Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Losing a friend: Judging the way I live my life pretty much guarantees you won't be a part of it

This week I had to let a friendship go.

The falling out took me by surprise because it had absolutely nothing to do with Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, which seems to be the cause of most of the social contention in my life these days.

The friendship is 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 Hillary Clinton-bashing aside, nothing gets my blood boiling like challenging the way I live my life. You'd think gay men would know better, but they don't.

In fact, I can trace the last ending of one of my friendships to the last time someone challenged me on the way I live my life.

"But don't you get bored?" that other ex-mate had asked, questioning my sabbatical from the 9-to-5, a hiatus that lasted eight glorious years, up until I moved to Sydney two years ago to take an editing job with ninemsn (now known as nine.com.au).

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 had 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.

Sadly, my re-entry into the rat race doesn't mean I no longer have to defend the way I live my life. Several days into my holiday return to Bangkok, my latest ex-friend was questioning my life without a two-year plan. He already has 2017 mapped out, and he can't understand why I don't.

There are two years to go on my Australian visa, and he wanted to know what I plan on doing if my employer doesn't renew my sponsorship and I'm kicked out of Australia.

"I have no idea," I said, listing relocating or applying for residency as two possibilities. "I guess I'll figure it out when the time comes."

"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'll get a job somewhere else, or maybe I'll get another job in Sydney, or maybe I'll fall in love with a hot Israeli guy and go back to Tel Aviv (or better yet, Jerusalem), or maybe I'll return to the U.S. Did I really have to figure it out before the arrival of my shawarma entrée at Shoshana, the Israeli restaurant where we were having dinner.

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 ago, so I figured a little geographical humor was in order.

My 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 the fact that I had no idea whether I would stay in Sydney or leave 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.

And like the gay kid, I'm hardly much of an anomaly. Surely I'm not 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 found myself having to justify that decision in another friendship-ending conversation. Now here I was doing it again under completely different life circumstances. I have a full-time job, daily deadlines, and a new one-year lease on my apartment. I'm not running from anything, yet I was being accused of being afraid of commitment, of being negative, of being a curiosity because I don't have my entire future mapped out.

"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 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: "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 continued to look 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.

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 mine.

I feel that family members should be held to the same standards as friends, higher standards even, because family demands so much more from us. He feels family should get a free pass for pretty much anything. Fair enough. He's not the first person to voice that opinion, and I don't think there's 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."

"I know."

"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 we parted as friends, and 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. The night before 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 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, in solitude, and in peace.

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