Tag Archives: friendship

I’m working on a real post or several, but in the meantime, I am going to piggyback off of Mudblood Catholic’s 100th post. What a post. Here are the bits that made me nod and grin the hardest. [Indented bits are him, other bits are me.]

The trouble about discussing sexuality — and this is not peculiar to gay sexuality — is that it involves you in nearly everything. There’s a sense in which sexuality is the crossroads of our being: every level of our self is involved in it at once.

Yes, totally. That’s why it’s actually fortuitous that the culture at large is in such a lather about homosexuality: we’re being forced to confront all sorts of things that have never been quite this urgent before. What’s marriage? What’s sex for? Are men different from women, and if so, how?

The common Catholic tactic of implying that giving up sex shouldn’t be such a big deal to someone who isn’t selfishly hedonistic, betrays a woefully shallow outlook on sex and sexuality. Yes, there are other modes of experiencing and expressing love; yes, we don’t “need” sex the way we need food and drink; that isn’t the point. The need to love and be loved as a specifically incarnate being, the need to give of oneself, and the need to create, are real needs of the human person; and erotic love — truly or falsely — holds out the promise of all three.

I plead guilty. Not very long ago, I was all “What’s the big deal, guys, it’s just SEX”. But the thing about sex is that it’s never just sex. For me — a guy from a big Catholic family, who got somehow remarkably and providentially plugged into a big Catholic community, that’s magically full of tolerant-yet-orthodox people — for me to say “Dude, celibacy ain’t no thang” is about as fair as a silver-spooned ivy-leagued trust-fund kid telling a panhandler “Have you tried working harder?”

God is remarkably prosaic…the practice of prayer and taking part in the sacraments have a very unspectacular appearance. But they are of the essence. Prayer is our lungs; the Eucharist is our heart; Confession is our immune system.

A lot of the authors I’ve read seem to imply that, once you have some solid friendships under your belt, you stop being lonely and don’t want a partner any more. To that, I have to respectfully cry bullshit. Loneliness is a feature of all human life, and, yes, being the single one in a group of predominantly married friends can exacerbate that instead of helping. You need friends because intimate friendship is something that every person needs to be a healthy person, not because they act collectively as some kind of surrogate spouse.

True that. It’s probably unavoidable, at some stage in the journey, to use your friends as a collective, surrogate spouse, but that can’t be the end.

“Father, I wore those weird shoes with the individual toes.”
“This problem is beyond me, my child.”

Sexuality involves more than just the urge to make; it also involves the more specific urge to beget — to be a mother or a father. The fight of the LGBT movement for adoption rights is not just about making a political point about equality; I think it is linked to this far deeper desire.

Yeah, Gabriel, wow. Who woulda thought a brony could be such a mensch?

An earnest gay reader1 wonders how to comport himself at the gym:

My first instinct is to say, “Okay, simple. It’s an occasion of sin for you, so even if you’re okay in the locker room, forget the shower or sauna, or even the pool sometimes. Even if that means you have to drive home all sweaty and stink up your car.”

But then — motivated probably by equal parts pragmatism and desire to feel like I fit in as one of the normal men rather than a leper, even if it’s only in my own mind…all of this bouncing around in my head and pounding heart and hormones…I get sick of running through that script while a straight…guy just skips that whole drama and uses the facilities for their intended use without stressing out.

It’s a big deal. It reminds me of one of the differences in experience between gay guys and straight guys that Brent Bailey points to: how

those gender-specific environments that provide a relaxing, head-clearing respite from sexual temptation for straight people (like locker rooms or all-male Bible studies) are sometimes the most confusing and charged environments for me.

Yeah, me too! This is one of those things that make homosexuality a heavier cross than it would be if it were just about not-having-sex-with-men.

At the same time, though, let’s not imagine we’re weirder than we are. It’s true that straight guys don’t have to worry about arousal in all-male settings, but that doesn’t mean these settings are totally easy for them, either. A few examples:

  • I’ve seen straight guys put on an extra layer of machismo at a poker game just so as to appear dudely enough for the other dudes, until eventually you’ve got masks interacting with masks instead of people talking to people.
  • I’ve also seen guys panic briefly in the locker room because they accidentally had their head turned in my direction and they think that I might think that they were looking at me and MAYBE I WILL THINK THEY ARE GAY.2
  • And guys everywhere, gay or straight, are subject to body envy. I think it’s at least as spiritually and emotionally unhealthy to envy another man’s body, as Men’s Health and their ilk constantly encourage us to do, as it is to lust after another man’s body.

All this is a subset of a larger truth. Time after time, intimate conversation with my straight friends has confirmed that they and I want, fear, love, and worry about the same things as I do. Sometimes the only difference is my residual fear that the things I feel are somehow icky because they’re somehow gay; when it usually turns out they’re not gay so much as male, and not male so much as human.

So, you might feel unsettled when you’re in the locker room, but at least you don’t have to feel unsettled about feeling unsettled. It’s not just you. Peace of heart in all situations is something to shoot for, but most of us aren’t there yet.

1 Standard disclaimer: as is my policy, I obtained the explicit permission of the reader in question before deciding to write this piece.
2 Which is all pretty dopey. It reminds me of what Brett & Kate McKay have to say about what happened to male friendships when people started getting freaked out about The Gay Thing.

“True friendship,” says C. S. Lewis, “is the least jealous of loves.” We in the SSA crowd, or anyway the neurotic crowd, or maybe just the human crowd, hear that and cringe, because so many of us are such amateurs at friendship, amateurs in every sense: we dabble in it, we’re fascinated by it to the point of obsession, and our talent for it is decidedly imperfect.

True friendship? Most of us have scraps of it, but our actual friendships seem to exist on the perpetual verge of collapse, held together by duct tape and desperate good intentions; and jealousy intrudes, painfully, over and over. How well we know the signs of its approach, and how powerless we feel to stop it!

Like any amateur, I sometimes watch the experts — are there friendship experts? — to see how it’s done.

I noticed that my friends A and B had a tendency to express their fondness for each other via insults. “Ah ha!” said my crafty little lizard brain. “This is what friends do! I, too, will insult A, and let’s see whether we become better friends because of it.”

So I tried it out, but something went wrong. When I insulted A, he looked faintly hurt, and instead of responding with an insult of his own (as I had seen him do to B), he laughed uncomfortably and said, “Ah, yeah, you’re probably right.”

Waitwaitwait, cancel, retreat, abort! That isn’t what I meant at all. But this is what comes of being crafy, especially of being crafty where friendship is concerned: your friends get hurt and you look mean.

I understood belatedly what A and B’s insults had meant. It wasn’t that they had made a conscious decision to express friendship via insults, nor was it that insults are the universal language of male friendship. This was just the particular shape their friendship had developed, slowly and organically, over the years of its evolution.

And my appropriation of their particular brand of camaraderie suddenly looked grotesque and desperate, because, unfortunately, it was.

I was driving to work and this particular scene came back to me — you know that horrible splurch you get when you suddenly remember something grotesque and desperate that you’ve done?1 — but, thankfully, I also remembered that bit from Lewis’ Four Loves:

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves.2

I’ve seen this in the way only J. will shout when only M. makes a particularly asinine point, or only L. will cackle when only C. is crass in his exactly C.-like flavor of crassness. It’s also evident in the way, if M. and I find ourselves in a room without the accustomed presence of J., we suddenly won’t know what to say to each other: J. turns out to have been a bridge between us, a way for us to enjoy each other. Lacking him, we have to find other ways.

But the other part of that picture is a part we can’t see: ourselves. Cue Walker Percy:

Why is it that in your entire lifetime you will never be able to size yourself up as you can size up somebody else — or size up Saturn — in a ten-second look?”3

We don’t know our own part in the peculiar lattice of relations that exists between us and our friends, but make no mistake — we do have such a part. Whatever my opinion of myself, I am irreplaceable to them as each of them is to me. My own face will suddenly take on an expression that is characteristically Steve, and my friends will notice, but I won’t have the faintest idea about it; if I did, that would spoil it.

That’s how it works. We are not only for ourselves. The list of things I know about myself is not the same as the list of things my friends know about me. I am not even the best lover of myself, since I can never see in myself that very Steveness that is exactly what my friends love about me. I will never be able to see it. But I know it is there, because there are those that love me; so I don’t have to worry about it terribly much.

In other words, I have only to be myself; which (and this is the part they never tell you) I can only do when I am paying attention to the peculiarly lovable selves of everybody else.

1 This often happens while I’m driving.4 If you ever see me suddenly wince in traffic, that’s probably why.
2 From The Four Loves. Context is here.
3 This is from Percy’s Lost In the Cosmos, also known as The Best Book For Weirdos To Read To Feel Less Like Weirdos. The context is here.
4 Which is one reason why I sometimes listen to Savant and/or Skrillex when I’m driving. Did you know, if you turn the dubstep up loud enough, you can’t think of anything at all?

J. and I have been driving for four hours or so, with C. asleep in the back seat. Even though the setup is perfect, we haven’t had a single DMC1 yet, just a stream of banter as we find the places where our senses of humor fit together. Is something wrong, or is this good? Is this how friends are?

There are some things you can ruin just by thinking about them too hard. All we have to do for friendship, maybe, is to put in motion the heavenly mechanism that already exists in us; when we scheme, when we calculate, we ruin all.

With J. it wasn’t like that. I didn’t pursue him or suck up to him or emulate him or seek him out or employ any of the hundred tricks I had so often used to Make Friendship Happen. I just did what I did, and found that he and I had unexpectedly fallen into step. The greatest blessings are the ones we don’t expect.

There in the car, I had the impulse to bring up something heavy, something personal. It was a manipulative instinct: if I could get him talking about something that he wouldn’t talk to just anyone about, it would be another confirmation (I always wanted more!) that we were Really Friends. A forced bond is better than no bond at all, and if you bond with somebody, that makes it less likely that they’ll leave you behind.

But I decided not to manipulate. It was pure grace, or a nudge from my long-suffering angel, that made me remember something Father T had just told me about patience.

Patience means not only being willing to wait for the end of something, but staying alongside it the whole time: not just waiting for the fruit of the tree, but watching as it grows, loving the dirt and the sap and the rain, rejoicing in the bud and the blossom as well as the apple; not only because they are necessary precursors, but because they too are ends, are good.

And I remembered how, in dirty church basements, I and the other support-groupers would tell each other all our old shames and fears, wring ourselves dry, try to get it all out in an effort to know and be known, understand and be understood. How it helped, and how it missed the point.

It’s a great blessing to find that you can speak the unspeakable and not be reviled. But only time makes friends out of strangers; and at the end of the night, or the month, or the year, we hardly knew each other any better than at the start.

You’d think our secrets would make us most ourselves, but they turn out to be the same as everybody else’s. Everyone hurts in the same ways, everyone debases themselves in the same squalid rituals that every priest has heard and absolved and forgotten ten million times.

What we really own, and what makes us delight in our friends, are those sparks of self that dance along our surfaces: the unrepeatable gesture, the characteristic chortle, the way that only he will react to something that only you would think of saying.

It takes time. I settle back, grin, and belt out the chorus to the Zeppelin song on the radio. We grow so slowly! But patience is another kind of joy.

My dear friend A. recently revealed to me that she’s bisexual, or whatever you want to call it — I’m no more comfortable with that term than I am with the term “gay,” but you know what I mean. I’m pretty sure female homosexuality is a whole different beast from the male variety, but some of the stuff is just Human Stuff.

Anyway, A. said I should feel free to publish some of our exchanges here. I didn’t even ask her, she just suggested it. Ain’t that generous? Even in the middle of all the hurt and confusion she’s passing through, she wants to help everybody she can. What a lady.

(Of course, if you feel like letting me publish your exchanges with me, let me know; otherwise I consider them strictly off limits.)

Here’s a bit from a recent email, with A.’s bits as block quotes.

You said another crush ended when you became close with the person, and had to deal with jealousy more rarely. That is why I’m writing again. I have had that kind of crush on my roommate [...] since I was a freshman.

Oh, that’s really hard, and it’s a long time! I don’t mean it’s unusual that it should last that long; unfortunately, when we have these kinds of relationships where we are actually close to the person and not just wishing we were, this can last quite a long time. I dunno if I will ever not have a little bit of a crush on [...], but it does seem to lessen with every year that I know him, probably because my “crushed identity” (I like the way you put it) has been growing bit by bit during that time.

As long as it leans toward idealization, it’s miserable but not as bad as it could be—because lately I think my crushed identity is trying to grow back a little, and it wants to achieve that with anger. Anger is so unacceptable, and so hard to control. She hasn’t done a thing to deserve it, and she always notices it. So then I turn it inward, and just get angry at myself — not a good option either.

Huh. Hm. Yes, I think I understand. You want to assert yourself, to show her that you’re not just some kind of imperfect copy of her but are your own self — but all she’s done to provoke this is to be her own self. Anger is really hard. I definitely get like this sometimes around one of my friends, and I think this is a helpful insight that you have. I guess the question is what would be a healthy way to focus that anger.

Recently we almost had a fight for the first time (this girl is one of my best friends.) She had talked to me less, being depressed herself. I reacted with hurt, and then with desperation, and then smothered her with attention and increasingly desperate and clumsy attempts to make her smile, which she (probably rightly) interpreted as anger, and stayed away from me. Eventually I did the grown-up thing and told her that I idealize her, etc, and she took it very well, told me there was no reason to be insecure, etc, and we are fine again.

Oh, well, good for you! I do recognize this situation, and you handled it considerably better than I did at your age.

But I don’t want it to happen again, and every day it’s close to spiraling out of control.

Is it possible to limit your contact with her for a while? I find that, with certain friends of mine, if I am making a point to see them all the time and going out of my way to talk to them, and things like that, these flare-ups take longer to die down. I don’t mean you actually have to avoid the person — and of course, since she’s your roommate, that would be impossible — I just mean making a positive effort to focus on the other people in your life for a while. If you do that, you could consider telling [...] that that’s what you’re going to try to do, so she won’t think you’re mad at her — if you think that conversation would be okay to have. On the other hand, if that conversation sounds like a weird idea, then it probably is.

I know the feeling of not-wanting-it-to-happen-again. The truth is that it very well might happen again, but will probably be not as bad next time, because you will recognize it earlier and deal with it better. I say this because I find that thinking to myself “THIS MUST NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN” puts me under a lot of stress and can make things worse — whereas saying, “Okay, this could happen again, but I’ll keep a watch on myself if I’m in a situation where it’s likely, and it probably won’t be as bad this time” can help me keep calm.

Anyway, help! I need to learn to separate my own identity from [...]’s, I need to learn to let her alone a little bit, and not be so paranoid about her attentions, ultimately, not to care so much about what she thinks of me. It’s exhausting! And I need to keep anger out of the mix entirely.

Last part first — “keeping anger out of the mix entirely” is kind of the same thing as saying “this must never happen again”. If you think about it that way, it’ll be easier to freak out when you start to feel anger, because you’ll go “Oh no, HERE IT IS AGAIN!” So, I don’t think you can keep anger out entirely, or at least not right away. You can get better at recognizing what triggers the anger, and where it comes from, and who or what exactly you’re angry at, and that’ll help to diffuse the anger a lot.

About separating your own identity from [...]‘s — yeah, I understand what you mean. I think Other People can be the most helpful for this. In my life I have obsessions that come and go, but then I also have friends who are old standbys, who make me feel comfortable and at peace. Those friendships are easy to take for granted sometimes, because the obsessive friendships are more exciting and dramatic. But I find that when I spend time with those people, it re-centers me and reminds me, “Oh, I actually am somebody, with characteristics, and a way of speaking, and things that I like — all these things that have no reference at all to [the person I'm obsessed with].” That’s really, really helpful, and sometimes you need to make a positive effort to spend time with those people even when you aren’t really excited about doing so.

Is this the same exact problem I wrote to you about before? I forget. It seems new.

I forget too. And I forget whether I’m saying the exact same things. I don’t think it matters, either way. Occasionally I’ll have some fantabulous epiphany, and then find in my journal that I had the same exact epiphany six years ago. Oops. What most people need is to realize the same things over and over, until they really sink in.

Love and prayers,

“Oh, stop crying already.” It’s twenty years ago, but I remember the exact tone of my father’s voice, equal parts impatience and disgust. To me, crying is something that happens, not something I can decide to do or not do, so his command makes me burn with all the anger of which a nine-year-old is capable, which is a frightening amount. But there’s nobody I can tell about any of this.

It’s eighteen years ago. I am auditioning for a play that our church group is putting on. The woman in charge has me read a line or two in front of everyone. I’m profoundly self-conscious, but I do it anyway. She takes me aside later and asks if I’m okay. Even though she’s someone I know and like and trust, I can’t say something as simple as That was really hard for me, because as soon as I open my mouth, I feel the danger of tears — not just a trickle but an explosion. So I say, Yeah, it’s nothing.

When she goes away, I wonder for the first time: why is it that whenever I try to tell someone what’s wrong, the tears dam up in my head until it’s a choice between silence and total breakdown — even when it’s something small? What’s wrong with me?

It’s thirteen years ago, my first year of college. I’m standing alone in my dorm room and facing for the hundredth time the feeling of separateness: I don’t fit in here, don’t fit in anywhere, and it’s somehow all my fault. By now I should have learned the rules, but it’s too late to start.

I start to cry, and then, disgusted and impatient, I yell at myself: Stop it. Stop crying. I slap myself in the face two or three times, because sometimes that helps me stop. Soon I stop.

It’s nine years ago, my last year of college. I’m in Sal’s room, confessing to him how alone I am, how separate, what a fake and a poser and a general failure at being anything that anyone would recognize as a human being.

I hate the way my voice is starting to shake, I hate that the tears are coming. I must sound so pathetic. I can’t stand for him to watch me anymore, so I get up and run out. I catch a glimpse of his face, but I can’t look for too long. Nobody should see this.

It’s five years ago. I’ve gotten together the necessary money and resolve, and I find myself at a campground in rural Virginia, participating in the 27th Journey Into Manhood weekend — still in disbelief that I’ve subjected myself to such manifest kookery, still wildly expectant, still wondering how I’m going to explain this one to my friends.

I watch other men scream and howl, weep and claw at the ground, come face to face with the things they never let themselves feel before. When it’s my turn, I do it too.

The weekend is over, and I feel as empty and fresh as a new wineskin. For the next few weeks I keep bursting into tears at unpredictable moments. I don’t mind. It feels good to cry; it feels clean.

It’s nine months ago. I am on the porch, spilling my guts to my roommate S.: how living here with him and C. was supposed to was supposed to be my chance to finally be normal, and how it all went wrong instead. How I’ve got to move out because I can’t control my fears, my feelings of exclusion, my jealousy. I apologize for my tears, which are flowing freely now.

He looks at me and says, Hey, come on. It’s me.

So I blow my nose and we keep talking. Soon I’m feeling at peace, like the reservoir is drained, no more pressure left behind the dam. He gives me a hug and, because by this time it’s past two, I let the poor bastard get some sleep.

It’s three days ago. I am sitting around the kitchen table with two good friends. We’re drinking cheap beer and leftover wine. We all have to get up in the morning, but nobody feels like leaving.

It’s hard to believe how easy it is to talk with them, how much we have in common, even if the specifics differ. I tell them how it used to be for me; how it still is for so many men I know; how I would have once given anything for a night like this; how grateful I still am that such nights are not only possible now, but practically commonplace.

At one point I notice that I’m crying, but that’s okay — that is what people do when they are very happy or very sad.

Next moment we are all laughing again.

It’s 2003, and I am afloat emotionally and spiritually and socially and nearly every other way a 20-year-old can be afloat. The administration keeps talking about community, like it has for the last three years: building it, taking part in it, respecting it, supporting it; but I don’t know what community is, don’t even know that I don’t know what it is. I feel like I’m alone on a sinking ship.

I think some kind of class spirit is supposed to have gelled by now, but it hasn’t. A couple of people have noticed the way I glom onto the new freshman class every year. I hear, secondhand, that they think I’m purposely aloof from my own class. Really I’m just looking for a second chance.

This year one of the incoming freshmen is Sal. He hasn’t been there long before he has pulled together a small cadre of freshman guys, through sheer force of levity. I don’t know how he does it or how he got what he has or why I get to be on the inside, but I do, because Sal is my friend. I am the stray electron to his free radical.

We are drinking cheap wine in somebody’s dorm room. Privately, I am elated and terrified: elated because here we are, a bunch of young guys, drinking and making dirty jokes, just like you are supposed to do; terrified because at any second I may be found out. What, exactly, will be found out? I don’t yet know how to ask myself this question.

I laugh a laugh that is not quite mine and wait for just the right moment to pronounce the casual-sounding sentence that I have spent the last five minutes constructing, hoping desperately that nobody knows me well enough to hear all the false notes. And wishing desperately that somebody did.

While everyone else is blowing off steam, I’m building it up, because this kind of performance is hard to sustain. Finally everyone is gone but me and Sal. I burst into tears and explain incoherently that it’s all fake, that I just wanted to be normal, that I don’t know how to do any of this, that none of it comes naturally. Above all I accuse myself of what I consider the worst of sins: being a fraud.

Sorry, Sal, I don’t remember what you said to comfort me, because I couldn’t hear anything except what was in my own head. Anyway it’s not always important what friends say with words. I remember that we were sitting on the floor and you touched my ankle kindly, which meant a lot, and that when I stumbled out of the room, trailing a good six inches of snot from my nose, the look on your face didn’t show anything but warm concern. That meant a lot, too.

It’s a decade later. I have been learning how not to take seriously the kind of nonsensical, spontaneous self-accusations that my mind still throws at me from time to time. When they pop up like moles I whack ‘em down again, with my well-practiced hammer, or just watch them sail by.1 As a result, they have been popping up less and less, and making less noise when they do.

I am learning that the thing I called conscience was mainly neurotic guilt, and that my actual conscience is a lot quieter and more easily ignored; that neither the best things about me nor the worst things are what I would have expected.

I am better at friendship now, good at it in fact, if friendship is something you can be good at. A lot changes in ten years. I know that being inauthentic isn’t the worst sin, and that being completely authentic all the time is something only gods and beasts can do.

My therapist puts the cap on all this for me when she gives me a safeguard against that tension and guilt, a way to acquit myself of the constant suspicion of falseness. “You can’t be false,” she said, “if you are taking delight in the person you’re with.”

That cuts right through the Gordian knot of self-absorption. I don’t have to monitor myself, to “watch over my own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute”.2 I just have to focus on the people I’m with, and be glad to be with them. Less of me, more of them.

That’s not so hard.

1 Sail by, like moles. This metaphor may have gotten away from me.
2 What were you thinking, Dostoevsky? The quote’s from Fr. Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov, and it’s just terrible advice, at least for anybody who’s already prone to living in their own head. The Russians, you can’t trust ‘em.

The other day, because I’m not used to dealing with life without tobacco (12 days so far, whee!) and because I ran out of my meds accidentally that morning (I’ve got some more now) and because sometimes things are just a lot to take, I found myself sitting in my cubicle and looking at my screen through a blur of tears.

Sometimes an attack like that can be dodged by refocusing, but this wasn’t that kind. It was a real will-sapper. I felt like limp lettuce. Limp lettuce that was suddenly very sad for no reason.

I dragged myself out of my chair and pulled my friend and coworker M. outside with me for a non-smoking break — we are quitting together — and proceeded to burst into tears in front of him. There wasn’t anything he could do, because the attack wasn’t because of anything in particular. But, strange to tell, it helped immensely. I think I know why.

At one point I would have dealt with an episode like this by heading to the bathroom, locking the door, and collapsing in a corner for a while. I’d fantasize about turning to this or that person for help, but talk myself out of it for various reasons: that it wouldn’t do any good, or that they’ve got their own problems, or that I didn’t want to feed my own self-pity. Then I’d clean myself up, check my eyes for redness as if I’d been smoking dope, and get back to work.

But it’s a very lonely feeling to be desperately sad and to have nobody know about it. It’s one more way to reinforce the idea that you are irrevocably different, and that your problems are somehow invalid, not allowable.

Doing it all in front of somebody, on the other hand, is a very different experience. It’s a question of being seen; and this, all by itself, helps makes you feel like a part of the human race after all, instead of someone invisibly locked in a bathroom somewhere, having his private problems that nobody knows about and nobody can solve.

It gives you the chance to see that your friends can see you at your worst and take it in their stride, without being surprised (because they will have been there, too) or weirded out (because being sad isn’t weird). It also honors the friend — says to him, See, I trust you enough to fall apart in front of you. It gives him a chance to say all the fairly meaningless but surprisingly helpful things that can be said in such a situation: talk to me, hang in there, I’m here for you.

Remember, it’s a mitzvah to let somebody else do a mitzvah for you.

“You’re gonna have to call in a prescription for more adderal,” says an instant message from my friend S. “My head is all fuzzy.”

Oops, that wasn’t for me. S. hastily explains that he was trying to chat his wife, but got the wrong window. He’s been diagnosed with ADHD for ages, he says, and the last couple of weeks has been trying to cope with it without the meds, but it’s not working. “No worries,” I chat back. “I used to be very anti-meds until fluoxetine1 pretty much saved my life.” One revelation deserves another.

Earlier today I was thinking about my friendship with S., which is one of those rare (for me) friendships that just happens, born of little besides cigarettes and Radiohead. We couldn’t be more opposite in a lot of ways — he keeps posting facebook rants about, for example, the bigotry of that Chick-Fil-A guy, and how super-duper Obama is — but for some reason he’s easy to be with, and our disagreements sometimes make for good conversation. I congratulate myself on how much he would have intimidated me if I had met him five or ten years ago, with his tattoo-covered forearms, athlete’s crew-cut, and penchant for casual swearing.

His ADHD doesn’t surprise me, any more than my depression surprises him. It’s almost a plus, in my book. Not because chemical imbalances make people deeper somehow, but maybe the other way around: it does seem to be true that the more wires you have, the more likely it is that some of them will get crossed, short-circuited. I get along well with people who have lots of wires, especially if the wires are in disarray.

My brain mystifies me. One of the unexpected side effects of Prozac: I don’t seem to mind spiders any more. What kind of sense does that make? I’ve never been terrified of them, but they’ve always made me feel creepy. Now I look at them and see something intricate and well-conceived, like a clever piece of clockwork. Did I hate them because they reminded me of my own creeping, spidery thoughts, the ones that used to sneak up on me from between the folds of some innocent reflection? Did the Prozac fill in some crack in my brain, some microfissure where evil thoughts (whether of spiders or of self-loathing) used to be able to find purchase?

No idea, none. As I drive home from work today, I think of a passage I just read in Sheed where he discusses the differing states of the Blessed: how, in Heaven, we’ll all be as happy as we can be, we’ll all be full to capacity; but that our capacities will differ depending on how much our hearts were stretched, enlarged, by our time on earth. The difference, he says, matters more than we can imagine now. Yet we’ll all be perfectly happy.

I briefly wonder whether the meds have stunted my growth somehow, and whether this era’s tendency to over-medicate is producing a generation of moral dwarfs. The man who couldn’t stand to see the butterfly struggle, and slit open the cocoon to give the insect an easier time crawling out, stole the butterfly’s chance to be strengthened through struggle. Have I given up my chance at being strengthened?

Oh, maybe, maybe. I don’t care very much, because I’m strong already, and getting stronger. So I tell these thoughts to be quiet, and miraculously, they do — it’s a new ability of mine, almost a superpower, this ability to shut down a train of thought when it’s heading for a cliff. Besides, my life isn’t without struggle.

And I remind myself for the hundredth time that most people aren’t sane because they’ve managed to overcome an army of invisible demons. They’re sane because they never had to.

1 I’m okay with the idea of meds now, but maybe not quite okay enough to be able to type “Prozac” without a little embarrassment.

“What on earth am I doing?” is what I completely fail to think, as I position my hand so that when the portly-but-attractive bartender (has he been giving me the eye, or is it my imagination?) puts my glass back down on the counter, his fingers will make contact with mine.

It works — can’t have been by accident, he could easily have avoided the touch — and I also fail to feel guilty, despite the fact that my friend M., seated next to me, is in the middle of a college reminiscence that I have not been quite paying attention to. I refocus.

M. is not really my friend. I’ve met him once before, several years ago and for maybe five minutes. I knew his wife L. in high school, but she’s not really my friend either: we’ve lived in the same town for two years and only run into each other a couple of times, and not even on purpose. But L. invited me to a barbecue at their house the other weekend.

At first I thought I was being set up with some girl or other. People do this to me every once in a while, because I am single and not unattractive, and besides I have a good job and even a motorcycle and am somehow not married yet. But then I realized I was being set up with her husband, so to speak; I hear through the grapevine that their marriage is not all smooth sailing these days, and I suspect that her efforts to get him some “guy time” (her words) might be part of some plot to save them by saving him.

As the barbecue goes on, I start to think it might be a good plan. Does he have anybody to see, anywhere to be but with his wife and four kids? It’s clear that he loves them all, but what man can spend all his time with women and children and not go a little bonkers?

Just because a man’s straight doesn’t mean he stops needing men. On the contrary. This is something my straight friends have taught me: they enjoy and even need each other so much that I wonder how I got along in comparative isolation for so long.

Of course I don’t know any of this about M. It’s purely speculative, and incredibly presumptuous besides.

I stay for three or four hours, chat with M. and his wife, play with his kids (his five-year-old son knows Karate! Instant bond: we trade techniques and are pals in 10 minutes flat), eat burgers and drink beers. M. and I share a smoke before I leave — he quit four years ago but is more than happy to indulge when he gets the chance — and exchange phone numbers.

Yesterday I text M. on a whim and ask if he wants to meet for a drink today after work. He agrees, which brings us to the bar tonight. I’m only on my second drink, but this is one of those high-class gourmet-beer joints where the alcohol content tends towards the double digits, and I am a lightweight anyway. This brings us back to the bartender, too, who I wouldn’t have even noticed if he hadn’t interjected something into our conversation five minutes ago.

I certainly wouldn’t have noticed that the bartender’s got The Look, or that he’s paying me more attention than is strictly warranted by the duties of his position. But what on earth? Where do I think this is going to go? Is this what normal people mean by flirting? Is this wrong, or is it just harmless fun? But I’m not thinking about any of this, not much, because I have been drinking.

Meanwhile I am, frankly, enjoying M.’s company. We have some things in common: a love of classical music, a disinclination towards team sports; a background, however slight, in martial arts. He is easy to talk to.

As the beer flows, the conversation steers, by unnoticeable degrees, towards more personal things. We go from drinking stories to how he met his wife to, suddenly, questions of faith. He’s an agnostic now, he says; something has been draining away for the last six years, and now he’s not sure what’s left. It doesn’t make things any easier with his wife.

We’ve both got to get home, but we stand talking outside for a bit first, and share another smoke. Then I think, duh, and invite him to adoration with me on Tuesday morning. He is eager and tentative at the same time, so I press the point, busting his balls a little bit, and put it in my calendar: “Call M. to go to adoration. DO IT.”

Back at home I am recuperating, waiting for the fog to clear. I flop on the couch, going over the events of the evening, congratulating myself for actually doing some evangelizing for once, thinking fondly of what a great guy I am; then wincing suddenly as I remember flirting with the bartender, not two minutes before talking about faith and doubt and Providence and Adoration. Like some kind of expert.

Lord, I’m a narcissist. But I meant what I said about Adoration, meant every word when I was telling M. how much my daily half hour of prayer has changed my life. I think of Dostoevsky:

Beauty! I can’t bear the thought that man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What’s still more awful is that man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart may be on fire with the ideal, genuinely on fire, just as in his days of youth and innocence. Yes, man is broad, too broad. I’d have him narrower.1

Me too, Dmitri, me too. It’s terribly confusing work, being human. But I think it’s going to work out.

1 The Brothers Karamazov, Part I, Book III, Chapter 3. More context here. Oh man what a good book.