Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011 1:00 AM UTC

Bandmates 25 years later: Are we friends?

I thought we got along but she is so self-involved it's driving me insane!

Cary Tennis

 (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

About 25 years ago, four of my college friends and I started a band. It was me, my boyfriend, another woman, her boyfriend, and, well, another guy. Long story short: Bands and relationships formed and broke apart, varying degrees of musical bliss and hell. I became very good friends with the other woman, I’ll call her Evelyn, and throughout our 20s — and beyond — we shared our losses and triumphs around boyfriends, homes, children, careers.

But even then it had begun to shift, at least for me. Evelyn began to strike me as being … well, very self-involved and, relatedly, insecure. When we got together, which was increasingly infrequent due to her career/family/you name it, it was always about her. It became a game to make sure I’d get a word in edgewise about myself when we got together (and especially on the phone).

She moved away about seven years ago and before she left, I had her out to dinner and explained to her that I felt like she shut me down in conversations, that I would really like to have a dialogue and not listen to a monologue. She genuinely got upset, started crying, promising to do better, and I thought, great if this works out. And she’s moving away so if it doesn’t work out, we can gradually grow apart.

But that was 2005, and her self-absorption has gotten worse, not better. Things like not being able to congratulate me on my marriage because her boyfriend hadn’t proposed yet, or celebrating professional successes I had and instead denigrating them. I was recently unemployed for a stretch of time, and she was MIA. She had the chance to do something to help my career, or at least my mood, and she claimed she forgot. But she remembered to include other people, including a competitor of mine. That really ticked me off.

I’d been avoiding her phone calls and offers to Skype because I knew it would be more of the same — me listening to her — but then she sent me a birthday present this fall, and it sent me over the edge. I felt like it was a travesty to the idea of friendship, and I wish she would just have faded quietly from my life, but she insists on persisting. When I told her I was upset and we should talk, she sent me a hasty note saying that I had been a rotten friend while her mom was in the hospital (and had recently passed away), and that the condolence card I’d sent was “generic” and “cheap.”

So now I find myself in the position of having to say something, since I initiated the exchange. We were good friends for many years, we have a lot of shared history during an important time in our lives, and I miss her children. But right now, I find that I can’t stand her, and years of her bullshitty behavior rise from memory to remind me why. Help, help, help.

Muted

Dear Muted,

Thoughtless and cruel was all the rage in the 1980s.

In the chaotic hothouse of rock, in its indulgent haze that invited dominance and abuse, amid its permissive mores and tacit ban on blame, it would have been uncool to accuse anyone of being thoughtless and cruel.

So it was a friendship just barely, formed in the worst of settings, surviving, sort of, for a while, improbably. Really it sounds like you were mostly just bandmates who kept in touch. You treated each other badly. You did not treat each other like friends.

Quite simply what happened was that everything changed. You changed. She changed. The world around you changed. Where you lived changed. What you did changed. What you expected changed.

You grew up. So did she, sort of. Well, she grew into what she was destined to grow into, which sounds like the kind of  narcissism that passes for normal in certain privileged suburban hells  … or maybe what she grew into was just a supremely arrogant thoughtlessness, a grown-up habit of the same cruelty that was planted in that 1980s chaotic hothouse of trying to be cool.

My hat goes off to you, sort of. You tried, in a fateful and ill-considered way, to set things right before she left. You were perhaps a little tone-deaf, though, and for once in her short life she was on tenterhooks, blessedly adrift but scared, hearing the falls downstream, not knowing where she would put to shore, and you chose that moment to expose your simmering resentment and put her on notice that she’d better improve.  You chose that moment when she was about to leave and her attention was on a million other things, including the mystery of her future conquests.

It made sense to you at the time. You wanted to establish a new ground. But in her largely inattentive life it was her point of least attentiveness; her eyes were already ablaze with the frontier. So all she could do was impotently cry and lie about her intentions to do better — intentions that were nonexistent and merely a pretext to solve the problem of your public demand. Like a lover you disgraced her in public; you put her in a spot that she could not wriggle out of. Maybe you meant to harm her in some way — to get her back for all her selfish disregard of you.

And now, seven years later, that accusation and her falsehood are still ringing, and the mutual disregard and withholding of affection you both have demonstrated — neither of you seems to have been there for the other during the worst of it — form the basis of this non-friendship. How could it be any other way? There is no good basis for a friendship here, no history of one coming through for the other in difficulty.

Bluntly put, you aren’t good for each other.

And that’s where it stands, at least in my fictionalized account. (I script it out like one of those ridiculous docudramas, with gauzy scenes meant to fill in the hair and makeup we as viewers are too lazy to provide from our minds.)

But I’m going into the emotion of it is what I’m doing. I’m suggesting that in the emotion of it you’re both still 13. You’re titting for tat and tatting for tit, having a slapfight when you need a pillow fight.

If nothing changes then nothing will change. You have tried to break through in your way but your methods were insufficient and your choice of venues not all that well timed. If you can’t break through then it will just be what it always was, a mismatch of two women who wish very much to have friends but are choosing the wrong ones and going about it in the wrong way.

How else can you go about it, though? In this I am wholly understanding of your situation. I do not know any better than you do how to extend these raucous, tender, raw, explosive friendships from young rockhood into adulthood. Who the hell were we? Who were you?

I suspect that who you were was a bit of a mistake, as who I was was a bit of a mistake also. I was far from what I would turn into. I was an arrogant fool, a precocious snot lucky not to have been beaten more often by thugs. I tried to be a book-learned version of a creative libertine. I tried to be a free-thinking hipster with sympathies toward Marxism and the hippies and the great canon of Western literature and a liker of women and a person of social understanding but like all the rest of us I was a bit of a fraud. How could you not be a fraud in the loser’s game that was the forming and reforming of bands in the ’80s? How could you not be a fraud on the fringes of a culture and business that elevated the fraudulent to status of art?

Maybe this makes no sense but I am talking directly to you and I have a feeling you at least know what I am talking about, even if some of it is ridiculous and conjectural and riffing; I am assuming you will get the riffing part because it will remind you of all the fraudulent assholes you used to have to deal with in the music scene, and maybe your bandmates will recognize it too, though you were probably on the East Coast and I was probably on the West.

And now you try to be friends? It seems to me that this is the kind of thing that is too screwed up from the start, and it’s time for you to find some good friends who are who they are now, as you are who you are now, who do the things that you do now and who live in the place that you live now and are therefore the kind of friends that you can have now.

Array