November 26, 2013 by alunparry
My Sad Realisation
“I was coming to your music nights” said Eddie, “and I knew that I liked you. And I thought you’d be a good person to have as a friend. But the thing is Al, you’re not an easy person to become friends with.”
Eddie then recounts the time that he offered me his phone number and I’d replied by saying “Nah, you’re alright.”
It was a reply that he quite understandably had taken as a snub. I never realised. On my part I’d been saving him the imposition of knowing me better.
He told me all this as we travelled to my gig in Edinburgh earlier this year.
But I’m remembering it now because today I faced a stark and really quite sad realisation.
First some context. I’m in a reflective place in my life at the moment. I feel that change is happening and I’m keen to let it. Part of that process is me trying to figure out exactly what I’m meant to be doing with my life, and who I should be serving.
The business gurus would put it more simply by asking what is my niche.
But for me, it is more a case of what I’m meant to be doing, and who I am for. Or what is my purpose.
So this, I hope, will explain why I was doing an exercise that looked back over my life so far.
You see, I wanted to look at my life from every angle, familiarise myself with who I was at each age, and understand what my struggles were.
So I began at random with the area of friendship. I was expecting to build some sense of my emerging self, the things I had done, maybe even the type of people I enjoy being with.
So I took my pen, wrote a column containing ages from zero all the way up to now, and then wrote the names of the people I was friends with at each age.
I didn’t expect what I actually discovered.
What I discovered is that, with me, nobody sticks. As I travel through my life, people enter and then depart. I have brought nobody with me on the way, sharing good and hard times, closeness deepening as the years pass.
Instead there is just me, like an emotional hobo simply passing through. David Banner without the temper and the green, shirtless alter-ego. But the same sad wave goodbye.
How can I live a life, and a full, active, “out in the world” life like mine, and not have managed to have brought anybody along for the ride?
I have pondered sadly on this for the rest of the day, contemplating its implications.
After all, I’m friendly, approachable, fun, and people usually like me. Moreover, the way I live means I’m surrounded by enormous numbers of people in my network.
And yet I have no expectation that anyone is any more than a bit part player in my life, not just in the great scheme of things, but in the moment too.
I can visualise this circle as me surrounded by lots of blurry, out of focus, fuzzies who are there but distant.
Many of these people could certainly become close friends, and yet I fail to make this happen. No, I don’t fail. I just don’t even aim for it. There is simply no expectation.
Why is this? What is the dynamic at play? I don’t really know yet. Yet I feel sure that it comes from me.
I know that I’m friendly, yet guarded. I know that the distance is more likely my creation than theirs. I also know that I keep the very core of me in a box, for safety. So even when people come into focus, become friends, that core of me is not fully shared with them.
There remains something between us, something mildly on edge within me that results in separation, like a prisoner meeting a loved one through a glass barrier.
And because my core is not shared with others, so it is not touched by others.
No wonder then that people are lost to me. How easy it must be for me to move on from those who I’ve never fully allowed to connect with me.
How can someone stick to me if I don’t allow them to join with me, to truly know me.
How can I feel that emotional pain of parting from people that I never permitted to ever be with me.
There can be no parting, no separation, without there first having been a join.
And the pain of that parting is important. It triggers us to keep in touch, to miss people, so that as we pass through life we make sure that the people we value are carried with us to our next chapter.
It results in rich, lasting, unguarded, genuine friendships.
Yet in my life, my friends are transient. They come, and they go. Not through a dispute or argument. They simply drift from my life, and I from theirs. No fanfare.
I have attended schools with classmates, I have been to university, been active in politics, been a trade unionist, taught classes of students, set up a nonleague football club, founded protest groups, coached junior football, run a festival, promoted countless music nights, been in bands, was part of an acting troupe for several shows, organised a folk club, and have sang for audiences up and down the country.
This is an unusual range of social, collective ventures that puts me at the very centre of literally hundreds if not thousands of people – and I am hungrily social with a sociable personality.
Yet, despite that, who have I carried with me from any of these experiences into true, intimate, lasting friendship?
How could this possibly happen? For now, I’m not too sure. But it has. And I’m not the victim of it. I’m the engineer. Completely out of consciousness, I have kept everyone at bay, and those I’ve let in, only so far.
It’s a sad thing to realise, but I can only be thankful that I have. For now I can wrestle with it some more, seek to understand it better, and overcome whatever fears and anxieties bend me out of shape and connive to keep my barriers up without me even realising it.
What am I protecting myself from? Why do I maintain a distance? Why do I feel no expectation of anything deeper than this passing superficiality? Why do I keep a part of me separate even when I bring friends close? These are the puzzles I will have to solve.
Then, and only then, can I too have the rich, close, satisfying friendships that I’ve so far managed, against all the odds, to evade.