Losing a Friend
Passing judgment on how I live my life pretty much guarantees you‘ll no longer be part of it.
You can change countries, but you can’t change facts of life. Like this one: Every day is a winding road (as a wise woman — OK, Sheryl Crow — once said), and not everyone who joins you on yours will be on it tomorrow. On September 21, 2016, 10 years and six days after I left the United States for long and winding roads far, far away, I had to let a friend go his own way.
The rocky road took me by surprise because we hadn’t stumbled into a political debate. Our falling out had absolutely nothing to do with Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, which was the primary source of any contention in my social life at the time.
The friendship was collateral damage from, in the words of this former so-called friend, “how wrong I live my life”… and, well, my temper. You see, racism, homophobia, and Trump aside, nothing gets my blood boiling like someone who challenges who I am or the way I live my life.
You’d think gay men would know better, but some don’t. In fact, the last time anyone had passed judgment on my life, effectively ending our friendship, he was also gay.
“But don’t you get bored?” that other soon-to-be ex-mate had asked, questioning my sabbatical from the 9-to-5 that lasted eight glorious years, up until I moved to Sydney in 2014 to take a full-time gig editing an entertainment website in Australia.
“What do you do all day?”
I knew as soon as he asked the question that our friendship was a goner, not because of the question but because of the way he asked it (the way you’d ask someone dressed for a wedding in his Halloween clown costume: “Are you really going to wear that?”). The implication was that my days (and by extension, my life) were less significant because I wasn’t spending them slaving away for pay.
I rolled my eyes and asked him if he thought the blogs I wrote that he frequently “liked” on Facebook wrote themselves. Just because I wasn’t being paid a six-digit salary for them, didn’t mean I didn’t spend valuable time writing them. Did he think musicians and artists and authors just sat around all day counting flowers on the wall? Creating takes time and effort. Frankly, I’d never worked harder in my life and gotten so much for it.
When he brought up my finances, which is tantamount to asking how much someone earns — and equally inappropriate — I shut him down.
“What’s it to you? I haven’t asked you for money. Obviously, I’m doing fine,” I said, taking out my frustration with the all-too-familiar line of questioning on him.
This was before “digital nomad” became a thing, and his blank “Huh? What?” expression told me he wasn’t grasping the still-unnamed concept. We spent the rest of dinner in silence (thank God) before splitting the bill. Yep, I paid my own way.
The next day I noticed he deleted me on Facebook. Good riddance.
Defending my life… again
Sadly, my re-entry into the rat race didn’t mean I no longer had to explain and defend my life. Several days into my holiday return to Bangkok, where I spent 17 non-consecutive months during my off-the-clock hiatus, my next soon-to-be ex-friend was questioning my life without a two-year plan over dinner. He already had his 2017 mapped out in September of 2016, and he couldn’t understand why I didn’t.
I was approaching the midway mark on my four-year Australian visa, and he wanted to know what I would do if my employer didn’t renew my sponsorship.
“I have no idea,” I said, listing applying for permanent residency or returning to the U.S. as two possibilities. “I guess I’ll figure it out when the time comes.”
(I figured it out much sooner. I left the job 21 months early to write about things that matter — I’m so happy not to be keeping up with the Kardashians anymore — permanently departing Australia four months later, last June. Since then, I’ve been roaming around Asia and Europe with a sort-of plan A and a sort-of plan B, neither set in stone.)
“Are you serious?” He was looking at me like I had sprouted an extra head.
“Yes,” I replied. “Why should I start planning that far in advance? After all, I could be dead in two years.”
Or maybe I’d get a job somewhere else, or maybe I’d get another job in Sydney, or maybe I’d fall in love with a hot Israeli guy and go back to Tel Aviv (or better yet, Jerusalem), or maybe I’d fly to the moon. Did I really have to figure it out before the arrival of my shawarma entrée at Shoshana, an Israeli restaurant right off Khao San Road.
He stared at me, frowning.
“I mean, I could get hit by a tuk-tuk while crossing the street tomorrow.” I tried to break the tension with a joke. We were reunited in Bangkok, the city where we met roughly four years earlier, so I figured a little local humor was in order.
My soon-to-be ex-friend then proceeded to call out my “negativity.” He thought I was living negatively and recklessly. No wonder I didn’t have a boyfriend. I couldn’t commit to anything.
This is when I started to lose it. After informing him that the tuk-tuk comment had been a joke, I told him that my reluctance to commit to a two-year professional plan, or to staying in Sydney, or to leaving in two years, had absolutely nothing to do with my relationship status.
Being wary of commitment in one aspect of your life doesn’t necessarily make you wary of commitment in every aspect of your life.
The more he stared at my extra head, the more passionate I became. The more passionate I became, the more I raised my voice.
“You’re pissing me off because you’re judging me,” I said, when he commented on my volume. I felt like a gay kid trying to explain his “lifestyle” to his parents.
One day at a time, sweet Jesus
And like the gay kid, I was hardly an anomaly. Surely I wasn’t the first person to approach life this way. I didn’t invent the concept of “one day at a time” or “living day to day.”
My brother Alexi once commented that I lived my life like “clockwork” and that I was a “man of the firm.” Back then, he was right. I was tied to my career trajectory, my life in New York City, my schedule. I gave that up when I left New York City for an uncertain future abroad.
Several years ago, I had to justify that decision in another friendship-ending conversation. Now here I was doing it again under completely different life circumstances. I had a full-time job, daily deadlines, and a new one-year lease on my apartment. I wasn’t running from anything, yet I was being accused of being afraid of commitment, of being negative, of being a curiosity because I didn’t have the next two years mapped out on a spreadsheet.
“Why can’t you live your life your way, while I live my life my way? I mean, we’re two different people. Your way isn’t the only way.”
I didn’t mention that having all of his 2017 vacation days planned was thoroughly anal, because I was well aware that’s how some people roll. It’s the reason why some people lay out tomorrow’s outfit the night before. There’s nothing wrong with being a planner, if that’s your thing. Embracing spontaneity should be equally acceptable.
But my ex-friend continued to gasp in horror at my recklessness, even when I quoted the first line from my book, Is It True What They Say About Black Men? (where, for anyone who’s interested, I explain how my bank account survived eight years off the corporate grid in the prologue): “You get what you’re not looking for.” Obviously, he hadn’t read it. It would be almost hypocritical of me to schedule my entire future after writing that opening line.
The conversation continued to crumble. He kept looking at me with that horrified expression, and the more I felt his judgment, the louder I became. Other customers were beginning to look at us, annoyed.
Family matters. Well, duh.
I’m not sure how we got there, but before long, we’d wandered onto a new topic: family and my rather strained relationship with some members of mine.
I felt (and still feel) that family should be held to the same standards as friends, higher standards even, because family demands much more from us. He felt family should get a free pass for pretty much everything. Fair enough. He wasn’t the first person to voice that opinion, and I didn’t think there was anything inherently wrong with that approach.
“To each his own,” I said, trying to move away from the uncomfortable subject.
“But your family knows you better than anyone else. I can’t imagine ever having the kind of relationship you have with your family with my family.”
“That’s OK. We’re living two completely different lives, and we’re two completely different people.”
“So what’s your point then? Why are you judging every aspect of my life. I don’t need your judgement… or your lecture. It’s not like you’re saying anything I haven’t thought — or been told — before.”
“If you don’t fix your relationship with your parents, you’ll regret it later.”
“But who lives life without regret? No matter what kind of relationship you have with your parents, you’re going to have regrets when they are gone.”
He wasn’t budging, and neither was I. The difference was, I wasn’t critiquing his life. But I was stuck defending every aspect of mine. It was probably the most one-sided conversation I’d ever had.
Nothing was resolved that evening, and after we parted on friendly terms, I put the entire uncomfortable episode behind me. Then two mornings later, I received a private message from him on Twitter while I was having breakfast at my hotel.
After informing me that he’d arrived safely in Ho Chi Minh City, he called me out for being “aggressive and defensive” that night at dinner. I called him out for being judgmental. After some ugly back and forth, during which he called me lonely and bitter, he wrote: Give yourself a good look in the mirror and you will see how wrong you live your life.
There, he said it. That night I had accused him of being judgmental. He said he was only asking questions and sharing opinions. I pointed out that there’s a difference between “asking questions” and “questioning” — and unsolicited opinions about one’s life are rarely welcome. With that one sentence — Give yourself a good look in the mirror and you will see how wrong you live your life — he proved me right. He’d been judging me all along.
I suppose I am a failure then, I wrote back. I was totally over it… and him.
Please do not ever contact me again, I continued. I have absolutely no interest in you, your life, your “opinions,” or your judgment.
In other words, fuck you.
And I took my lonely bitter ass back to the breakfast buffet for another serving of mini-pancakes, happy to be enjoying this meal in silence and in solitude.
Some eighteen months later, my mother and I are closer than we’ve been in years; I haven’t spreadsheeted 2018 and 2019; and he’s still… lost.