particularly, caught my eye. His look goes from Ashton Kutcher in That 70’s Show to Tom Hanks in Bosom Buddies, to Kiefer Sutherland in 24. It hammers home the point that, as much as we all think we haven’t changed since our younger days, time waits for no man. As for the future of the tradition? There’s no question as to whether or not it will continue.

“We plan on doing this for the rest of our lives, no matter what,” said Dickson. “Up until there’s one guy just sitting in the same pose! Even then, maybe someone will take a picture of an empty bench for us.”

What a cool tribute to a friendship that has endured breakups and shakeups and relocations. Meanwhile, I can’t remember how to spell your kid’s name (to be fair, Amy need only be three letters and I resent you just a tiny bit for churching it up with an i and two e’s. Who does that?).

But I really want to change. I’m currently going through this whole physical transformation, and am down for some emotional growth, as well (I mean, I’m already dismantled, so let’s do this thing!). Feeling incapable when it comes to friendship is one of the few things I really don’t like about myself.

So, inspired by the men of Copco Lake, I’m going to relax and pay attention and relax. I’m constantly meeting people and my automatic response is the shoe gaze, because I know I’ll just end up disappointing them, but I’m going to try looking up, next time, and connecting with the people who seem cool. Maybe I’ll even give them my number. And maybe I’ll take our picture together, just in case.

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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