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The International Writers Magazine: On Friendship

From Our Archives:

Friends in Parts
Eric D. Lehman

"Friendship is almost always the union of a part of one mind with a part of another; people are friends in spots." - George Santayana, Soliloquies in England

Stones x 3

On a vacation to Maine I stopped briefly in New Hampshire to visit two sometime friends, Kelley and Erica. I had known them for six years, since we had spent a year together in Connecticut. We had kept in touch, seeing each other three or four times a year, talking by phone or email occasionally. Then they moved north, and I saw even less of them. Now I was trying to reconnect with two friends who I cared about, but really didn't have very much in common with. Kelley is a sweet girl with soft brown hair, who has lived a rough, almost tragic life. Erica is a blonde, blue-eyed criminologist with a penchant for Shakespeare. Both are gorgeous and smart. But I am an eccentric: a fanatical hiker, a voluminous reader, and a dedicated teacher. In other words, a loner. I have problems connecting with anyone, let alone two people who are younger and more sociable. To boot, the pseudo-romantic idea of "true friends" had invaded my consciousness and these girls certainly did not fit the bill.

After finding Kelley's apartment and trying to surprise Erica with my unexpected presence, I joined the two of them for lunch at a local restaurant to talk about what we were doing with our lives and what we planned for the future. We got a little drunk on sangria, which helped smooth any awkwardness. Then, we chatted on the way to the Budweiser factory, saw the Clydesdales, and took the tour. We talked about how Erica had broken up with her long-term boyfriend; she had become an adult and he hadn't. And we talked about Kelley's lack of direction and need of a real job. There were plenty of sly glances and playful jokes. After sharing beers at the factory tavern, we went to a movie that I didn't enjoy, but nevertheless enjoyed my friends' company. On the way back to Kelley's place, Erica told us she had to go home. Sadly, I didnąt feel like this was a bad thing, not wanting to draw the affair out. Kelley and I ate pizza, drank a bit of wine, and watched television. But we stopped talking after a while and fell asleep. Maybe we were just tired from all the alcohol or maybe we had run out of things to say. I gave her a hug the next morning and left.

After this visit I felt miserable, because I had realized that seeing these two girls more than three or four times a year would be a mistake. Meeting them after some time had passed might work, because enough would happen in our own lives that we could exchange stories and continue this connection without overloading it. And worse, I thought that maybe there wasnąt more than that. Maybe all humans are lonely and willing to settle for less. Maybe the way we settle for less with jobs or entertainment, we also do with our friends, because we donąt find perfect friends. Maybe so-called perfect friends don't exist and we must settle for imperfect connections or die alone. I had always liked to think this friendship with Kelley and Erica would last the rest of my life. But at that moment I thought that instead it would drift into memory and regret. I wished that the three of us had more in common, that they enjoyed hiking or I liked dancing. I began to wonder if all friendships were like this, intersecting at tangents, only able to survive the occasional beer together.

It was not until several months later, upon reading an essay by George Santayana, that I readjusted my way of thinking and understood the situation. He writes: "Friendship sometimes rests on sharing early memories, as do brothers and schoolfellows, who often but for that now affectionate familiarity with the same old days, would dislike and irritate one another extremely. Sometimes it hangs on passing pleasures and amusements, or on special pursuits; sometimes on mere convenience and comparative lack of friction in living together. One's friends are that part of the human race with which one can be human."

I thought back to the moments that built my connection with Erica and Kelley: a late night conversation in my dismal apartment, our euphoric trip to the Mohegan Sun casino, the elaborate dinner they had made for me before they left for the north, the bottles of wine and beer shared. Then I thought of other friends, ones I had supposedly connected with on a deeper level, ones that had in some sense been called "true." And in my mind, one by one, they showed themselves to be different only in degree. And I realized my profound foolishness in not seeing what all these people who had passed through my life had in common.

Kelley and Erica telephoned me the other day and chastised me for not contacting them more often. Kelley had moved to Boston and was working with Erica now, cementing their own connections. "You'd better call us, Lehman!" They told me in tandem, and hung up. I smiled, thinking of them fondly. I could be human with these so-called imperfect friends, and that is what really mattered.
© Eric Lehman May 2005
elehman at
When not teaching Eric can usually be found atop a mountain musing his lot.

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