Time to get older, time to grow up

My GF got me a wonderful bottle of Perry Ellis Portfolio perfume! I haven’t worn perfume in a while, but I really like this scent, so I’ll probably start again. Yay!

Originally this was going to be a ‘friends only’ entry, but I think everyone’s entitled to it.

But perhaps what I’ll remember most from this birthday isn’t the great perfume, the fantastic meal atop the rotating restaurant, the wine or the boring conference. It’s the frank and honest words my GF spoke to me over dinner. I cried, I gnashed my teeth, but in the end, I think I may have finally learned my lesson.

I mentioned to her that I’m starting to get a guilty conscience about the fact that, since I moved to Japan, my email has been piling up (currently 2400 messages in my inbox) and I’ve barely been answering anyone’s emails. We had a long and drawn out discussion, in which she forced me to realize, amongst other things, that I like to cry about things without actually resolving the issue for myself. The real issue here is that — if I’m ignoring those emails, I’m saying I don’t care about people, plain and simple. And if I’m hesitating to answer emails because I can’t solve people’s problems they email me about, big deal. “Tell them you can’t solve their problems for them, that you feel for them, and you wish them better times.” I guess that’s really what it’s about, isn’t it?

I guess this was all precipitated by a realization that I didn’t contact someone I hung out with for a couple of weeks in NYC (before I moved to Japan in 2001) after the terrorist attacks. I received a forwarded copy of an email from her through my former GF — apparently she worked near the WTC (as I had) and was really shaken by the events. However, it seemed like her local friends were taking care of her, and that all was in hand. The thought crossed my mind that I should send her a note and express my symapthies, but I also knew we weren’t that close, and didn’t think twice about not sending something. I had contacted the three people who were left in NYC who I was close friends with — a former coworker, my ex-GF, and a friend from Boston who had moved there shortly after I did — and they were all OK.

Now I get the feeling that she’s slighted by my lack of attention to her, just like many of my friends must be, judging from their emails. Usually it starts with a “Hi Joan, here’s where things are in my life…” note, then is followed by a “Are things OK?” note, then a “Where are you???” email, and finally . . . silence. In my attempts to be the perfect friend to everyone, I end up being a friend to no one. I can’t possibly respond to everyone with the detail level I want — showing empathy on the areas I can, expressing sympathy where I can’t — and have any sort of sanity. There’s just too many people to stay in contact with.

Which is why I started up LiveJournal. It’s sort of a self-service way of keeping in touch with me for those of you I can’t send the heart-felt notes to. But it’s beyond that. I owe all of you I care about notes. Some of you I’ve fallen out of friendships with . . . perhaps it’s time, perhaps our lives have taken us in different paths, perhaps we disagreed on too major an issue. But it doesn’t mean you aren’t known to me, doesn’t mean we can’t still be friendly towards each other. There’s a big difference between the two, because, frankly, I don’t have enough room in my life for 100 friends I share my whole life with. I have room in my life for a few people I share everything with (simply because of TIME, not egotism or elitism) and now have a mechanism to share the highlights with the rest of you. I’m sorry I can’t offer a “premium subscription service” where you can know every detail, where I’m always available to talk to, where I can help bail you out of any problem you run into. I can promise to most of you that, should an emergency arise, I’ll be there to help (like my friend who I talked out of suicide last week). I can promise to lend an ear and read your emails. And, now, I’ll promise to at least send an email saying “I read your note – I’m here to listen,” and, if I have a strong opinion, perhaps “Here’s what I think…” But I can’t be best friends with everyone.

At least now I know that I can’t keep complaining that I don’t have any friends. It’s my fault that I don’t maintain the friendships I care about.

So those of you who are important to me: when I return to Japan, I’m cleaning out the 2400+ emails, sending notes to you, and trying to make amends. Those of you who don’t receive emails (not including the person I mentioned above, by the way) — it’s not that I don’t care. But it’s that I don’t have anything to say, nothing to apologize for, and hope that we are still friendly towards each other. It’s not a “promotion” or “demotion” — it’s a clarification of what’s been true all along. We’ve been acquaintances, we’ve shared experiences. Let’s keep doing that when we want to. But let’s not have unreasonable expectations, either one of us. You can’t expect me to be able to drop everything for you and help you with your problems (I don’t have the energy). I can’t expect you to do the same. But we can keep each other up to date, and perhaps meet up for drinks if I’m in town. Can’t we just leave it at that instead of pushing the envelope unnecessarily?

8 thoughts on “Time to get older, time to grow up

  1. Joan-san,

    I am quite happy to have (buy ;) dinner with you and your lovely gf when I’m in Japan and hope we can continue to do it – I am happy with the level of friendship we have. :) But if you ever fail to respond to an email from me, I will come over there and decorate your apartment in Hello Kitty motif. Just thought you should know.


    I don’t keep in touch with my friends either. It’s hard, when you don’t see them face to face and you have a life to take care of.

  2. I mean, it goes without saying it was moving to me to read this, right? I mean, I’m the selfish 17 year old who has probably been sending you dozens of emails a week… But I also said to you that you don’t need time to “be the kind of friend [you] want to be”… That to me, in the times I was down, just to hear “I don’t have the time to talk right now” would mean infinite good things to me… To know I wasn’t all alone in the world, to know I had friends. God, if I could have FOUND a friend last night who would listen, who would talk to me right then, I would still be able to say “I’m proud I’ve never gotten low enough to cut at my wrists in that cliche way”, but… Yeah.

    Joan, you’re a good friend to many people it seems, and I’m not surprised. I’ve explained how infinitely drawn to you I find myself…. Well, not that I can quantify emotions in words, but that’s close… I mean… I know myself anyway, to me it screams volumes just to know you’re there, at all. A PRIVMSG saying “busy right now, no time to talk” would comfort me… I dunno, it’s sort of like people who pray for something really small and inconsequential to happen, so there’s a good chance it will happen anyway and they can continue to believe in their $DEITY.

    I haven’t said anything useful so far…. Other than strongly implied how glad and how proud I am that you realize that just saying “I read this” is okay… I used to get around a thousand emails a day between mailing lists and… Stuff… And I realised something… I found that if I just said “hrm, I read this, sounds [qualifier]”, I’d probably end up expanding on it more so… Not that you don’t have the time to do that as I have… It was just interesting how I found something to say regardless of whether or not I had anything to say…

    Anyway, to un-ramble… You needed to realise that sometimes for friends to feel better thanks to you, depending on who they are and what’s going on, sometimes a “hi there” in response is all it takes…

    When your reply to me consisted of “Sporadic email access, be back next week” or whatever it actually was, you’d think I’d found a winning lottery ticket for some huge sum of money.

    I was happy to know you were there, and you weren’t like purposely ignoring me, and that furthermore you were at least vaguely alright…. You could at least still type? ;)

    Which brings full circle to when I told you that all I was looking for when bugging you on IRC…. Was not the attention you thought I needed, or for you to be the type of friend you thought I deserved…. Well maybe the latter a little bit…. But all I wanted was a “no time” in reply if that were the case… I guess I just wanted to feel at least as important as whoever you were having short quick conversations with.

    Okay so now I’m just unloading way too much of my crap that I’ve unloaded a thousand times to you,…

    So I’ll finish on telling you that in order to know if you read my emails, for a while I would try hard to insert a random URL into the end of my message somewhere, so that I could always just grep for your request for it. Gah, what a dork I am.

    So anyway *big birthday hugs and big friendly unconditional love*

    I’m really proud of you in a way,… But mostly I’m just glad to have my daily dose of insight into your life :)

    Your friend forever, and all that,

    PS: I’d intended to make this a private response, but lynx isn’t being nice, so what the hell.

  3. Elspeth, rest assured you’re getting an email from me. In fact, the fact that I haven’t responded so actively to your emails to me was a primary motivation for me to post this!!!

  4. And just so it’s clear… Since I realised I might need to say this… Since it seems like you’re still apologising in a way for the fact you can’t always help people…

    Joan, if I want a shrink, I’ll go to a shrink, and they’ll get paid.

    Joan, if I want a parent, I’ll go to my mom, and put up with her bullshit.

    Joan, when I want a friend or whatever, I often find myself looking for you in my heart…

    You being my friend is SO not dependent on being able to help me with my problems, or anything like that… It’s dependent on being my friend… Just in and of itself. If you don’t have the time to email me regularly or respond to me on IRC, it might bug me a bit, but in the end I do understand, because in the end you have a lot more to worry about than me.

    But you are still my friend, and I am still yours, even if both of us have bigger worries.

    If I ask for your advice, it’s because I think you might have some insight, or because… Because I trust you on that subject… I’ve explicitly trusted you since I first talked to you, for obvious reasons once you’ve read all my emails to you, even the panicky sad ones.

    If I tell you I’m feeling down, it’s because I want to tell someone, and because you’re my friend, and because I love and trust you and think that you, if you can, may be able to help. But you don’t have to. When you can, it’s great though.

    I guess what I’m trying to get to, is a paraphrase of a sermon (the person giving it was indeed a preacher, though this was in a secular classroom) I was given…

    Love is not conditional. If you love someone, if you say to someone “I Love You”, then that is it. That’s love. Love is beautiful. You cannot say to someone “I love you… as long as you love me”, you cannot say to someone “as long as you do this for me”.

    That isn’t love.

    Love is when you have empathy and sympathy for a person, when you know them in your heart, in your mind… When you care about them enough that they rule your thoughts. It doesn’t have to be romantic… There is love between friends. There is love between friends that is romantic. There is love between lovers that is not romantic.

    So when I say to you that I Love You, my Friend Forever, Joan, it is because Love and Friendship of any True Sort are UNCONDITIONAL, and NOTHING that ANYONE can do can change that.

    And I certainly won’t stop loving you, I won’t feel any less like your friend, just because you can’t solve all my problems for me, and because you can’t talk to me all the time, and because I don’t get exclusive access to your life and your time.

    Because then it wouldn’t be True Friendship or Love so it wouldn’t matter.

    Of course when it’s one or both, it’s easy to feel like you’re neglecting someone, or like you’re hurting someone.

    Or if you’re me, you might feel like your feelings are strong, and the other person’s aren’t, and you’ll try to tell them that, but when you do you worry constantly for rejection, you wait for the other shoe to drop, you wait for them to say “No, I do not like that you have said that, your emotions and caring and Love and Friendship make me uncomfortable”.

    But with me, that’s because I’ve been hurt, I’ve had that happen before.

    And I hope you do not know that feeling, nor the constant anxiety when I am afraid, when I am so damned afraid that I am about to lose a friend whom I Love and who I consider a True Friend.

    Because my Love and my Friendship are not conditional, and I must always wonder until I am told directly, if that is okay, if that is a mutually felt thing…

    But anyway…

    Joan, nothing you could do could change any of this, any of that.

    So go easy on yourself girlie, there is no need to apologise for only being able to be a friend in words with someone for a period of time, because sometimes, that’s all anyone can manage.

    Your Friend,
    juli (who felt like sharing this here rather than email)

  5. I’m glad to hear that. I really saw myself in your “typical email” description (e.g. “how are you? Are you okay?”) and I apologize for hounding you like everyone else. I just honestly worry and wonder about you. I’m a very loyal person and I hope we can continue to feel like the best of friends when we’re together, even if our communication in between is sparse.


    P.S. Happy belated birthday. See, I’m bad at communicating too!

  6. She loves you all. Just doesn’t know quite how to say it. You all are great friends! Wish I had more friends like you! Lets keep on loving Woh! Woohoo!

    Wohali’s gf, Mercy

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