At sixteen years old, I made the tough decision to eliminate my biological father from my life forever.
Although… if I’m being completely honest, it wasn’t that tough at all. He was an unhealthy addition to my life for countless reasons, and when I finally decided to drop the guillotine, it was the most freeing decision I had ever made in my entire life.
Once he was out of the picture, my depression lifted – and along with it, my self-destructive habits and a dangerous courting of suicide. The storm that had followed me through high school and my first year of college lifted too, and I was happier than I had ever been.
From that experience, I learned two things. The first is that people are the single most important influence on our happiness in life. The second is that it’s easier to keep bad influences out, than to get rid of them later on.
Luckily, at the time I had a great support system and an amazing network of friends, which I can still count on today.
In The (Anti)Social Butterfly, I wrote about these friends, and the great luck I’ve had with finding selfless, giving people who understand the importance of living for more than ourselves. These are the friends you call at midnight to help you bury a body – if you catch my meaning.
My friends come from all over the world, from all walks of life, and all socio-economic strata. Throughout my 26 years, I’ve befriended thugs, architects, hippies, executives, entrepreneurs, college graduates, high school dropouts, and everything in-between.
And not one of them became my friend by accident.
Mother Knows Best
My luck with friendships started at a very young age. I was always the gregarious and precocious child; taking after my biological father who had the natural charm most closet-psychopaths are blessed with.
Perhaps a little worried by my tendency to attract a large “following”, my mother cautioned me day after day with one saying after another. She warned me about the influences of “bad company” and repeated several times:
Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are.
I took that mantra seriously, and it really helped me to make better decisions about the friends I kept and how they influenced who I was and who I wanted to be.
Sage Advice from Catholic School
This followed me into high school, where on orientation day they saw fit to share what I thought was the most ridiculous advice I had ever received. Thus, the very first thing I learned in Catholic school was:
Choose your friends. Don’t let them choose you.
Naturally, I rolled my eyes and sighed. Adults and their onslaught of stupid advice, I thought. That doesn’t even make sense. If we are the ones choosing our friends, doesn’t the friend then end up being the one who ‘lets us choose’ them? Wouldn’t that make it impossible for them to follow this advice, which they’re getting too? It doesn’t add up.
But as the weeks flew by in high school, I began to understand the real wisdom behind the seemingly pointless words. I learned that I did not need to be friends with someone just because we shared a common space, or lived up the street from each other, or once had the world in common when we now don’t.
Gradually, I began to understand that as we grow and mature, the friendships that can’t grow and mature with us have to be left behind, or they hinder our development. Thus, as I developed and matured, I made the (always) difficult decision to cut some friends loose and let our relationship fade into oblivion.
I remained civil with them, still helped when they needed it, and even hung out from time to time. But they were no longer a part of my primary circle. As many later matured or developed interests which matched my own, we became friends again. And for those who ten years later have not moved forward at all? – well, I can’t remember the last time we exchanged hellos.
Application to Life Today
After moving to a new country where the only people I knew in my immediate vicinity were my family, I found myself needing to build a brand new group of friends.
But since living in America, I’ve met very few people I actually want to be friends with. I’ve met felons; drug addicts; people who couldn’t hold down a job, even if their life depended on it; serial cheaters; and several who had a wealth of opportunities, and wasted every last one.
The more people like these I meet, the more I remind myself that:
The people we make memories with every day not only affect who we are as individuals, but who we become in the days, months, and years to come.
Of course, we all have our struggles in life – some more visible than others. In fact, many of my friends have struggled with substance abuse, mental illness, and long periods of self-destruction.
The Great Divide
But there are two things that separate my friends from many of the people I have met here.
The first is that my friends have managed to keep it together, and become successful people, regardless of their personal demons. Whether they’ve completed masters degrees early in life, trucked their way through med-school, started successful businesses, moved to new countries and landed big exec jobs, or quit their jobs long before I did to travel the world – they’re all doing great things.
The second is that they never allow their problems to inconvenience others. Many of the people I’ve met here think nothing of bringing sober friends around when they want to do drugs, or hang out with junkies; and constantly expect favours while never giving anything in return. They bank on friendship and a strong past history for loyalty and respect, but rarely ever bring anything to the table themselves.
My Mom and I have discussed this a lot, since last summer. She thinks it’s a cultural thing, and I’ve begun to think she just might be right. But I hope she isn’t. I hope we’re both wrong on that account.
But if this is the norm here, I’m more than prepared to spend the rest of my years in the U.S. with a circle of friends, smaller than a needle’s point. Right now, I have only one friend within a 30 mile radius and I am just fine with that.
Life is about building great experiences, and if you can’t find good people to share them with, be content with enjoying life on your own.
Because if you can’t enjoy your own company, why should anyone else?
While in Illinois, I really hit my limit, getting hardly any time to hide from names and faces. Thankfully, we had one day – or at least a few hours – to ourselves before returning home. Check out the pictures from our brief respite.