My friend says I should call him more

"Change is hard," he says. What?

By Cary Tennis

Published February 2, 2009 11:10AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have a friend and for most of the time I have known him I acknowledge that he called me more asking me to hang out. I definitely call him. I saw him last week and I specifically asked him why is this such a big deal? He said that "change is hard." Well, suddenly, he is not initiating phone contact and now he wants me to phone him more. I don't know what to think about this.

I did ask him the other day when I saw him why he wants me to make first contact. He said he just wants me to make the effort to call him more. But why? Why should it matter to him? I told him I don't mind contacting him, but a friendship should not be one-way traffic. I don't mind contacting him first for a bit, but I told him I want him to contact me first as well. It is all about respect. I don't mind calling him but I'm not going to chase anyone for a friendship because that's not fair to me. I am not his boyfriend, we are not going out with each other, so why does he care if I make first contact? I feel like maybe this is about a power game, that he just wants attention, he wants to feel as though he is "needed" by me. Maybe this just feeds his ego and he gets off on it? I know I am not a perfect person but I have always been good to him. Maybe I have been too nice to him. Maybe I should just kick his ass to the curb? He said he would like me to call him more but the truth is I do call him, just whenever I feel like it. I am thinking about ending the friendship.

He responds to my phone calls and calls back but only after I first make contact. Has anyone ever heard of this before? I don't have a problem with calling him. I just wonder, since we are just friends, why he wants me to contact him more now?

Now I am wondering why I bother with this guy. Why should I be his friend? Should I just try to do what I did in November and simply cut off all contact with him?

Puzzled and Annoyed

Dear Puzzled and Annoyed,

OK, here is an idea. He said, "Change is hard," didn't he? And you didn't know quite what he was talking about. Well, maybe he is the kind of guy who is always the one to call -- not just call you but all his friends. Maybe one day he woke up with a weird, powerless kind of obsessive, frustrating, angry, put-upon feeling about all his friendships and realized that in pretty much all his friendships he is doing all the work of contacting and arranging and taking care of. And maybe he wondered why that is.

Maybe he read a book. Maybe he read a book that said, people who find themselves always doing the calling and arranging and asking need to back off and stop calling and then see who calls them.

If this is a new idea to him then he may feel it's kind of uncool, so he wouldn't say, like, hey, cool friend, check out this book I'm reading that says maybe my dad was a maintenance alcoholic and my mom had narcissistic tendencies. And by the way, did I tell you about my suicidal fantasies?

Now, he may be acting strange. Sure. Because he really is trying to change. He's trying to change what he does. So he says, "Change is hard," and you have no idea what he's referring to because he doesn't really want you to have any idea what he's saying; he's testing the waters. Saying "Change is hard" is his oblique, semi-ironic, not-totally-uncool way of alluding to these earnest, private and somewhat icky attempts to be less of a doormat. He is trying to be less of a doormat while still being a doormat. He is in the larval stage of self-assertiveness. He's in the cocoon, but kicking. It would be the height of absurdity for a guy to openly admit that he's been a doormat all these years and he's finally trying to change. That would make him look even more like a pitiful doormat, an uncool, self-pitying, baby doormat.

What I'm saying, he could be in like a transitional period.

And maybe he's the kind of guy who sits in his room, secretly reading this new self-help book he got about being maybe the son of alcoholic or abusive or narcissistic parents and maybe being the one who took on adult roles too soon and tried to keep the family together and how he fits all the profiles of a "co-dependent" and then he's hiding this book way back behind the Derrida and Zizek and Jameson and the cool manga and pulp reprints. Because he doesn't know where it's leading and he's not sure he likes where it's leading because once he realizes the full sweep and power of his childhood and adolescent experiences, how they shaped the way he behaved in middle school and high school and college and now post-college life, he's going to be feeling emotions he's been more or less successfully holding at bay with his manga  for like 10 or 15 years.

And maybe also he has a secret self. Wouldn't that be cool? Maybe he has a secret self but can barely even whisper the possibility to himself and even when he whispers it to himself he pretends not to be listening to himself, like he is whispering it to his tuned-out dad who you can say anything to because he'll tune it out, so you can say both important things you don't really want to talk about anyway and also crucially, crushingly vital things you desperately need some listening and advice about, and he'll tune that out, too. And so maybe he is trying to figure out how to be his secret self without being weird, which maybe is a lost cause inasmuch as we all are made weird by our most passionate and deeply defining traits, from the straight-jawed white scions of finance and industry raised in big white houses on hamlets in New England with Indian names to the pimply-faced not wholly prepossessing young men bursting with poetry and passion but terrified of saying even a word for fear of humiliation, disgrace, contempt and even violence: We are all weird in our strongest passions.

But this takes a long time of screwing up to learn right. This takes years before you go, yeah, OK, I am strangely uncool but so are you so fuck you we can be friends or not I don't give a rat's ass. That takes years.

So that is my guess as to the mystery behind his opaque pronouncement that "change is hard," and his unsettling insistence that you call him more.

As to you, my friend, the ball is in your court. But there's this, too: Ask yourself why you are thinking about this so much.

Because here is my take on where you may be coming from. You are obviously cool. You are cool and guys want to be your friend. But you can have your pick of guy friends because you are cool. So usually cool guys who want to be your friend call you and you go have fun and these guys would never say, Why don't you call me more? because they live in fear of being uncool. They might be sick of being your sidekick but they'd rather be your sidekick than be nobody. So the ratio of calling to being called seems normal to you. It hasn't changed since sixth grade. You call when you want to get together and have some fun. You don't call just because maybe one of your friends might appreciate a call. That's, like, so uncool. If they want to go do something cool and fun, they'll call, because they're just as cool as you are, and they don't need to be asking anybody to call them because they don't have these feelings of insecurity and longing to be shown that they matter, and they haven't bought any books lately suggesting that maybe their lifelong pattern of being happy sidekicks to the cool guy could have anything to do with generations of child-rearing that emphasized keeping your mouth shut and avoiding being the oddball and getting ahead and never going to uncool parties or hanging out with poor, uncool people who do embarrassing things like speaking from the heart or failing to laminate their occasional confessions of insecurity with layers of lustrous, blurring irony.

"Where'd you get that T-shirt?" you say to your friend, and later that night he's back in his room paging through Maxim, Vibe and Spin trying to figure out if you said that because you think the T-shirt is cool or you were being ironic and you think the T-shirt is dull and uncooly simplistic, knowing you'll never say which it is for fear of being insufficiently ironic and oblique. That's the kind of sidekick I'm thinking about, the one who secretly goes to the magazines to recalibrate his T-shirts.

But this guy, I'd say, is sick of recalibrating his T-shirts. Instead, he's trying to figure out which of his asshole friends are worth hanging out with and which assholes he should ditch. That is, to propose a creepily unironic hypothesis, he's begun a journey of self-discovery.

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Cary Tennis

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