July 15, 2017 (Saturday)

by Yule Heibel on July 14, 2018

The quality – or qualities – of friendship, of friends… That phrase-snippet occurred to me while thinking of a person I admire; who I don’t know personally. He’s not a friend of mine, but I wish he, or people like him, were. I wish I personally knew many people like him, could meet with them for an evening out or for a rare lunch or for an afternoon coffee. And I thought about how even the [friend couple with whom I stopped associating] are stuck in a restricted and rather frighteningly uninteresting, boring friends circle, with no one of the caliber of person I’m admiring from afar. And I wondered whether this is a “feature” of suburban living (or of living in a small city that’s subordinated to large nearby city), or if it’s something some of us recreate over and over again, no matter where we go? And I thought that maybe it’s a bit of both. Perhaps we gravitate toward the American comforts of “suburban” life (as opposed to the insults of American city life, which can only be avoided if you have a lot of money so you can live well), and because we’re naturally self-protecting (by nature, I mean), we create social bubbles, avoiding rude intrusions.

In a city, it seems to me, it’s easier to let a rude person (who turns out to be no good for you, who you should dump) into your life, since (and this is key) it’s also easier, because of the city’s fabric of dense interaction, to avoid that person once the decision has been made to do so. In a less dense situation, you may already have deepened (now to your regret) the social contact by inviting the person into your home (or vice versa), or scheduling coffee dates. Then, when you want to break it off, you’re more exposed in your more sparse, suburban setting than in the city. This makes me wonder, too, if the automobile (so beloved in suburbia) isn’t a device to insulate us from exposure. In my small city, which is sub-urban to Boston, it’s easier to cut out contacts I’d have to drive to see in the first place. It’s more difficult to do so with people I encounter while walking around. But in a denser, larger city, you stop stopping to engage. You may pause briefly on the sidewalk, just enough for a “hello-goodbye,” before continuing. You keep up the pretense of ambient contact – which may be kinder on everyone – without the commitment of asking this person back into your living room. Because you never invited them into your living room in the first place! In the city, cafés, restaurants, etc., are the living room. So now, you just don’t go into the living room at the same time. Or sit on the same sofa, at the same table.

Anyway, this might be all a bit far afield from my point of departure, quality of friendships, or friends. The great impoverishment I feel here is directly related to the quality of friends. All these suburban people… The really interesting people seem unreachable, as fantastical as this person I might admire from a distance, but who I don’t know personally. They all have lives elsewhere, and the built form does not permit interaction. So, hopes are pinned, perhaps, on party invitations and the like. And that creates too much pressure. Everyone is expected to shine. If I go to a one-off party these days, I don’t shine because I feel I have nothing going on. I’ve fallen dormant, and it becomes self-reinforcing. Yet I might be an interesting person – to someone, somewhere. The relationships grow ever more attenuated, which also means there’s not a supportive tribe, a posse, to spur on one’s own activities, one’s own attempts to become once more a productive, creative person. I mean, I can’t call up Camille Paglia, for example, and say, “Let’s meet for dinner – I have an idea for a novel inspired to some extent by your ideas, and I want to hear what you think.” No, I have to produce the novel first, but do so alone, with not even a few mini-Camilles to lend ambient support along the way – and even then, Camille Paglia or anyone else I admire wouldn’t notice it. Working in isolation in turn stalls the work. This is why cities are often so much better: the metabolic rate is higher, the energy is higher, the serendipity is stronger, the synchronicity more frequent.

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